For over 4 years I've been reading a book every week. Its one of my favorite habits and creates new learning opportunities for me all the time.

I still accomplish this just about every week, and it's lead many of my colleagues intrigued with how I pull this off while running two organizations and a home life. Much to their surprise, this habit is largely the reason I have the opportunity to do just that.

When it comes to your time, reading is one of the most valuable investments you can make. A few hours in a book will return years of wisdom. There are few investment opportunities with that kind of ROI. That newfound knowledge will make you more effective with the limited time you have.

There are two challenges to overcome if you want to build this habit for yourself. First, you have to learn how to read a single book in a week, and secondly, you have to build enough discipline to do it week after week.

How to read a book in a week

There are a staggering number of people who don't read regularly. I believe this is largely psychological. Books are thick and dense and our mind tricks us into thinking there just isn't time to flip through the book, let alone understand it fully.

Reading a thick book is not as intimidating as it first seems. On average it takes me 4 to 6 hours to read a book. If we assume 6 hours, it's roughly an hour of reading each day to get through it fully.

Well, you could swap your Netflix time for reading, but that approach didn't work for me. I enjoy a good TV show, movie or sports game. If my reading takes this time time away from my family, it won't get done.

So, I invented a new technique that I call reading in the gaps. It's so simple, obvious and effective that I can't believe more people don't do it.

Our professional days are full of 10 minute gaps. We wait for someone to arrive for a meeting, take a short mental break from your work, wait for someone to finish a task that has you blocked. Even at home, waiting for your significant other to come home get have dinner.

For me, those were stale moments which provided little value. When others might pick up their phone to check Facebook, I pick up my Kindle and read a few pages.

That's it. That's the big secret. 5 of those breaks each day turn into an hour of reading each day, which sums to enough time to read a full book in a week.

How to read a book a week, every week.

Learning to read a book quickly and thoroughly is immensely valuable, but making that routine part of your life requires some big changes in discipline.

Many authors have published their research about developing habits. Charles Duhigg provides a comprehensive study in his book The Power of Habit.

As a compliment to Duhigg's study, there's one key for making any habitual change we need in our life. That is, to desire the habit. We follow our desires, at all expense and at all costs. If you crave the results of reading, and the pleasure of learning, the reading habit becomes natural. But, if you'd rather eat cookies and watch reality TV shows, then reading will take a backseat.

It's not enough to desire the habit. You must desire it more than your current habits. Alas, this is the monster that must be spayed on the path of any serious life change. New habits are challenging and demoralizing at first, and therefore undesirable. It takes great energy to plow through, and most of us won't cope with the pain to do so.

You cannot truly experience the benefits of reading every week until you have done it for a couple of months. There's a transition period, where you force yourself into the habit in order to desire it later.

Do what you can to make this transition enjoyable. If you find yourself reading a book you don't enjoy, put it down and pick up another one. There's no reason to force yourself to read something you don't like, when there's so much out that that you will enjoy. Reading something you don't enjoy is a guarantee you will stop reading eventually.

What book will you start with?

If you aren't sure where to start, take a look at my library. I share a small collection of the professional development books I've read that are pertinent to entrepreneurship.

Make sure to send me a note on Twitter, @joshwalsh, with the book you selected to start from. I'm cheering you on.

How do you decide if you should trust someone? Do you trust by default, or does someone have to earn your trust? What factors go into that decision?

What if I told you that this way of thinking, that you can consciously decide who to trust, is one of the most damaging aspects of your professional mind?

In the book Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman explains the two mental systems that control our mind:

The subconscious mind is the part of the mind we don't directly control. It takes input in the form of experiences and observations and guides us to survive. Our subconscious doesn't understand language, and manifests itself as feelings.

Conversely, the conscious mind is used for analysis, reasoning language and systematic thinking. It's who you are talking to in your inner dialog.

Furthermore, it's important to understand that the conscious mind can easily influence the subconscious mind, and eventually overpower it.

