11 Ways to Surpass Your Reading Goals - Emily Grabatin

How I finally read 22 non-fiction books in one year.

Photo by Fabiola Peñalba on Unsplash

The past 10 years, I’ve said I want to read more books.

Most years the desire made it on my SMART goal list: Finish one book a month.

Every night the stack of half-read books on my nightstand stared at me. My overflowing bookshelves banned me from entering my favourite bookstores lest I be tempted to add more books I wouldn’t read. I’d haunt book recommendations on Amazon, hovering over buy buttons but never clicking. When I did buy a Kindle book, I’d never get around to reading it, stirring guilt the next time another book appealed to me.

Last year was different. It was the year I blew past my goal of reading one book a month. You can find creative ways to surpass your reading goal, too!

I’m fully aware there are crazy people who read 200 books a year. But either they’re secretly superhuman or they’re cheating by reading ten-page book summaries and saying they read the books. That’s fine if they’re only committed to reading up on the latest information, distilling nuggets down to bare bones. But as a writer, I appreciate the torture, dedication and creativity that goes into writing a book. I want to see glimpses of the soul and personality woven into the words.

The feat of reading 22 non-fiction books in one year brought thrilling triumph to me! So what made the difference last year compared to others?

If polishing off more books this year is one of your intentions, maybe one of these breakthrough ideas will fire up your progress.

1 – Hunger

It’s not like I hadn’t been reading or learning before.

Most of the content I had been devouring the past couple years were business or marketing related courses, and videos and blogs from other entrepreneurs and coaches. Embarking on a huge learning curve in setting up my purpose coaching business and visibility online demanded action and exploration. The more I learned, the more I realized how much more there was to learn. Saturated with a boatload of opinions, frameworks and methods, I began to miss learning about what had captivated me to coach in the first place.

For a decade, leaders had tossed out quotes like

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.” Harry S. Truman

“You are what you read.” Oscar Wilde.

Meaning, what you read and chew on seeps into your soul and shapes how you think, what you do about it and who you become.

I didn’t want to just say I loved books. Hungry to know and be who my dreams needed me to be, I longed to read books again.

2 – Kickstart Splurge

I used to get a book every Christmas to read over the holidays, but over the years my book givers faded away. My downtime during the holidays after Christmas diminished with family activities, toddler distractions and business projects. I also wasn’t around for the book sales that would have doped me up on anticipation.

In a December 2017 gift exchange with a bunch of my online entrepreneur friends, I requested Rising Strong by Brene Brown — a book that had been on my list for two years. Getting it in the mail + adding an Amazon gift card from my sister = giddy motivation.

Having a book I was eager to read made a huge difference to kick-starting the first month into success. Those first few days of the year Brene pulled me in with words that described the Year of Resilience I had just been through.

With three weeks left to spare, and a brain that needed a breather from deep emotional thinking, I chose a $1.99 Kindle book written with a simple how-to blog style. I polished off The One Hour Content Plan by Meera Kothand in a couple hours. Two books in the first month — hello goal mastery ego.

3 – Rereads Count

Surpassing my goal seemed to be the trick to keeping my fire going, so the next two books were re-reads. Listening to The Power of the Other by Henry Cloud, a book I had read a few months before, reminded me how I’ve matured in my relationships the last fifteen years — and how far still I have to go.

One of my clients was working through 48 Days to the Work You Love, a book by career coach Dan Miller that had opened the door to thinking what I could create with my life ten years before.

Since my loaned out copy had never found its way back to me, I bought the latest edition and skimmed it to prepare for my client’s sessions. I also hadn’t realized how many of the insights I pass on to job-seeking friends and redesigning-life clients have been mined from this book.

At first, it felt like cheating to add and then cross this book off my list. But if the goal is to become and learn, how satisfying it is to reread a book and realize the depths of your outlook on life has expanded since the last time you read it!

4 – Micro-habits

Relying on hunger alone wasn’t going to get books read when life got busy or stressful, so in March I started a reading rhythm of ten minutes each night with The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.

I want to become a book-reader — not just hustle to check books off my list. So I set an intention to read a book ten minutes a day. Blogs or articles didn’t count.

