3 Tiny Tweaks To Significantly Increase The Number Of Books You Read

Make these changes and watch your reading habits skyrocket.

woman reading GaudiLab/ Shutterstock

More than anything else in life, I’m a writer.

I’m also a to-be doctor.

However, when people ask me what I do — that’s not the first thing that comes to my mind. The first thing that comes to my mind is that I’m a writer.

And as a writer, reading is my primary fuel.

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To that end, I’ve iterated my reading process a lot over the years to be able to maximize what I gain from reading.


In this article, I want to discuss tiny tweaks to your reading process that will skyrocket the benefits you gain from reading. Note that these changes are small — but their power is immense.

And hence, I’ll try to take a deep dive into why every small tweak is so powerful. The article will be long but powerful, I promise. Let’s dive in.

Here are 3 tiny tweaks to significantly increase the number of books you read:

1. Make notecards

The notecard system is a system used by writers like Ryan Holiday and others. So naturally, I gave it a go as well. And that’s when I realized that making notecards while reading is something non-writers should do as well.


Making notecards is a simple process of jotting down insights you find while reading on a piece of a notecard. Example:

Front and back of a notecard I made while reading Einstein’s biography by Walter Isaacson. The notecard contains a category (Better Thinking), a title (Contempt for authority), two quotes by Einstein himself, a reference to the page number if I want to revisit it, and some of my own thoughts to make sense of his quotes.

This is why you should do it:


Reading is a process of introducing new ideas to your conscious mind. However, 95% of your life runs from your subconscious. Hence, if you actually want these insights to change your life, you have to let the insights sink into your subconscious.

Think of your mind like a deep water body.

When you read a book without pausing at all, the insights will just float on the surface waters. They’ll stay there for a while — but soon enough, they’ll be washed to the shore. They’ll be forgotten.

However, if you somehow add weight to these insights, they will sink into your subconscious mind — where they’ll actually become a part of you and bring actual change to your way of living.


Let me take a quick detour to help you really understand this point.

As a student, I’ve learned a lot of memory techniques to be able to learn facts from my huge medical syllabus. One memory technique that completely change my life was a simple formula by Kevin Horseley:

Long-term memory (LTM) + Short term memory (STM) = Medium-term memory (MTM)

His idea was that if, while studying, you somehow attach new facts (that are in your short-term memory) to what’s already in your long-term memory, you can commit these facts to your medium-term memory.

As an example, he said that you can try to remember a sequence of words in a list by imagining them sequentially in your house — room by room — in the sequence they are located after entering your house.


Because you already remember the sequence of the rooms in your house, you’ll be better able to remember the sequence of the words as well.

Of course, it’s much more complex and harder than it sounds, but it’s a skill that’s developed over time. And the principle is airtight.

It’s as if, you’re sending information already present in your memory to your conscious mind, and using it to recruit new info to your subconscious mind.

The same thing can be done with notecards.

When reading, if you find a good insight, you shouldn’t just appreciate it and continue reading.

You should stop. You should somehow see how that insight relates to your life. You should find a memory in your life when this insight might have actually helped you.


When you write a notecard, you’re physically forcing yourself to pause at an insight and write it down on a piece of paper. This act of pausing — consequently gives that insight enough time to get meatier and heavier.

And then, it can sink into your subconscious mind.

Writing notecards is just a method that ensures you’ll pause when you must pause.

How to do it:

Now that you understand why you should do it, let’s discuss a few key things to remember to make the most of this process.

  • Use actual physical notecards. Yes, I understand that the world is getting digital. But ‘pen and paper’ are still more powerful than digital notetaking in some cases. Physically writing down an insight gives it more weight than typing it down.
  • You can buy notecards online for a few dollars. Write down insights you find interesting and store them in a box on your desk if possible.
  • Connect it to your own life memories and experiences. This will ensure that the insights get attached to your own life and consequently, sink into your subconscious mind and actually becomes a part of your life.
  • Occasionally open your box and review your notecards.

Note: There are many more aspects to the notecard system. Don’t focus on perfecting the system at the beginning. Just start and keep iterating according to the needs of your own life — and you’ll develop a system that's perfect for you. I have a system as well — let me know if you want me to write about it in detail and I will.


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2. Set timer-focused goals

When people say that they’re planning to read 100 books in a year, it makes me nauseous.

I tried to do that a few years ago as well. But now I know better. So I do better.

