We’re often told that we need to constantly read if we want to learn, grow and improve. Some might even view those who are not as adept when it comes to reading to be individuals content with ignorance. I might not frame it in the same manner, yet I would generally agree with the overall message.
Reading, and reading often, can usually be quite daunting for a lot of us, myself included. We are expected to always be aware of the latest trends, events and happenings in the world so we can engage in all sorts of conversations without the need to shyly sit back and just nod in consent to whatever everyone else is saying, secretly hoping no one directs a question in our direction.
Knowledge and information take many forms and they exist in different mediums of all types and sorts. For the sake of this article, I’ll be specifically focusing on books.
I was the type of guy who read one book and viewed it as an accomplishment. I would then put the book aside, not picking up another for months at a times. I would read around 2-3 books a year and I would derive all my thoughts, ideas and even business plans in accordance to the few highlights I collected from them. Needless to say, that is not a very rich bank of data and insights to rely on. I got by though, yet I could have done so much better.
Increase your reading speed
I kept thinking to myself, “How can people read a book a week, and even multiple in the case of many?” It didn’t make much sense. I started going through a lot of videos and tutorials on Speed Reading, hoping this would give me the answer I needed to join the ranks of those avid readers. I was fascinated by what I saw, and I decided to try a couple of the tips provided hoping that it would get me to reach Howard Berg’s level — the world’s fastest reader, reading more than 25,000 words a minute.
Obviously, that was an intolerable challenge that led more to frustration than to anything else. One lesson I learned though that I believe helped me significantly speed up my reading was this:
“When we read, we read as fast as we can speak. We pronounce everything as if we are having a conversation with someone, stopping at every comma, period, and punctuation mark.”
Here’s how your reading speed can take a giant leap forward: Stop mouthing every word you read. Your brain can process words so much faster than your mouth can, so use it accordingly. This might not make much sense, so to help you achieve that start using a tracer and move it at a consistent speed as you skim through the lines in a book. You’ll quickly realize that you’re getting through pages slightly faster while grasping the content in the same way you would have prior to this experiment.
As you get more accustomed to reading this way, you’ll probably lose the need for a tracer and your eyes will automatically do the job for you. I used a grocery store coupon card as my tracer when I first started testing this out. It works!
Increase your reading tally
Speed reading gets your reading speed up to an adequate level, but this alone does not get your reading tally up to one, two, or more books per week. For that to happen, I have three pieces of advice.
- Build a reading habit
- Utilize your dead time
- Diversify your reading content
First, build a reading habit.
Set aside 30 minutes to an hour a day. Most average-sized books have a reading time of between 6-8 hours. If you can clock in just an hour a day, consistently, you’re guaranteed to finish reading at least one book a week.
Set aside the time for it in your calendar, or make reading associated to your meal times, whatever works for you. Just make sure you have something in place.
Second, use your dead time efficiently, through audiobooks.
Every bit of time where your mind is left wandering or is idle, is time you could put to better use. Your daily commute to work, your workouts at home or at the gym, your hours of wait at the mechanic, etc… Those are all hours wasted that could have been utilized into consuming useful content.
Either signup to a library that offers audiobooks or find a service that offers free audiobooks, and start binge listening. I use an application called Libby to listen to my audiobooks as it is directly connected to a few libraries offering me with a wide variety of audiobooks.
An audiobook’s listening time can range anywhere from between 5 hours to over 20. You’ll find that most audiobooks are being read at a slower pace than usual, change the listening speed to 1.5-2x, and you’ll be getting through some books in 3 hours or less. I prefer to take notes while reading books, so when listening, I tend to have a note open on my phone to jot down any thoughts or ideas I like. Those notes then end up being my book summaries.
I invest most of my time in reading non-fiction books, but I often find myself needing a break. If you’re in that same category, my recommendation is that you include a fiction novel every now and then. It keeps things light and gives you a bit of a well-deserved break from the intensity of non-fiction, while not halting your reading routine.
Find what works for you
I have been following the above techniques starting from last November, and since then, I have managed to read over 30 books, and I’m still working on making it better, since I’m enjoying it.
I would, however, not recommend you do this if your only purpose is to claim the bragging rights of being a pro reader. You should do this as long as it works for you, and you feel like you’re learning from it. I sometimes choose to slow down when reading particular books where I feel that I need to take my time to digest it all. I also sometimes just want to read with no strings attached, so I ditch my tracer and my techniques and I just read.
Moreover, I use a kindle as it allows me to get the books I want instantaneously and also keep my notes stored in one place. If paperback books work better for you, then go with that.
Finally, do not try to hack reading too much. It should always be a source of joy, and not a task for that is important to help you maintain your reading routine. Once it starts becoming otherwise, know that it’s time to re-evaluate.