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I’d like to propose a new theory of reading.
I call it the Explore vs Exploit Model.
See, when I tell people I read 200 books in a year, I get two main reactions.
The first is “OMG how are u so wise??” But there’s a counter-movement that says “fuck you, there’s no way you can absorb all that info from 200 books! It’s a scam! You’d get more value from reading just 3 books per year, and applying the lessons.”
But that counter-argument misses a crucial point: there’s more than one way to read a book. And you don’t have to stick to just one mode.
In fact, I have two main modes of reading.
🗺️ 1. Reading for Exploration
We all have a mental box of possibilities – things we know about ourselves and the world.
When I read for exploration, I’m trying to expand that box as much as possible. I read quickly (often listening to audiobooks at 2x speed), just to get new ideas on my radar:
- Listening to Storyworthy by Matthew Dicks during a road trip
- Skimming new productivity books for original ideas.
- Taking a new fiction author for a test-drive
Let’s say you’ve never studied business. You could do a lot worse than speed-listening to the top 5 business books on Amazon (about 20 hours of listening). You’d get 5 different perspectives and a pencil sketch of the field. And if you get really interested, you’ll know which book to revisit.
This is how I found the book Traction, which I dip into every month for advice on running my company.
So long as you enjoy the process, there’s nothing inherently wrong with listening to 200 audiobooks/year at x3 speed. You won’t remember them all, or be able to act on every insight, but you’ll massively expand your horizons.
⛏️ 2. Reading for Exploitation
This is where it gets serious.
About once a week I’ll read a book in-depth, making Kindle highlights and (sometimes) taking detailed notes. This can take 15h+ per book, so it’s a serious time investment.
I do this when I want to exploit a book’s contents. It could be about investing, relationships, Stoic philosophy… if a book has solid info that’s relevant to my life, I’ll upgrade it to my ‘reading for exploitation’ list. This applies to pretty much every book that I’ve summarised on YouTube (Atomic Habits, Make Time, Four Thousand Weeks, etc).
I’ll only invest this much time and effort in a book if at least one of these things is true:
- I’ve already skimmed it, and decided it’s worth a proper read
- It’s been recommended by a trusted source
- It’s essential for my work (eg a Book Club video)
- I can tell it’ll be amazing.
Reading isn’t a choice between skimming 200 audiobooks at 3x speed or spending 80 hours taking notes on Marcus Aurelius. It’s more like a funnel - get lots of ideas on your radar with Reading for Exploration, then niche down and put ideas into practice with Reading for Exploitation.
- Don’t take reading so seriously that you never pick up a book (“oh no I need to take notes and absorb 100% of the contents”).
- Don’t get so addicted to the novelty of skimming a new book that you never re-read books, and take notes on the good ones.
Have a great week!
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If you want to put a lot of new books and ideas on your radar, I highly recommend Shortform. They write short summaries of the world’s best non-fiction books, and have a library going into the 1000s. Each summary gives the book’s key ideas in one page, plus a longer 3-5 page breakdown with commentary and analysis.
It’s like getting a smart friend to tell you about a book. Click this link to get a 5-day free trial, and 20% off the annual premium subscription.
Thanks to Shortform for sponsoring this issue of Sunday Snippets. 🙏
♥️ My Favourite Things
📱 App - Rize.io I’ve been using this desktop app a lot recently. It tracks all your computer activity, and gives you a breakdown of how you spend your time. Which can be a harsh reality check… You can also set focus times – notifications will pause, and the app will play the right music and ambient noise (eg coffee shop chatter) to get you in the zone. If you’re interested, you can use the promo code ALIABDAAL to get 25% off for 3 months. (They’re not paying me to say this at all, and this is an old promo code that doesn’t give me any kickback, I just genuinely use the app a lot these days especially for book writing stuff so I’m mentioning it here).
📄 A3 Pads - I’ve loved using these big pads to brainstorm video and book ideas. There’s something about Some coloured Sharpies and I’m all set.
👨💻 An Actual Desk - It’s ironic: even though I’m the desk setup guy, I haven’t had my own desk for at least a year. My bedroom in London was too small to have a proper desk, and in the studio I was always hot desking. But now I’ve moved to a new place and have my own desk again, I’m rediscovering how good it is to have a main base of operations.
📅 My Ideal Week - I’m trying to stick to an ordered schedule where I block time for breakfast, meditation, workouts, and a lot more every week. Wish me luck.
attempting to construct an ideal ordinary week - what do you think? anything i should change? pic.twitter.com/iCP0EDrlZF
September 30th 2022