Reading is one of the most impactful habits I’ve ever picked up. It has the somewhat rare combination of being both enjoyable and valuable. Some of the best minds in the wold, such as Warren Buffet, Barack Obama, and Bill Gates, swear by reading. If you’ve tried and failed to make reading a habit, this post is for you. I was in your shoes for many years. I always wanted to read more, but could never make it a habit. Three years ago I tried again. This time it worked. Below are 5 tips that helped me go from 2 to 20+ books per year since then.
Optimize Your Environment
In the past, I read a majority of the time in bed before going to sleep. For me, this was a great way to read max 3 paragraphs before zonking out for the night. Even if I read every single night this wasn’t going to get me further than several books per year. In addition, for the brief time I was awake I wasn’t reading efficiently. Instead of reading in bed or on a couch, I recommend trying to:
Sit at a Table
I now sit at a table the majority of the time that I read. It is a much more active position than lying down in bed or on a couch, and helps me both read faster and stay focused for longer periods of time. This doesn’t mean I don’t read in bed or on the subway. However, sitting at a table is where I make a majority of my progress.
Use White Noise
In addition to sitting at a table, I also use white noise to help me stay focused. There are a gazillion apps out there. Noizio is my favorite. It works on iOS, Android and macOS. Which noise is particularly helpful with drowning out your significant other watching Netflix or that conversation at the coffee shop that you have zero interest in but can’t help yourself from listening to.
Put Away Your Phone
While white noise can help minimize distractions from others, that is only half the battle. You also need to reduce self-inflicting distractions. Put away your phone. Not in your pocket. Not turned upside down on the table. Put it in a bag. Turn it off. Checking our phones has become so habitual that we need a lot of friction in order to fight these urges.
Learn to Read Faster
I wouldn’t consider myself a speed reader by any means. However, before learning the below tips I would have considered myself a slow reader. Obviously improving your reading speed will help you read more. However, I underestimated the extent that it helps. In addition to the obvious benefit of reading more pages per given period of time, it also creates a type of momentum that is less quantifiable. I now am more excited to go to a coffee shop on a Saturday because I know that I can knock out a majority of a good book in one sitting. While you may think that reading faster comes at a cost to comprehension, the truth is the opposite. By focusing more on sentences and paragraphs over words, you put more emphasis on the important concepts and passages compared to the less meaningful syntax. You are now probably asking yourself how you can improve your reading speed and comprehension. Here you go:
Use a Pointer
Using a pointer while you read will instantly give you a 50%+ boost. I always have a pencil or pen on me for this reason. This reading pointer became such a part of me that my girlfriend got me a pen holder for my birthday. There is probably some article that explains how this works much better than I understand. My naive interpretation is that reading with a pen helps you get into a good rhythm and helps you focus more on the sentences and paragraphs as a whole instead of being very focused on each individual word. Speaking of focusing on words…
Don’t Voiceover the Words In Your Head
We all have a natural tendency to voiceover the words in our head when we read. Saying each word out loud is great if you’re reading a bedtime story to your child. However, it dramatically slows down your reading speed. As mentioned by Jim Kwik on The Kevin Rose Show, subvocalization caps your reading speed at your speaking speed instead of your thinking speed. If you don’t believe him, try an app like Readsy or Accelerator that forces you to read at your thinking speed instead of your speaking speed. Magic at its finest.
This change will also improve your reading comprehension. It does this by putting more emphasis on the important passages and concepts instead of individual words. If you’re reading fiction or a classic you may deliberately want to soak up each word in detail. However, if you’re reading non-fiction focusing on the concepts is perfect. It will help you better retain the information. I also find that my better understanding of the core concepts builds positive momentum that helps me focus for longer periods of time and makes me excited to read moving forward.
Following the above steps will help you stay focused and help you read faster. These two items together will lead create a positive feedback loop. The more you read, the more new information you’ll learn, and the more excited you will get to read more.
I’ve reached a point where I read a lot. For non-fiction books in particular I also have a pretty rigorous note taking process. However, recording information is not the same as remembering and using information. Moving forward I’m going to focus more on distilling my favorite books down to their essence. I’m then going to take these core concepts and use an Anki notecard system to help me keep these ideas top of mind. While I will likely read much less new content, doubling down on the books that have resonated most with me will likely have a much bigger impact on my day-to-day.
For new books that I read I’m going to continue to try to become a better reader. There are many other tips and tricks that I’ve read about over the past year that I haven’t made a habit yet. Some of these include:
- Using my own words to summarize each chapter
- Taking time to better understand the book’s context: read the table of contents for more than 2s, familiarize myself with the author, etc.
- Focusing on key questions to help with comprehension like: Do I agree with the author? What do alternative view points look like?
Below are some articles that have inspired these improvements:
Now, off to a coffee shop for some reading ☕️📖