Most of the time, these posts were written better and researched more, so I was a little afraid to give it a shot.
Then I realized that reading advice wasn’t what really reached me–it was hearing stories about how others have learned.
This isn’t advice
So, since I don’t believe I’m the right person to be offering anyone advice, I thought I’d write this post on what I’ve implemented in my own life to increase the speed and comprehension of how I read, and what habits helped me get there. Take it or leave it–this is what I’ve found. I’ll link to some helpful articles and books (affiliate links) as well, but I’ll try to include the real meat-and-potatoes of it here.
Note: This post is long, and after reading through this post, I’ve realized that it’s very heavy in the beginning in regards to “types” of reading and reading multiple books more quickly. To get to the part about reading a single book as quickly as possible, and increasing your personal reading speed, scroll down.
1,000 books a year
One day, I want to look back on December 31 and say, “wow–I read 1,000 books this year!” That year won’t be this year, unless I seriously pick up the pace.
But I don’t think it’s necessarily impossible, either. If I had more time to just sit and read, I might actually be able to get 3-4 books read every day.
Right now, I’m on track to read, digest, and understand 100 books in 2012–nothing miraculous, but definitely a noteworthy amount for me. In years past, if I had to estimate, I’d say I got about 30-40 books read in a year (which is, incidentally, quite a few more than the average American adult).
I’ve definitely spent more time actually reading, but I’ve also improved my reading speed as well.
What I’ve tried
- Speed-reading seminars. In college, I watched a DVD “speed-reading” course (lecture) given to a group of university students. The lecturer was knowledgeable, and the tips useful, but it was too much of a general overview to be of any real use. Another popular book/course is this one.
- Paul Scheele’s PhotoReading course. Paul’s a nice guy, and he really does a good job with his course. The problem, though, is that there were too many “froufrou”-y things filling out his course materials for my liking. I went through the DVDs, book, and course materials and came away with the notion that this was all just a glorified “speed-reading” course.
- Collecting tips and tricks. This method, unscientifically called “figuring out what works” has actually been the most useful. I’ve spent hours scouring the web for the best tips, methods, and advice of other people who claim to be able to read very quickly. Some of it’s been crap, and some of it’s pretty good.
This is, by no means, an actual “method” to which I lay claim–rather, it’s an amalgamation of some stuff I’ve done that’s really worked. I can read through a non-fiction book in a few days, and have a thorough and in-depth understanding of its principles. Here’s what to do:
1. Be Selective – Only Read Good Stuff
If you’ve been a reader for some time, you already have a pretty good idea of what you like to read. You have a favorite author or two in the fiction realm, and a few categories of nonfiction that never disappoint. Books outside of these realms can be read, of course, but you usually stick to your guns.
The first step in reading more is actually reading less–to stay motivated and “hungry” for books, I’ve found it helpful to put a book down very quickly if I’m not engaged.
Don’t waste time wading through countless pages of description if you’re an action buff–or at least skip to the action, if it won’t cause you to get lost.
Don’t spend hours reading the case studies given at the ends of chapters, or the footnotes in business books–unless you’re going to really need to scrutinize the material for your job.
Instead, read through a few pages, and if you like it–keep reading. If not–move on. There are tons of books out there!
2. Embrace the Audiobook
It took me awhile to get behind the idea of “listening” to a book rather than reading it. But on the way to and from work and church, I’ve been listening through a number of books. In the past two weeks alone, here’s a list of the books that I’ve finished or almost finished:
- Bossypants – Tina Fey
- The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming – Christopher Horner
- Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
- The Power of Self-Discipline – Brian Tracy
- The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
- Steve Jobs – Walter Isaacson
Audiobooks are a great way to leverage the time during a commute, downtime at the office, or during a workout. It’s a little harder to improve retention and comprehension with audiobooks, at least for me, though–I like to be able to see the structure of the chapters, and the words on the page.
But I’d much rather “read” an audiobook in the car than a paperback!
3. Mix It Up
I don’t read one book at a time–I’ve tried doing it, but I get temporarily sidetracked, or interested in something else, or just plain forget to finish. Now, I read two or three books simultaneously, and I’ve found that it’s helped me stay motivated to finish. When I get bored with one, I can jump to another right away. If I get bored with the same one again, I stop reading it.
You might find it best to read fiction and nonfiction simultaneously, or at least multiple nonfiction books. Reading two or more fiction books (at least for me) is challenging, as it’s easy to get confused or twist around the story lines.
