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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

The Simple Task That'll Make You Seem Smarter Than Most People

By definition, in order to stand out you need to do something that very few others are doing. But if you think that means engaging in something instantly, obviously extraordinary, like heroic adventures, extreme fitness regimes, or rigorous 4 AM productivity rituals, then a recent Medium post from writer Gary Wu might surprise you.

His suggestion to stand out from the crowd—read more.

Yup, that’s it. But how can picking up a book make you stand out? Don’t most striving professionals take the time to nourish their brains with the printed word? Some surprising statistics, rounded up by Wu, suggest that regular in-depth reading is actually probably much rarer than you’d guess.

“33% of U.S. high school graduates will supposedly never read a book after high school. That number is 42% for college graduates,” he reports, confessing that he too once let the busyness of adult life distract him from his earlier love of reading.

With almost half of us never reading a book after we finish our formal education, being a committed and regular reader is likely to help you stand out, but it’s not just logic that points to the benefits of finding the time to plow through plenty of books. Science has also found a host of benefits to the brain from regular reading besides the obvious advantage of a larger pool of knowledge to draw from. Books not only help you become more intelligent and creative, the truly great ones actually expand your empathy and help you understand people from all walks of life.

Still looking for more reasons to find time to pick up more books? Wu also rounds up plenty of quotes from some of the most impressive figures in business and entrepreneurship extolling the virtues of regular reading. Here’s one example from Warren Buffett, who offered this advice when asked how to get smarter: “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will.”

Reading more might not be the sexiest or most new-fangled life hack out there, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. So stop making excuses and get yourself to a bookstore (or get yourself a library card), Wu urges. “There’s no real secret to reading more,” he says. “Adjust your priorities and make it a part of your daily routine, just as eating dinner or brushing your teeth is. Start small if you have to. Twenty pages a day amounts to 24 books a year.”

How much do you read—and should you read more?

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