A simple rule about reading books

I’m currently on a layover at Dubai International Airport. My body is very confused about what time it is or should be and about whether I should be awake or asleep, hungry or not—in other words, I’m jet lagged.

To keep myself fresh at airports, I like to walk around a lot. It compensates for all the sitting on the plane. And as I was just walking through the terminal, I passed by a bookstore. You know, the WHSmith kind, except this one was smaller.

Airport bookstores tend to have fantastically interesting-looking books on display. Yes, I want more Grit! Yes, I want to learn the lessons of being a CEO of a successful company! Yes, I want to learn the secret to…

You get the idea.

I’m always tempted to buy a few of these books. But I know from experience that I won’t read them. Not anytime soon, anyway.

Why is that?

These books are not relevant to me right now. I’m not currently strengthening my discipline, scaling a company, or trying to reduce my phone usage. If I had unlimited time, I’d want to read books on these topics, to optimize my knowledge or something. After all, these books and topics are theoretically interesting and important.

But here’s the thing: I don’t have unlimited time. And if I read a book that’s not relevant to my current challenges, there’s a 90% chance I will forget almost all of its lessons.

So here’s a simple rule to go by:

Read what’s relevant to you right now.

If you’ve just gone through the end of a long relationship, read books by smart people who have written about that. If you’re looking to scale your business by building a team, read books (or listen to podcasts) by people who have successfully done that. If you’ve seen the D-Day remembrance events recently and will be visiting Normandy soon, read a history book about that!

(And if you feel like it’s finally time to get organized and get on top of your to-dos, take a course on that.)

I’m not saying, of course, that you shouldn’t read for general interest. Reading is a fantastic way to expand your mind. It opens doors to new worlds, ideas, and perspectives. I read books on random topics all the time—I’m reading “Microbe Hunters” right now—and I love to read magazines like The Economist, which report on and analyze many different subjects.

But don’t read books that you feel that you should read—except if they’re going to help you with something you’re actively pursuing right now.

Accounts from people who have previously struggled with (or are still struggling with) what you’re going through at the moment are particularly helpful. Those people have written books to share what they’ve learned. Make friends with these writers, across time and space, by reading their books when they are relevant to you.

Anyway. What book did I pick up at the bookstore?

No book. The book I need to read right now, the one most relevant to my current challenges, wasn’t there.

A close friend recommended this book to me the other day and I immediately knew I wanted to read this now—before I move on to my next challenge. So I downloaded the book to my Kindle and will be enjoying it on my next flight.

Happy reading.

Watch: iOS 18 & macOS 15 rumors

Tomorrow, Apple will be holding its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, or WWDC. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll be covering what Apple announces. But for now, let’s take a look at the rumored new features in iOS 18 and macOS 15!

Peter Akkies

Hi, I’m Peter from Amsterdam. I’ll help you get organized and be more productive. Every Sunday, I send a productivity-themed newsletter to 10,000 people. Join us!

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