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How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

How to Read 10X Faster and Retain More

Reading is a profound human ability, and its one that doesn’t receive enough attention these days. We expect everything to come to us quickly, and information is no exception. At this point, most people are scrolling and surfing instead of actually reading. According to a study by the Pew Research Center,[1] around 26% of adults in America didn’t pick up a book at all in 2016.

When we mindlessly scroll, we aren’t learning in the same way that we do when we read. Avid readers experience decreased anxiety when they get lost in a book, and reading builds empathy.[2] There are plenty of reasons to crack open a book on a frequent basis, if you want to know more you can read Reading With Purpose Can Change Your Life.

Reading doesn’t have to be a slow process. If you think that reading is too time consuming, you might want to give speed reading a try.

You can read 6 times more books if you know how to speed read

When you speed read, you can take in significantly more information than the average person. A recent study suggests that the average adult can read about 300 words per minute. Proficient speed readers can read around 1,500 words per minute.[3] For those of you keeping score at home, the speed reader is able to consume five times as many words as the average adult. There are a few anomalous individuals who can read even more.

To put that into perspective, let’s say that the average book is around 100,000 words long. The average adult reader will spend approximately 5.5 hours reading a book of that length. A speed reader can complete the same task in about 50 minutes. This opens up significant possibilities for the speed readers to take in a book every day with a commitment of less than an hour, or 7 books per week. The average reader will only be able to enjoy 1.27 books per week if they read for an hour per day. At the end of the year, the speed reader could read over 365 books, while the average adult will complete 66.18.

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These are the techniques that fast track your reading

Speed reading does take some practice, but you can start reaping the benefits of this reading method almost immediately.

1. The table of contents should be the first thing you read

We skip over the table of contents far too often when starting to read a book–especially if we intend to read the book in its entirety. The table of contents is a reader’s roadmap through the book. Since speed readers aren’t fixated on absorbing every word, knowing the big ideas of each chapter primes their brains to take in the information.

You wouldn’t head on a road trip without consulting a map. Reading aimlessly makes as much sense as driving without reading road signs. Sure, you can get through a book without looking at the table of contents, but you’re more likely to lose focus or waste time wondering about structural questions that could be answered with a quick look at the front matter.

If you need to know specific information from the book, the table of contents can tell you which chapters are relevant. This lets you skip over parts that aren’t pertinent to your research.

In some cases, the table of contents doesn’t offer much detail, or the author might use it to entice you to read more. Taking a quick look at the first chapter or two can offer you insight into how the author structures their work if the table of contents fails to give you clues.

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2. Always read with an intention

After you identify the subject of the chapter, you’ll need to keep a question in the back of your mind. Asking, “What is the author trying to tell me?” is a great way to frame your thoughts. Your brain will work to figure out the answer to this question as you read.

When you read with a purpose in mind, you’ll be able to process relevant information and filter out extraneous material.

3. Identify the author’s point of view and read just enough references to understand

Books generally contain references to other academic works to support their standpoint. By taking a look at what the author chooses to cite, you can learn a bit more about how he or she will formulate their key points. This information can guide your thinking as you speed read.

Glancing at the references doesn’t mean that you need to stop to read through every note or source. References that merely reaffirm what the author says will quickly become monotonous to read. You just want to get the general idea. After you have enough information to make sense of the material you won’t gain anything extra by continuing to consume the same information.

Think about reading the way you think about eating. Just because the buffet is full of all sorts of delicious options doesn’t mean that you have to eat all of it. Just like you stop eating when you are full, you can move on from the references after you have enough information to understand the concept.

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4. Never read aloud (or in your head)

Reading aloud is great for developing fluency in emerging readers, but it is a surefire way to slow you down. When kids read passages out loud in school, it’s for a specific purpose, but it’s unnecessary in the context of speed reading.

When we read passages out loud, our brain has to work a bit harder than when we read silently. The act of reading uses the same parts of your brain whether you read the information aloud or reading it silently.[4] The major difference between silent reading and reading aloud is that the act of speaking requires your brain to take an extra step.

Brocas’ Area is the part of the brain associated with turning the thoughts in your head into meaningful expression through speech. Wernicke’s Area is responsible for comprehension.[5] If you can minimize sub-vocalization and reading aloud, then you can eliminate the extra step of having to read and comprehend speech in Wernicke’s Area and then vocalize it in Broca’s Area.

When we read aloud, our brain not only sees the words on the page, but it also goes through the trouble of hearing the words and producing speech. We really don’t need to vocalize what we are reading to understand it. The extra steps can slow us down significantly.

You might have noticed that sometimes when you read aloud, you might have trouble comprehending what you just read. It may even be necessary to re-read the same sentence so that you can confirm that what you saw and spoke are in true alignment.

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When you apply the third technique in this list, it becomes even more impractical to read out loud. That method requires you to consider chunks of information larger than sentences. When you are working through books paragraph by paragraph to identify the author’s perspective, having to go line by line to produce speech is a waste of time.

It’s quite challenging to take up all these techniques at the beginning, so I’m recommending you this tool: Outread, to help you read faster.

Speed reading is like enjoying the garden view instead on focusing on every single petal

When we read at a leisurely pace, it gives us a chance to appreciate words in a different way. Think of reading line by line like stopping to appreciate a beautiful flower garden with a magnifying glass or spending thirty minutes examining a piece of artwork three inches in front of your face. You might think that you need to look that closely, and you may see some incredible things, but you’re missing the totality of the scene.