Mixing it up like this lets me stay “in-the-game” of reading. I have a drive to finish a book, especially if I find it intriguing and well-written. By jumping around, it makes me want to finish the current chapter or section so I can go right into another book I’m currently reading.
4. Love the TOC
For nonfiction especially, you’re usually reading for a purpose: to gain an insight, solve a problem or answer a question, or learn something new. Know at the outset what you want to get out of reading this particular book, and what you hope to learn.
Read the Table of Contents first, and even try to skim the chapter’s main subheadings. Doing this allows you to more thoroughly understand the structural outline the author intends to use, and it helps you skip back and forth through the book if need be.
Sometimes, like when a book isn’t written well or very well-structured, I might just read the Table of Contents and a few select sections and be done with it. Books are products, and unfortunately there are those authors who have a short, simple point they’d like to get across in 100,000 words instead of 100.
I don’t want to waste my time with those types of books, and neither do you.
5. Understand Cognitive Reading
This section is where I’ll give some specific, actionable ways to double your reading speed in as little as half an hour (no joke!). But first, understand a few things:
- Your mind and eyes read faster than your mouth. As a kid, you were probably taught to “subvocalize,” which is a fancy way of saying you said the words aloud, but only in your head. Sometimes you can see people subvocalizing when they’re reading–their mouths and lips will move as if they’re talking, but they’re not making any noise.
- Your eyes naturally “dart” around the page. When you read a line of text, your eyes are actually moving very rapidly, shifting their focus in minute ways every few milliseconds.
- The average person can read about 300-400 WPM. If you do what I’m about to show you, you can double this–easily. You probably already have a quicker-than-average reading speed (you made it to the bottom of this post!), but it’s not improbably to increase that speed to 700, 800, or even 1,000+ WPM with little effort.
Ready? Here’s what you need to do:
- Stop subvocalizing. This step is easier said than done, but it’s possible. First start focusing on every other word in a sentence. Don’t let your eyes wander, and try to “bounce” over a few words at a time–you’ll still feel like you’re reading each individual word, but you’re really only reading the “important” words, letting your brain “fill in the blanks.”
- Use a pointer. Certain speed-reading methods rely on and teach using bookmarks, pencils, or other objects, but I like to use my finger. The idea is to drag your pointer along a line, just below the text, as you read (bounce) over the words. Keep a steady tempo, and make it quicker than what you’re comfortable with–as your brain gets used to reading this way, you’ll start reading sentences and lines as “chunks” of text, rather than word-by-word.
- Create “focal points.” When you get used to not subvocalizing and using a pointer or finger, try to create focal points–two or three per line, depending on the size of the page–for your eyes. Instead of dragging your finger along the line, tap once about an inch from the first word of the line, and again about an inch from the last word. You’re now “speed reading” in a way that allows you to maintain a steady–albeit quick–reading pace.
This method is sort of like skimming, but it allows you the major benefit of increased comprehension. Whereas skimming might teach you to jump from subheading to subheading or paragraph to paragraph, this method of speed reading has you jumping from line to line–“reading” every word subconsciously along the way.
I personally read this way, especially when it comes to nonfiction. Use these methods and see what you think–I read about 30 books a year last year, and I’m well on my way to 100+ this year. Give it a shot!
Since I’m rather wordy at times, I didn’t feel like leaving you hanging without mentioning these extremely helpful tips:
- Practice. Reading is a skill, and it takes conscious practice and effort. It’s adamant to practice by reading books you actually enjoy–dry textbooks aren’t going to be very beneficial to you, as you won’t want to sit down and put in the time.
- Find your reading spot. I read in bed, in the restroom, in the car (when it’s parked, duh), and anywhere else I can get away with it, but I’m a reading junkie. It helps to find a “Fortress of Solitude” for reading, like a study, den, or your favorite armchair. Find a quiet, comfortable place that you won’t be disturbed often, and set a time of day to get your reading done.
- Keep a “to-read” list. I use Goodreads for my list, as well as Amazon Wish Lists, and I have a few stacks of thrillers by my bed. Having a list of books to read keeps your eyes on the prize–but don’t let it get too long, or you might get discouraged!
If the above post didn’t scare you away, here a few other resources you might find helpful:
Have you used these methods before? Have you done something else that worked well? Let us know in the comments section–this site’s about learning new things and helping others, so don’t be a hog–share your awesome secrets!
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