What I have learned from 676 hours of reading (plus book recommendations)

Two years ago, a friend texted me. He wanted to read more and challenged me to read for a set amount of time daily. At the time, I was working two jobs, my wife was in school, so I was also managing kids, a household, groceries, and often cooking. I was slammed. So, I responded, “Sure, I can probably commit to reading 15 minutes a day,” which seemed like a lot to me. He was looking for something more robust, so we finally agreed to read for one hour a day.

At first, it was a struggle. Finding the time to read for an hour was a struggle. Deciding what to read was harder than expected. And maintaining focus for long periods of reading was difficult. As time passed, even with crazy work and personal schedules, all that got easier and easier. And, to my surprise, it became something I not only enjoyed but genuinely loved. I had read before as an adult, but never consistently. The discipline to read daily turned reading from something I kinda liked to a part of the DNA of my life.

I’m writing this after finishing my hour of reading for today. I have read 676 hours, 24 minutes, and 26 seconds over the last 488 days. That’s an average of 1 hour, 23 minutes, and 10 seconds per day. Yes, I track it in a spreadsheet, I’m a nerd.

I started this journey for three reasons:

  1. My friend challenged me to do it, and I love a good challenge.
  2. Every successful person I admire reads a lot.
  3. I want to be a lifelong learner that is always improving.

What have I learned from so much reading?

A lot, but here are the things that immediately stand out:

  1. I had more time to read than I thought. Reading took up time I spent on other leisure activities (sorry, Netflix).
  2. I’m a slow reader (the slowest in my family, we’ve tested). This is why I still track my time reading. My effort to read is a better indicator of my performance than pages read or books completed.
  3. I love to have a few books going at once. I usually read philosophy (Stoicism) to improve my thinking, a business book to improve my work, and a fiction book to get lost in another world.
  4. Retaining what I read takes work, and I’m still not as good at it as I want. I do most of my reading on my Kindle Scribe. There, I highlight and take notes and then export those notes into Obsidian. But I haven’t yet found a good way to remember some of the more important parts of the books I read. I need to add a better review to my process.
  5. There are more good books than there is time to read them. Narrowing down the books I want to read is a skill I’ve had to learn over time. I would read anything early on, and some of it wasn’t great. I’ve since learned to follow other readers, look at their book recommendations, and make a list of books I want to read based on that. Ryan Holiday has a newsletter with book recommendations that is fantastic. I’ve just started a podcast with my buddy Jeff about the books we read and recommend. It’s called Who Has Time to Read?! I’d love for you to check it out.
  6. Knowing when to abandon a book is almost as important as picking what book to read. I try not to get caught up in the sunk cost fallacy. If I’m 25% through a book and wonder if I should finish it, just asking myself that question means I should not. I drop it and move on. I recently quit two books at the 50% mark.
  7. Some books are better when listened to. I listen to a huge number of my books. I love to listen to memoirs, biographies, and occasionally fiction. I prefer to read books where I will want to highlight and take notes. (Note: my hours calculated reading above only applies to physical reading, not listening. Listening is extra 🙂 )

You might also be wondering, over all these hours of reading, what are my favorite books?

I got you. Here are some of my favorites by category.

  1. Leadership
    1. Extreme Ownership by Jacko Willink. When I lead a team, I ask them to read this book. Team members who own what they do are much more effective and reliable.
    2. Never Split the Difference by Chris Moss. I’m terrible at negotiating. This book explains how to negotiate, and it’s entertaining at the same time. I’ve listened to this one twice.
    3. The 5-Day Turnaround by Jeff Hilimire. If you like business books but also fiction, this is the book for you. It’s a good story packed with business wisdom.
    4. The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. This is another business narrative book, it taught me to look for team members who are humble, hungry, and smart. If you are hiring anyone, it’s a must-read.
  2. Self Improvement
    1. Slow Productivity by Cal Newport. This is a great book about getting more of the important things done at a more sustainable pace.
    2. Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. This book was so good that I listened to it and then read it. It’s a great book about creating content and connecting with your audience.
    3. The Power of Regret by Daniel Pink. We so often avoid regret that we fail to realize how much it can help us improve. This book opened my eyes in many ways.
    4. Atomic Habits by James Clear. If I had to pick my favorite self-improvement book, it would be this one. Habits are often the building blocks of success.
    5. Learning to Write by Jason Brooks. If you are an aspiring writer, this book will encourage you and make you laugh.
  3. Fiction
    1. Recursion by Blake Crouch. This mind-bending sci-fi thriller grips you from the start and won’t let go. A Hat Tip to his other book, Dark Matter, which Apple TV made into an original series.
    2. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir. This book was amazing. I listened to it and got completely lost in it.
    3. The Wayward Pines Trilogy by Blake Crouch. This became a TV series and was phenomenal.
    4. The Expanse Books Collection by James S.A. Corey. This series has nine novels and is truly an amazing space adventure. It also has a TV series that is my favorite sci-fi series of all time (sorry Star Trek and Stargate series).
  4. Biography/Memoir
    1. The Light We Carry by Michelle Obama. This is such a great book full of hope, storytelling, and insight.
    2. Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. I listened to this one twice. There were moments in the book that were so beautifully written it brought me to tears. When I listened to it, I didn’t care anything about rowing as a sport; it was still one of my all-time favorite books.
    3. Will by Will Smith. I listened to this one, narrated by Will himself. This story is amazing and entertaining.
    4. I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy. This book is sad, humorous, and touching. It’s a raw look into someone else’s difficult world.
  5. Business/Marketing
    1. $100M Offers and $100M Leads by Alex Hermozi. I did not expect to like these books, but I found them to be some of the best marketing and business thinking I’ve ever read.
    2. Million Dollar Weekend by Noah Kagan. If you want to start a business, this is one of the best books you can read. His methodology is simple, repeatable, and lower risk than many other approaches.
  6. Philosophy
    • The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. If you are overcoming something, and most of us are, this is a must-read.
    • Get Out of my Head by M. Andrew McConnell. This gives a great overview of stoicism and applies it to practical business and life.
    • Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frankl. This is a classic written by a holocaust/concentration camp survivor. I’ve read it twice and will likely read it again.

If you want to continue following my reading journey, subscribe to my podcast, Who Has Time to Read?!