A pathological liar will eventually believe their own lies. At first they know they are lying. They choose their lies consciously. But overtime, their conscious mind overpowers their subconscious, and the truth is repressed. They believe their own lies, and live their life out of alignment with reality.

The same is true about trust, and I have a dangerous habit that I need to work on. When I sit in front of someone that I subconsciously do not trust, I ask myself why I don't trust them. I deconstruct my history with that person. I look to understand the intentions behind their actions. In my head is a fictional representation of who I want them to be, and I consciously find supporting arguments to defend that position.

This is classic overthinking. My subconscious has a much more honest understanding of that person, but my conscious mind overpowers it. Much like the pathological liar who believes his own lies, I trick myself into trusting someone I shouldn't. The truth is repressed, until reality comes crashing back.

My perception of reality will never be more true than actual reality. To fix this bad habit I must learn to always feed my subconscious truthfully and listen more closely to my gut instinct.

Using the Cynefin framework can help executives sense which context they are in so that they can not only make better decisions but also avoid the problems that arise when their preferred management style causes them to make mistakes.

The Cynefin Framework is a very interesting model for leaders who need to evaluate the effectiveness of their leadership styles in complex situations.

Dave Snowden's Cynefin blog explores many case studies of the framework in action, but I think you'll find the video and link below to be a great place to start.

Thinking of your business as a game to be won is perhaps the most singularly damaging attitude you can have as an entrepreneur.

Games are a battlefront, with a winner and a loser. Which side do you want to be on? The winning side, of course… right? I would argue that this is an unhealthy thought process. This is a false paradigm which dramatically overcomplicates the reality of the business world.

Business is not about stealing customers, destroying competitors, or being bigger and larger than the companies around us. Wealth, power, size and influence are all byproducts of serving value to others.

Our purpose as business people should be to always seek to add the highest value to those whom we serve, without condition for ourselves. When our ego is present, we are lead astray by our fear, greed and insecurities. It’s only in the complete absence of our ego that true leadership exists.

Treating business as a game infects our thinking by putting the focus on winning or losing. But, win-win scenarios are the only paths to success. Any other situation perpetuates a downward spiral, despite the potential illusion of short term success.

What happens when you create a situation where your company thrives at the expense of your customers? If you don’t create enough value to sustain your involvement in the project, your customer can’t afford to pay you. As a result, they leave and you suffer the loss of a customer. A win-lose always becomes a lose-lose.

Lets flip the script. Consider a situation where you provided a service for a customer, but after the work is done they renegotiate the deal with you for a lower price. The work is no longer at a sustainable rate for you, and so you can’t serve that customer anymore. Without a vendor, the customers business will suffer. A lose-win always becomes a lose-lose.

Enter competition. If a customer can’t sustain you as a vendor, another vendor will avail themselves in your stead, right? That is, indeed, virtually always the case. But, that’s not a competitive loss. It’s merely your failure to serve by not finding a win-win, which gives your customer no choice but to look elsewhere. The company which provides the highest value becomes the vendor, by the nature of the way the world works.

Prolonged gains, like those required to create a profitable business, don’t come at the expense of others. Quite the contrary. We must live to serve each other in a spirit of oneness if we are to find mutual success.

One of the keys to effective executive productivity is to manage tasks and map them to predefined outcomes. Over ten years of working various productivity systems, I got quite good at handling things that were expected of me and kept my projects moving forward. But about six months ago I had an epiphany that changed all that.

My epiphany was that most of the tasks I track were things that I was asked to do, and only a few were things I thought were valuable. Meaning, I was quite good at helping other people move forward with their agendas but weaker at managing my projects.

To fix this, I needed to think more about the results than the actions. By making a list of the outcomes I am trying to create, it becomes easier to see what todo’s are important to me, and which are not.

To do this, I use an excellent list manager called The Hit List by Karelia Software.

App  Screenshot

Manage Tasks with The Hit List

For the last ten years, I’ve been a notorious task list switcher. I’ve probably used every product available on the Mac/iOS platform. Notably, I used OmniFocus for most of the last eight years.

