One of the most common excuses for not reading is not having enough time. If you are like me then you probably have a long list of business (or other) books waiting for your attention but you have no spare time left to read all those great books. I must admit that I’m a rather slow reader, I like to go into the book – and that is no help at all… So the list is piling up and causing uneasiness. Well that’s how it used to be for me, but not anymore. Now I know how to get most out of business books.


Publishing business books is big business and publishers are very good marketers. They construct clever titles and design shiny covers. Even though you know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover you often do – and that’s a mistake. After buying the book you feel more obliged to read it even if it is no good. I believe that reading a book should be fun and/or meaningful experience for you. A good book should shake your world up a bit. But how do you know which books are the right ones?

Recommendations help reduce the noise and the size of the pile. Suggestions from friends and colleagues are most valuable, suggestions from critics are ok. Online suggestions from other readers are better than nothing. Sometimes I ask recommendations from strangers just to broaden the view. Usually the question is:

> If you could recommend me only one (business) book out of all the books you’ve read in your life – which one would it be?

Best business books deliver a clear promise.

* After reading this book you will know… (some knowledge).
* After reading this book you will be able to… (some skill).
* After reading this book you will know… and be able to… (knowledge + skills).

The title for a book is usually just a name. If you’re lucky the promise is in the subtitle which tells you what the book is about, but most of the time this is not the case.

Don’t forget that this is all pure marketing (there are lots of test to figure out which cover design, title and subtitle sell more). You should always scan the Table of Contents to see the actual topics covered and the length for each topic. Also check for key concepts in the index. Then move on to the introduction – are you still intrigued after reading it? Is the promise now clear? Does it add value? If it’s unclear or no promise can be found, move on. If there’s a clear promise which doesn’t add value, move on.

What about endorsements? Have you ever seen a negative one?


Now it is time to read chapter summaries. Don’t think of it as cheating but as a time-saver. For many books this will do and there’s no need to go into more details. If you feel like you want to read the whole book after reading chapter summaries then do it – chances are it’s a time well spent.

I’ve found it useful to read regularly in short sessions which last up to 60 minutes. There’s a 3-5 minute pause in the middle. This way the book has my full attention. I try to find at least one good idea in each reading session.

Take notes to record memorable and valuable highlights. I use highlighters while reading, write down best quotes and interesting examples + a short summary of the book. Learn to interact with the book and don’t have any fear of writing in a book.

If the book isn’t working, stop reading it and choose another. It doesn’t matter how many pages in you are. People have an irrational tendency to feel obligated to finish what they’ve started. Learn to let go.