You see when you set goals like these:

  • “I’ll read 52 books in a year.”
  • Or “I have to finish this book in 4 days.”
  • Or “I have to read 20 books before sleeping.”

You’re compromising the process of reading. Setting goals like these will make you more concerned with finishing a book than actually learning from it.

For instance, let’s say you set a goal to read 20 pages in a day. And then one day, you didn't get to read the entire day. Only before your bedtime do you get some time to read.


In such a case, you’ll be racing against the clock. You’ll read fast. You’ll not stop and pause when you should have (the importance of what we discussed in point #1). This makes the entire point of reading moot.

Yes, you’ll finish your 20 pages. But did you learn anything meaningful?

Consider this as well. Let’s say you’re aiming to finish a particular this week — but what if that book provides a shit ton of insights that must be wired into your life. And that takes time. But you’re so concerned with finishing the book and starting a new one that you skip the aspect of reading that actually matters— “making changes to your life”.

Let’s take another example. If your goal is to read 52 books in a year, what happens when you’re halfway through a bad book? Will you be able to abandon it?


You won’t. Because — again — you’re concerned with finishing the book because that’s what you’re trying to achieve. Hence, you’ll waste even more of your time reading a book you know is not worth the time.

Naval Ravikant — one of the smartest people of our age says that he abandons books very easily. Once he realized that he’s not going to learn from a book, he’ll stop reading it.

Beginner readers aren’t able to do that — because they’re concerned with finishing a book. Not learning from it.

What to do instead and why:

Instead of setting goals focussed on the quantity of reading: such as “52 books in a year”, or “20 pages in a day”, set timer-focused goals like — “I’ll read for 30 minutes every day.”


This is a minor tweak — but extraordinarily powerful.

What this means is — you’ll read for 30 minutes a day — by setting an actual timer. In that time, you may read one page. Or a hundred pages. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of the reading. Every single of those 30 minutes will be focussed.

You’ll actually read to learn. You’ll read fast when you can read fast. But you’ll slow down when you need to. And you’ll even pause and take the time to write notecards. You’ll pause and see how the insight plays in your life.

This simple tweak allows the process of reading to change your life. It takes off the pressure of finishing a book and focuses solely on learning from the book. The mindset change is absolutely beautiful.


How to do it:

  • Set a daily timer-focused goal you’ll spend reading. Be realistic. It can be as little as 15 minutes.
  • Set an actual timer. This ensures that you’ll not be distracted.
  • When you pause to introspect about an insight or to write a notecard about it, you don’t have to pause the timer! This introspection is actually what reading is about — and hence, it should be a part of your reading time. Even if you read four sentences in a minute, and then spend the next 14 minutes thinking about an extraordinary insight you found — that’s fair game. In fact, that’s exactly what I want you to do.

Please realize that it’s not about how many books you read — it’s about how much your life changes. My philosophy, when it comes to reading, ensures that my life will change significantly more than someone who reads a hundred books in a year even if I read only ten. Who wins in such a case? I do. And you will too. If you do the same.

3. Create your own categorization of books

When we think about categories of books, we think of “fiction”, “non-fiction”, “autobiographies”, etc.

However, you have to understand these book categories don’t actually exist. It’s not as if these categories pre-existed and humans wrote books accordingly. Nope. Humans wrote what they wanted to — and then due to the huge number of books — we ‘created’ categories so that we can sort them and better understand the world of books.


To that end, you must categorize books for yourself in the context of how any particular book helps you. This teaches you to figure out how you want to look at books. For instance, here’s how I categorize the books I read (so far):

1. Character-changing books: These are the books that change “WHO” I am

These are books that help me change as a person at the deepest level. For instance, before I read the book, Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins, I was the kind of person who liked to seek comfort when things got rough. This book changed my identity. It resonated with something deep within me and made me a badass who was tougher than anything life can throw at him.

I created this category because I’ve realized that if you want to change your life, you cannot do it without changing your character. For instance, a not-so-ambitious person can read a million books on productivity — but they’ll not help him — because he doesn’t actually want to be productive.


To put it in another way, a book on productivity can teach productivity only to someone who wants to be productive. Not to someone who doesn’t want to be productive.

Some other examples of character-changing books are:

Einstein’s biography by Walter Isaacson. This book shares stories from Einstein and is indirectly helping me nurture my curiosity to explore the world.
Discipline is Destiny by Ryan Holiday. This book helped me become someone who likes to be in complete control of his body and mind.
The Obstacle is The Way by Ryan Holiday. This book skyrocketed my optimism.