Thankfully, audio and Kindle books often tell you how long the average person will take to read a book. If I was hungry to learn or had mundane tasks to do I could listen to an audiobook and not bother with reading rhythms. But if I was feeling meh, I’d choose a 2-hour book and plot my 10 minutes a day. Even if nothing else that month worked out the way I had planned, it felt satisfying knowing I could add another book to my checklist.

5 – Easy Access List

It’s stating the obvious, but keeping a list of books you want to read has is a fun, useful tool. When I hear about a book that’s recommended by someone I respect, I’ll add it to a “Books I Want To Read” list in Evernote or save it to my Wish List in Amazon.

It’s even more helpful if you remember to note why it was recommended to you and what you might get out of it.

When I’m hunting down deals on Amazon or in a discount bookstore, the list offers a quick recall.

Oh, the delight of discovering you’ve already read a book when you review the list!

It eases frustration when a deluge of reading ideas exceed my available time or budget. Whether scrolling through my Kindle books or the Evernote list, it helps prioritize reading choices that have been waiting for my attention — such as my April choice, Your Best Year Ever: 5-step Plan for Achieving Your Most Important Goals by Michael Hyatt.

6 – Community Referrals

While Myers-Briggs scores me as a 71% introvert and I adore uninterrupted alone time, community inspires much of what I read. Participating in a team or community unified to achieve a common mission together fires me up. So when a leader, coach or member talks about a book that changed their life, I’m there.

I’m not the badass type, so I would never have read Jen Sincero’s amusing and say-it-like-it-is You are A Badass. But it kept appearing on entrepreneurs’ “What should I read next?” Facebook post recommendations. It made the cut so I could join the conversation.

In May, when I hit a major mindset slump, my coach mentioned The Art of Mental Training — A Guide to Performance Excellence by DC Gonzalez and 5 Second Rule by Mel Robbins, and the next day I downloaded them on my phone. The story and practices of both mindset masters intrigued me with useful tools that had thus far eluded me: visualization and combating the power of self-doubt and hesitation.

– 7 Discounts and Borrowed

Did I mention I’m a sucker for book sales? There’s nothing more exciting than discovering a book you want (or didn’t realize you want) is only $1.99 for a day! The One-Click Buy on Amazon adds another dose of thrill. Once my reading rhythm picked up, guilt over buying books disappeared. My Kindle list grew, as did my incentive for reading more.

A friend introduced me to another treasure for free e-books and audiobooks if you have a library card: Hoopla. This app inspired a 4-hour drive in June while I listened to a memoir and a parable. Though I’d never heard of him, YouTube craftsman Bob Clagett’s saga Making Time reminded me of the hard work, peaks and valleys of startups. In classic parable style, Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller’s The Secret made the principles of what great leaders know and do palatable.

After hearing Rachel Hollis on a couple podcasts, I added Girl Wash Your Face to my list. Seeing the ebook on Hoopa made it an easy summer pick.

8 – Purpose

Hunger turbo-charged my drive to read books, but having so many reading options could be overwhelming. Maybe it’s my cause-driven 1 on the Enneagram, but a book rises to top choice when it aligns with my intentions for the year or season. Generally, my reading choice answers one of these questions.

  • What must I achieve this year/month? Which book will help me do this?
  • Who am I becoming this year/month? How will this book help me do this?
  • What do I need to know or feel to move me toward where I want to be or who I’m becoming?

DoOver: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff had been on my list for 5 years. When I needed an audiobook choice while painting my daughter’s room over the summer, I knew I wanted to laugh and admire a humorous writing style different than everything else I’d read so far that year. Finding DoOver on Hoopla and having a couple friends mulling over a career shift made it an easy choice.

Reading with purpose doesn’t have to be about hustling toward your goal or about learning something magnificent. It can be about offering relevant insight to your peers or about jazzing up your mood to lean into your intentions.

Just being aware of why you’re reading the book can help you feel purposeful in your season.

9 – Convenience

The smell of paper books, the coziness of snuggling on the couch with a blanket, Earl Grey tea steaming in my hand and the peace of a still home delights all my senses. Not to mention a much more creative Instagram post than screenshots.

But let’s face it.

Waiting for the perfect book-snugly moment is to blame for many of the unfinished books on my nightstand.

