05/27/2016 02:29 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

How I (Try) to Filter Through the Noise and Read Effectively


Recently, a handful of people have asked me about my method for reading. Before I get to that, some quick context: I flat-out love reading and take it seriously. My humble web of knowledge has grown from the various books and articles that I've read in the past. And the things I'll read in the future will integrate into and expand - or even better, make me question and adjust - the web. When viewed in this light, reading is not a hobby but an activity that shapes how I think, feel, and act. While this all sounds really serious (and it is) I'd be remiss if I didn't say reading also serves as an end in itself - there are few things I enjoy more than being deep in a good book. Here's how I read.

On Selecting Books
  • I tend read in clusters, so I'll start by picking a general topic/area that I want to explore.
  • Next, I identify 2 to 4 people whom I perceive as knowledgeable in that topic/area and ask each of them to recommend 2 to 3 books. (I've cold-emailed all sorts of people. All sorts of people respond. It's great.)
  • This generally gives me a reading list of anywhere from four to eight books.
  • Although it can be hard, once I've committed to a particular topic, I generally don't stray from it until I've finished my reading list.

I'll depart from this method on a few occasions: Sometimes I'll ask people whom I really admire to recommend books, non-specific to any single topic, that have had a formative influence on them. Also, if while reading an article (more on that below) I come across a book that is related to the topic cluster I'm currently reading in, I'll consider adding it to the list.

On Selecting Articles
  • I'm a big fan of Twitter. I'm selective about who I follow and the criteria is simple: someone (or some organization) that is posting quality thoughts and/or links. I further filter those I follow into topical lists. This gives me reading lists for the following categories: science and health; philosophy; news; athletics; psychology; and my favorite (and the hardest list to get on): general wisdom
  • Outside of Twitter, I visit 3 websites daily: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Outside Online. These sites are consistently high-quality and give me a well-rounded view of the things I am interested in.
  • I also try to read Runner's World monthly and have a pile of New Yorker magazines that I tell myself I'll get to, although the pile keeps getting taller...
On Reading Books
  • The first 30-60 minutes I am awake every morning.
  • If I can, another 30-45 minutes in the late afternoon or evening.
  • Certain periods, set aside as "intensive reading," when I'll read up to 4 hours a day (these don't happen often).
  • Real, physical books only
  • Lots of hand-written notes using sticky-notes that I'll attach upside down to the page that spurred the thought. This is huge. Helps solidify key points in memory and allows for easy physical access and retrieval when referring back to the book.
  • Generally all the way-through. Perhaps this results from my above selection process, but I'd say I only "struggle" to finish 10-15% of the books I start, although I would probably be better off if I learned how to not finish every book I start.
On Reading Articles
  • I'll spend between 45-75 minutes daily reading articles - mainly during commutes on public transit, when I'm exercising on indoor cardio equipment, or during 10-15 minute breaks I take from other work throughout the day.
  • This time is divided between Twitter (as an avenue to articles) and the three websites I visit daily (named above).
  • Magazines are saved for flights.
  • Key learnings from articles get jotted down somewhere on my phone (since I'm usually reading these electronically) and then transcribed into a journal later on.

Some Final Thoughts
As I wrote this, it occurred to me that reading in this manner is a practice that requires effort. It forces me to prioritize and ignore the distractions that are my email, social media, and the satisfaction of actually "doing" other things (most of which I actually have to get done, haha!). I'm a major work in progress.

Hopefully learning about my method for reading helps you hone in on your own. Finally, the books pictured at the outset of this article are a narrowed list of those that have significantly influenced me. If you have any questions on those books (or anything mentioned above) reach out on Twitter @Bstulberg. I'd also love to hear from you RE: your methods for reading, as I'm always looking to improve mine.