Atomic Essays

Tim Ferriss: Top 3 Insights To Optimize Your Reading

Do you want to get 10 times the value from the time you invest into reading books?

I recently listened to an incredible episode from one of my favourite podcasts, The Tim Ferriss Show. Although Tim Ferriss and Ryan Holiday touched on many topics – lifestyle design, decision-making, stoicism, etc., I found Tim Ferriss’s thoughts and practices on reading books most insightful and applicable to my life, so I decided to share them with you!

Being an avid reader for several years now, I had become very rigid in my ways. I thought:

  • If you start a book, you must finish it
  • You should read every book anyone recommends
  • Reading is the most “productive” way to spend time

If you’re like me, these 3 insights will help you re-think how you’ve been reading all your life and get more out of the time you spend reading books, just like they did for me.

Who doesn’t want that? 🙂

🤓 Insight #1: Be very selective about what you read

Take a stroll in any book store, and you’ll realize that there are far too many excellent books out there and too little time to read them.

Reading gets even more challenging the older you get – full-time work, familial responsibilities, and other hobbies and activities take away time you can devote to reading and improving yourself.

How do you make sure you’re getting the most juice out of the little time you can spend reading?

Tim says the key is to be ruthlessly selective about the books you read. Some ways Tim goes about this:

  • He rarely reads a book that isn’t recommended to him by someone he believes to have a high bar for books. If you don’t have someone like this in your circle, you could find excellent books recommended by people you respect online.
  • He filters books through their Amazon reviews by finding the ones with several hundred reviews in total and reading their most helpful 3 and 4-star reviews. He says 1 and 5-star reviews are mostly emotionally driven and lack nuance and depth.

Using the above tips, you’ll save hundreds of hours avoiding sub-par books while maximizing your learning.

👎 Insight #2: Drop uninteresting books without guilt

In line with the idea of being very selective with the books you read, it becomes imperative to be conscious of how you feel about a book after you’ve picked it.

Some ways Tim goes about this:

  • He reads 2-3 chapters to gauge his engagement in them. If he doesn’t feel compelled enough to send his friends highlights and excerpts from the book, he will consider dropping the book.
  • He reads the first (100 – his age) number of pages of the book. If he is not into the book by then, he considers dropping the book. I loved this rule because it self-adjusts based on how much time you have left to live.

Reading books has become a socially validated way to procrastinate“, Tim says.

I agree. You could spend years of your life consuming books and other content, fooling yourself with the pseudo-progress you’re making, never taking action or creating value with the knowledge, which is why you were reading in the first place.

Make it easier on yourself by dropping books more often and taking action instead.

🧙‍♂️ Insight #3: Prefer older books over newer ones for timeless wisdom

As humans, we have a novelty bias – which means anything new and exciting will pique your curiosity much more than something old.

What’s wrong with that, you may ask?

A couple of points from Tim:

  • The passage of time automatically filters for the most timeless wisdom, and newer material is not subjected to the same level of scrutiny.
  • The best works, for instance, Shakespeare’s or Leo Tolstoy’s writing, have had a cultural impact for several decades and will continue to have an impact over the coming decades. The same cannot be said about books discussing the recent happenings in the stock market or the last year of Trump’s presidency.
  • Most newer books are more like news, which is highly cortisol and FOMO driven and can indirectly make you take worse decisions.

For these reasons, if you’re reading for wisdom to live a better life, Tim says that older books will almost always be a better choice.

He also reminds us that 250 years ago, no one had news or social media to keep them updated with the world’s happenings. All they had were books and conversations.

And people were perfectly fine. I’d argue they were better off in many ways.

I’m super excited to introduce these 3 insights this year as part of my 2022 learning game plan, allowing me to learn more in lesser time and spend more time doing and creating things that add to the quality of my life and others.

Which of these insights is your favourite? Let me know, and Happy New Year!

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