The average CEO reads about 60 books a year or 4-5 books per month. Reading is often positioned as being a prerequisite for success. For example, Warren Buffet reads for 5-6 hours a day and Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. They read a lot which is why they're successful.
But is this really accurate?
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I see these statements about how much the average CEO reads being thrown around a lot but I’ve never seen any studies proving the fact. I did happen to find this post on LinkedIn where the author had the same thoughts as me and found all these articles reference other articles stating the same thing, but none of them links back to any reputable study.
We all know how important reading is. And I’m not doubting that Warren Buffet or Bill Gates read a lot. But I am questioning how much time the average person should spend reading.
Reading has been put on a pedestal as being a habit you have to have in order to be successful. CEO’s are used as examples of people who are successful because of how much they read.
But should we be looking at it another way? Are these people successful despite how much they read? Bill Gates might read 50 books a year, but do you think he was doing this back when he started Microsoft in the 1970s?
I want to emphasise here, I am NOT saying that reading is bad or that you shouldn’t read. I am where I am today because of the books I’ve read. But I do think we have to be careful about reading too much.
Here is my list of tips to help you to become a more mindful reader…CEO's read an average of 60 books a year (unproven). But are these people 'successful' because of how much they read, or despite the fact? Click To Tweet
1. Reading is a distraction from real work
This is my biggest issue with reading. Reading gives us this feeling of being productive. Like we’re doing something good with our time. But all the time you’re reading, you’re not actually doing anything meaningful. You're not creating anything or helping anyone.
I agree it’s a great way to invest in yourself and develop your thinking. And we should read on a regular basis.
But just because Warren Buffet reads for 5-6 hours a day, doesn’t mean you need to as well. In fact, Warren Buffet spends this time reading annual reports because that’s his job. He needs to read to learn about different companies and industries to invest in. People hear that he reads for 5 hours a day and take this out of context.
In extreme cases, reading a lot is used as an excuse to avoid real work. Because it gives us a false feeling of productivity, we can use it as a way to procrastinate without feeling guilty.
2. Follow a “just in time” approach
Instead of setting reading goals, I follow a “just in time” approach to reading. If I need to learn about a topic or feel like I need to develop myself in a certain area, I’ll go and read up on that subject.
What most people do is they set a reading goal, read whatever they need to in order to hit this target and forget most of what they’ve read anyway.
Rather than reading for the sake of reading, following a “just in time” approach gives your reading purpose. You identify a problem or a gap in your knowledge and you read so that you can go and find a solution. It means you’re actually doing something with the books you’re reading.
Years ago I used to read a lot more. When I was starting my business there was a lot to learn. Now though, I read a lot less as I have prioritised doing actual work.
3. Don’t “browse” the news
By “reading” I don’t just mean books. Reading the news is another way we fill time and trick ourselves into feeling productive.
When you step back and ask yourself how reading the news benefits you, it’s really hard to justify. Sure, it might mean we’re more “informed”, but does this make life any better?
As the advertising model behind our news has shifted online, news outlets are now required to produce as much news as possible in order to increase their ad revenue. And the more controversial or click-baity the headline, the better!
Do I read the news? Sure. But I never go to news websites and browse. I let other people filter the news for me. They say the cream rises to the top and it’s the same with news. For me, I get most of my news through Twitter from the people I follow. The stuff that’s worth hearing will be shared and it means I don’t have to go finding it myself.
4. Keep blogs and newsletters to a minimum
The same is true of blogs and newsletters. I’ve talked before on the blog and podcast about how I recommend keeping the people you follow to a minimum (that goes for following me as well).
I choose to follow the people who’s values align with my own. For example, Paul Jarvis (who I interviewed earlier this year) runs an online business not that dissimilar to my own. He’s further down the track than me which means I can learn a lot and he has similar views on work-life balance and business growth.
This brings me back to the who CEO reading thing. Even if you believe that CEO’s read 60 books a year, does that mean you should as well? I’m not Bill Gates, nor would I want to be. So I’m not going to adopt his habits. Instead, I care more about the habits of people who I'd like to be more like.
5. Keep your reading later list to a minimum
There are loads of great read later services that help us to track the interesting things we find online that we can come back to later. For years I used Pocket. Now I’m using the reading list built into iOS and MacOS.
The key things with reading lists is not letting it get overcrowded. If you do, you end up with a list of dozens of articles that you’re probably never going to read but you feel guilty for not reading them.
I usually have less than 5 things on my read later list making it much easier to keep up.
If you use a read later service, next time you find yourself adding to your list, ask yourself if you really want to read it (be honest). If not, don’t add to the list. This is made easier if you follow the “just in time” approach I mentioned before.
For example, I’m in the process of migrating my email list from Mailchimp to ConvertKit and the other day I came across a video by Pat Flynn about how he uses the service. I added this to my read later list because the way I see it, the video is highly relevant to what I’m doing right now. I'm not mindlessly consuming content.
I’ll finish by saying again that I am not saying you shouldn’t read at all. But I do think we could be more mindful instead of setting ridiculous reading goals. The goal is to retain and use what you’ve learned (and not read for the sake of hitting a target).