If you think about it, none of these books share strategies about said character traits. For instance, in Discipline is Destiny, Ryan does not actually share tools for more discipline. He only shares stories about people’s insane discipline. These stories connect with you on a very deep level and make you change within.


Character-changing books are what I seek when I know I have to change as a person. Just reading these books alone can change your life.

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2. “How-to” books: These books change how you do something — but there’s a catch

These are books that teach me how to do something. Examples would be Atomic Habits, Ultralearning, Getting Things Done, etc.

But here’s the thing about these books.

Unlike “Character-changing books” these books will not change your life just by reading them. In fact, these books will be worthless to you if:

  • If they aren’t a fit for your character.
  • If you don’t complement them with actual action.

For instance, I read the book Getting Things Done by David Allen a while ago — but it didn’t do anything for me — primarily for the above two reasons.


By character, I’m not an obsessively productive person. I don’t want my whole life to be systemized — as David suggested. And because that’s not my character, I didn’t take any related action suggested in the book.

Another example: I also read the book The Art and Business of Online Writing by Nicolas Cole. Great stuff! But then again, it didn’t help me much because I don’t think of myself as an online writer obsessed with building a business. I think of myself as a deep thinker who uses writing as his most powerful tool.

On the other hand, if these “How-to” books match your character — and you take action, they can change your life.


For instance, a year ago, I read Ultralearning by Scott Young — and it changed my life — for the same two reasons mentioned above.

I’m a true lifelong learner. An obsession with learning runs in my blood. And I took every piece of advice mentioned in the book and used it to master my huge medical syllabus. I continue to use the principles in other fields as well.

I choose what “how-to” books to read keeping in mind these principles.

3. Exploration books

These are books that help me explore a new subject in depth.

For instance, these days I’m exploring the neurotransmitter Dopamine — what it does, how it works, and how to use hack it to my advantage in real life.


Now, we all read books about new topics every now and then. But here’s what I’m doing differently this time. I’m not reading only a single book on the topic. But I’m reading multiple books (5+) on the same topic.

In the case of Dopamine, I finished my first book on it a while ago — Dopamine Nation. Then, I explored more books on dopamine and as of now, I’m reading The Molecule of More.  After this, I’m going to read The Dopamine Mind in Human Evolution & History.

This way, I’m gathering a thorough understanding of a new subject through multiple perspectives.

Doing this is actually stretching my perspective in life — and I can sense it. For instance, these days I can vaguely sense when my dopamine spikes and when I’m low on dopamine. I also have a far better understanding as to how I should reframe my self-talk — and how that relates to dopamine.


The understanding is not extraordinary — but it’s something. I know if I continue to dive deeper, I’ll stretch my perspective even further.

I use Exploration books specifically to learn new subjects and know more about how our beautiful world works.

4. Others

All the other books that don’t fit into the above three categories are in this category for now.

As a reader, I’m continuously asking myself what each book means to me and how it helps me elevate my life. If I find that there needs to be another category of books, I’ll create another category. And then, I’ll figure out how to approach that category in a meaningful way — the way I have found specific ways to approach the above three categories.


As I said before — categories don’t actually exist. It’s just a way for our minds to comprehend the world a bit more easily. I’m asking you to categorize books for yourself because it forces you to enquire about your relationship with books and reading in general.

This inquiry leads to a better understanding and consequently allows you to approach reading much more intentionally than before.

Note that you don’t have to achieve this in a day or a year. In fact, the perfect approach cannot be invented. The goal here is to simply be more intentional and keep iterating to be a more mindful reader.

The goal is simply to allow more and more books to change your life more and more significantly.


Boy, that was a long expanation! But I had to cover the topic in detail. Every point had significance — and explaining it properly was essential if I was to persuade you to make these tweaks. I hope I did that.

Here’s a quick recap of the article:

  • Make notecards while reading. This makes sure that you pause when you’re supposed to while reading — and also helps certain insights gain enough weight for them to successfully sink into your subconscious mind.
  • Don’t set reading goals in terms of the number of books or pages. Instead, decide to read every day for a specific amount of time and focus on actual learning instead of just finishing the book.
  • Categorize books by inquiring about your relationship with books. By categorizing, you allow yourself to figure out what kind of books help you in which unique ways— and also tells you how to approach a specific book to maximize your learnings.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more.