Realistically, books get finished when authors read them to me while I’m washing dishes, cleaning a closet or on trips like the drive to Chicago when my husband and I listened to The Prosperous Coach by Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin.

When my daughter’s little sick body is glued against me in a dim room; hello, backlit words on a small screen. Physical books I carry around for life’s spare moments get offended by bent covers, spilled water bottles and mustard smudges. When I’ve crawled under chilly covers at night, the last thing I feel like doing is going back downstairs to fetch the book I forgot on the coffee table.

Imagine my delight when I discovered Kindle’s Whispersync feature! For a few extra dollars, you can read a book on your device when you need to zone out, then switch over to audio when life demands busy hands, and then flip back to the visual mode when an author’s brilliance calls you to go back and highlight a passage.

Whoever came up with that idea — thank you!

10 – System

Reading just for the sake of reading or finishing a book has never appealed to me. It takes time for me to process and digest what I’ve read, and I hadn’t yet established a habit or system of capturing inspiration I might want to remember later on. Weird as that sounds, it demotivated me from actually reading.

One mission of mine was to finish the first draft of the book I had started two years before. Many books I chose spruced up my knowledge, creativity and commitment to sit down and write.

What was the best way I could refer back to a passage that I wanted to journal, quote in my book or to inspire a future blog post?

The more I read to keep up with my goal, the more I’d see these opportunities and found ways to capture them:

  • screenshots of a page
  • copy a quote and save it to Evernote
  • highlight quotes in Kindle and export them to Evernote when I finished the book

By the time I read the thought-provoking Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Risk and Innovate by Jordan Rayner and the eye-opening Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud I’d gotten better at capturing the quotes I wanted to remember.

I still have far to go to be as organized and efficient as Ryan Holiday or Michael Hyatt in recording what they want to retain, but finding a system that was simple for me sure helped.

11 – Web of Adventure

As I refined my coaching messaging and presence, my circles of influence looped to other bloggers and female entrepreneurs. As helpful as they were to refining my brand and finding traction as a coach, my inner writer felt neglected.

The latter six months of 2018 led me on a reading adventure that awakened my subdued writer soul. Each book I discovered called out the book in me that begged to emerge.

Jeff Goins’ podcast incited my desire to better my craft and compelled me to read his memoir The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing.

After hearing the recordings of Marion Roach Smith coaching Jeff through the stages of planning and writing his newest manuscript, I picked up her book, The Memoir Project: A Thoroughly Non-standardized Text for Writing and Life.

Savouring Jeff’s well-crafted, thought-provoking writing style prompted me to dive into The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do. Have you ever read a book you wished you had written? That one’s mine. But since it’s already written, I’ll settle for upping the quality of my book-in-progress.

Also in Jeff’s circle is Tim Grahl, the Book Launch guy, who had been in my inbox for a couple years awaiting the day my published book would need his wisdom. Finding out he wrote his own memoir led me to listen to his podcast where he talked through the steps he was taking to launch his book. Months later, his raw, new memoir, Running Down a Dream, captivated my soul.

I realized he had been podcasting his writing journey, mentored by an editor of 30 years experience, so I binge-listened to the StoryGrid podcast. That blew wide open answers to story structures and editing that had been half-asked questions I’d had from 8 years ago.

Hearing Tim and Shawn mentioning the inspiration and input best-selling author Steven Pressfield had in their writing finally inspired me to read The War of Art.

The reading adventure of fall 2018 became more than books to check off a list. It turned into an empire to explore, a tap of abundant nutrients for personal and skill development.

Each book added to the showcase that said, “Look! These people did it. Here’s what it took to get them there; keep it up and you’ll get there, too.”

Finding your reading breakthrough

Those 11 hacks helped me flourish my reading repertoire for the last year, but your reading journey will be different. Your desires and learning style differ from mine. Your quest will call for your own rhythms, and if you’re hungry enough, you’ll find what works for you. Don’t let perfectionism force you to finish what you start if you don’t want to. Just keep the momentum going once you find your reading groove. Whatever you read will show you something about yourself or the topic, if you take the time to reflect on it.

So what are you hungry for? What books or reading hacks could add the spice or soul-spa that will help you become who your dream beckons you to be?

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