How to Read Like Your Success Depends on It

I don’t memorize books, I get the big ideas and move on.

Start with Why.
Start with Why. Pexels

I credit my success to reading. And I read a lot. A LOT. So the question that I naturally get asked all the time is how I manage to read as much as I do while still keeping up with the demands of running a company. So here is my definitive guide to reading like your success depends on it, cause, well, it does.

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Start with Why

Why do I read so much? Because there is a critical math equation at work here and it goes like this: Ideas In = Ideas Out. I actually used to have a sign hanging over my desk that read II = IO to remind me. What I mean by that is I’m not worried about thinking new thoughts. I’m simply trying to make unique connections between old ideas. I believe that’s what makes all of us unique — we make different connections than the next person. That’s important for two reasons: 1) It means I don’t need to memorize facts from the book, I’m just trying to truly understand the overarching themes which will then act as reactive molecules in the chemistry of my mind. And 2) I always read the whole book (versus an abridged version or a CliffsNotes type thing) because I’m looking for the ideas that stand out to me, which may be very different than the ideas that stand out to someone else. So I don’t skim, but I don’t get hung up on things that don’t resonate or I don’t understand.

Improve Your Reading Speed

I am a ridiculously slow reader. I once had a teammate at Quest show me something he had written. I read it and told him I liked it, but he didn’t believe me: “Something must have bothered you, you read it three times.” I had to laugh out loud, because nope — I had only read it once. That’s just how slow I read.

Reading that slowly, however, simply will not do. So I had two choices: 1) Learn to speed read. I tried that and while I could move my eyes across the words faster, I couldn’t understand or retain the information. Option 2) Use audiobooks.

I decided to go with audiobooks. I use the Audible app. So when I say I “read” something, I actually mean that I listened to it. The advantage here is that I can assimilate information aurally very, very quickly. Also, the magic of Audible is that it allows you to speed up the playback — allowing you to go all the way to 3 times the normal speed. That’s where I live — at 3x. To be clear though, I had to work my way up to that. I started at 1.5, then pushed myself to 2, then ultimately to 3x. So don’t expect 3x to be intelligible right from day one. But like anything, if you push yourself and stick with it, you WILL get better. So, PUSH YOURSELF.

ABR — Always Be Reading

There’s a saying in sales that I hate — ABC — Always Be Closing. But I live by the mantra ABR — Always Be Reading. Audiobooks are a huge help with this, because as long as I have my phone and my headphones I can read literally anywhere. As such, I not only read during stretches of free time, I also read in the transitional moments of life. Here is a nearly exhaustive list of the times/places that I read:

  • Whenever I’m driving
  • In an Uber
  • On an airplane
  • Walking the dogs (or walking anywhere for that matter)
  • In the shower
  • While brushing my teeth
  • While getting dressed
  • While waiting anywhere (if I’m alone) — even between rounds of Trials of Osiris (any Destiny fans?!)

Without a doubt, I prefer to read when I can read for long stretches of time, but I’ve just found that all of the little moments add up to a lot of reading (especially at 3x), and thus a lot of new and exciting ideas.

Cover a Topic from All Angles

I don’t memorize books, I get the big ideas and move on. Don’t get me wrong, I lament that I don’t have a naturally prodigious memory (Kim Peek anyone?), but since I don’t and I continue to get great results from simply focusing on the big ideas, I haven’t invested the energy into improving my memory, or felt it necessary to back off from digesting books at 3x.

Another thing that keeps me from worrying about remembering certain facts is that I usually read as many books on a given topic of interest as I can. When you do that, you’ll find that themes emerge, and those themes become very familiar. And when you collect them from many different points of view I find they firm up in my mind in a much richer way than they would if I slowed down and read a book like I was preparing for a final exam. This approach also ensures that I don’t fall prey to the confirmation bias (reading only ideas that agree with what I already believe).

Alright, there you have it. That’s how I read, and the hacks that I use to encounter as many new ideas as possible. May those techniques serve you as well as they’ve served me. And if you have any techniques that you use that might help me, hit me up on twitter and tell me about it — @TomBilyeu.

Tom Bilyeu is the Co-Founder of Quest Nutrition, the #2 Inc. 500 Fastest Growing Companies of 2014, and the host of Inside Quest.

How to Read Like Your Success Depends on It