As a minimalist, I’ve found The Hit List provides the perfect environment to both plan projects as well as accomplish tasks. The killer feature is its smart lists, which are saved queries like iTunes smart playlists. Sounds nerdy, but it’s a powerful concept.

How I Configure The Hit List for Maximum Productivity

I’ve tried a variety of setups, but this one has stuck with me. It’s very basic and feeds my minimalist nature. The objective is to help me plan by thinking about and reviewing my desired results, and then view the tasks in a Stephen Covey Important/Urgent matrix.

There are a few basic guidelines that make the system work. If you follow these guidelines, the software does all the hard work for you.

  • Results are created as tasks at the top of the hierarchy, and tasks are sub-tasks underneath. Results are not actionable in themselves, and so we give them a tag of `result` as a way to filter them out of our actionable lists
  • Tasks given a priority of 1-3 are considered “Important”. You can use the 1-3 value to make some more significant than others.
  • Tasks given a priority of 4 or higher, or no priority at all, are considered “Not Important.”
  • Tasks with a Due Date in the next three days are considered “Urgent.”
  • Tasks with a Due Date more than three days in the future, or no Due Date at all, are considered “Not Urgent.”

How to Configure the Software

Here’s how I setup my projects:

Sidebar Setup

The purple folders are “smart folders.” We won’t be adding items directly to those lists. Rather, the items from our projects will show up here automatically based on how we configure those folders.

Notice that I keep all my projects in the “Projects” folder (collapsed above), organized in lists however you’d like. That structure is entirely up to you.

I keep any future projects I don’t want to worry about in the “On Hold” folder. The actionable lists we are about to create will filter these out of view.

Smart Lists

We’re going to create five smart lists. These smart lists will automatically look into your project lists, and show you items that match the query we create.

  • Outcomes: Shows all of our active tasks which are tagged with `result`. This is a handy way to keep those expected outcomes at the top of your mind.
  • Important and Urgent: This is your “on fire” list. Things which need attention right now, and the outcome is valuable. Generally, you want to avoid letting things show up here, as they cause anxiety and stress.
  • Important, but not Urgent: These are valuable items which aren’t blowing up in your face. If my system is working well, I work from this list almost exclusively.
  • Urgent, but not Important: This is a list of things that are nagging you right now, but add little value to your intended results. Consider delegating or deleting these items.
  • Not Urgent or Important: Get rid of these items. They consume your time and attention.

The Hit List manual has great documentation on how to setup your own smart lists, so I won’t show you how the software itself works. However, I will show you the exact queries I use in my own setup. I’ll explain the first one in detail, and then the others should be obvious.

Note: As of the time of this writing, on the Mac app supports creating smart lists. You can use them on any device once created, but the Mac app itself is required to create them.

Create a Test Project

To make sure you have everything setup correctly, create yourself a “Test Project” which has this content:

Test Project

As we create our smart lists, you can check the results to make sure the correct items are showing up. For each of the Important/Urgent lists, you should see only the single task that matches. In the Outcomes list, you should see the top result task, and it’s sub-tasks.

For example, once you’ve created the “Important and Urgent” smart list, it should have only have 1 item from the test project in it, the task labeled “Urgent and Important”.

Urgent, but not Important

Lets start by creating the “Urgent, but not Important” list, as its one of the more complex.

Create a new Smart list with the name above. Setup the query like this: (Note, you’ll need to use the option key to add the sub-rules)

Urgent Not Important

Here’s how this works:

  1. The first set of rules filters tasks down to just those which are due in the next 3 days, or overdue
  2. The second rule hides anything which is in the “On Hold” folder.
  3. The third rule filters out any tasks which we have tagged as `Result`
  4. The last rules filter to only tasks which are low priority, or don’t have a priority set.

You can follow this direction to create the remaining smart lists using the following settings.

Important and Urgent

Important And Urgent

Important, but not Urgent

Important Not Urgent

Not Urgent or Important

Not Urgent Not Important

Outcomes

Outcomes Setup