How to Read Like Your Success Depends on It

UPDATED: January 4, 2020
PUBLISHED: October 13, 2016

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, because, well, it does.

1. 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 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 that will then act as reactive molecules in the chemistry of my mind.
  2. I always read the whole book (versus an abridged or CliffNotes version) because I’m looking for the ideas that stand out to me, which might 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.

Related: When There’s Too Many Books and Not Enough Time…

2. 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 I had only read it once. That’s just how slow I read.

Reading that slowly, however, simply wouldn’t do. So I had two choices:

  1. Learn to speed read. Tried that, and though I could move my eyes across the words faster, I couldn’t understand or retain the information.
  2. Use audiobooks.

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

Related: How to Read Like Your Success Depends on It

3. 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 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 and places I read:

  • Driving
  • In an Uber
  • On an airplane
  • Walking the dogs (or walking, period)
  • In the shower
  • While brushing my teeth
  • While getting dressed
  • While waiting anywhere (if I’m alone)

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.

4. 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, 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).

This is how I read and these are the hacks I use to absorb as many new ideas as possible. May those techniques serve you as well as they’ve served me.

Related: 10 Must-Read Books for Explosive Success

Tom Bilyeu is the co-founder of 2014 Inc. 500 company Quest Nutrition—a unicorn startup valued at over $1 billion—and the co-founder and host of Impact Theory. Tom’s mission is the creation of empowering media-based IP and the acceleration of mission-based businesses. Personally driven to help people develop the skills they will need to improve themselves and the world, Tom is intent to use commerce to address the dual pandemics of physical and mental malnourishment.

Tom regularly inspires audiences of entrepreneurs, change makers and thought leaders at some of the most prestigious conferences and seminars around the world, including Abundance 360, A-fest and Freedom Fast Lane. Tom has also been a guest on The Tony Robbins podcast and The School of Greatness podcast and has been featured in Forbes, Inc., SUCCESS and The Huffington Post. Tom is currently on the Innovation Board of the XPRIZE Foundation.