Speed reading gives you the opportunity to look at the big picture so that you can see how many kinds of flowers there are or how different brush strokes combine to make a cohesive image. When look at the big picture, you can extract more meaning from what you see.

Instead of wasting time focusing on the petals of a single type of flower, you can enjoy the whole garden. Applying speed reading comprehension techniques makes it possible for you to extract more of the big ideas from the things that you read. You not only get more information from every book that you read, but you get to enjoy more books along the way, too.

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on March 21, 2019

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

11 Important Things to Remember When Changing Habits

Most gurus talk about habits in a way that doesn’t help you:

You need to push yourself more. You can’t be lazy. You need to wake up at 5 am. You need more motivation. You can never fail…blah blah “insert more gibberish here.”

But let me share with you the unconventional truths I found out:

To build and change habits, you don’t need motivation or wake up at 5 am. Heck, you can fail multiple times, be lazy, have no motivation and still pull it off with ease.

It’s quite simple and easy to do, especially with the following list I’m going to show to you. But remember, Jim Rohn used to say,

“What is simple and easy to do is also simple and easy not to do.”

The important things to remember when changing your habits are both simple and easy, just don’t think that they don’t make any difference because they do.

In fact, they are the only things that make a difference.

Let’s see what those small things are, shall we?

1. Start Small

The biggest mistake I see people doing with habits is by going big. You don’t go big…ever. You start small with your habits.

Want to grow a book reading habit? Don’t start reading a book a day. Start with 10 pages a day.

Want to become a writer? Don’t start writing 10,000 words a day. Start with 300 words.

Want to lose weight? Don’t stop eating ice cream. Eat one less ball of it.

Whatever it is, you need to start small. Starting big always leads to failure. It has to, because it’s not sustainable.

Start small. How small? The amount needs to be in your comfort zone. So if you think that reading 20 pages of a book is a bit too much, start with 10 or 5.

It needs to appear easy and be easy to do.

Do less today to do more in a year.

2. Stay Small

There is a notion of Kaizen which means continuous improvement. They use this notion in habits where they tell you to start with reading 1 page of a book a day and then gradually increase the amount you do over time.

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But the problem with this approach is the end line — where the “improvement” stops.

If I go from reading 1 page of a book a day and gradually reach 75 and 100, when do I stop? When I reach 1 book a day? That is just absurd.

When you start a habit, stay at it in the intensity you have decided. Don’t push yourself for more.

I started reading 20 pages of a book a day. It’s been more than 2 years now and I’ve read 101 books in that period. There is no way I will increase the number in the future.

Why?

Because reading 40 to 50 books a year is enough.

The same thing applies to every other habit out there.

Pick a (small) number and stay at it.

3. Bad Days Are 100 Percent Occurrence

No matter how great you are, you will have bad days where you won’t do your habit. Period.

There is no way of going around this. So it’s better to prepare yourself for when that happens instead of thinking that it won’t ever happen.

What I do when I miss a day of my habit(s) is that I try to bounce back the next day while trying to do habits for both of those days.

Example for that is if I read 20 pages of a book a day and I miss a day, the next day I will have to read 40 pages of a book. If I miss writing 500 words, the next day I need to write 1000.

This is a really important point we will discuss later on rewards and punishments.

This is how I prepare for the bad days when I skip my habit(s) and it’s a model you should take as well.

4. Those Who Track It, Hack It

When you track an activity, you can objectively tell what you did in the past days, weeks, months, and years. If you don’t track, you will for sure forget everything you did.

There are many different ways you can track your activities today, from Habitica to a simple Excel sheet that I use, to even a Whatsapp Tracker.

Peter Drucker said,

“What you track is what you do.”

So track it to do it — it really helps.

But tracking is accompanied by one more easy activity — measuring.

5. Measure Once, Do Twice

Peter Drucker also said,

“What you measure is what you improve.”

So alongside my tracker, I have numbers with which I measure doses of daily activities:

For reading, it’s 20 pages.
For writing, it’s 500 words.
For the gym, it’s 1 (I went) or 0 (didn’t go).
For budgeting, it’s writing down the incomes and expenses.

Tracking and measuring go hand in hand, they take less than 20 seconds a day but they create so much momentum that it’s unbelievable.

6. All Days Make a Difference

Will one day in the gym make you fit? It won’t.

Will two? They won’t.

Will three? They won’t.

Which means that a single gym session won’t make you fit. But after 100 gym sessions, you will look and feel fit.

What happened? Which one made you fit?

The answer to this (Sorites paradox)[1] is that no single gym session made you fit, they all did.

No single day makes a difference, but when combined, they all do. So trust the process and keep on going (small).

7. They Are Never Fully Automated

Gurus tell you that habits become automatic. And yes, some of them do, like showering a certain way of brushing your teeth.

But some habits don’t become automatic, they become a lifestyle.

What I mean by that is that you won’t automatically “wake up” in the gym and wonder how you got there.

It will just become a part of your lifestyle.

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The difference is that you do the first one automatically, without conscious thought, while the other is a part of how you live your life.

It’s not automatic, but it’s a decision you don’t ponder on or think about — you simply do it.

It will become easy at a certain point, but they will never become fully automated.

8. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

Marshall Goldsmith has a great book with the same title to it. The phrase means that sometimes, you will need to ditch certain habits to make room for other ones which will bring you to the next step.

Don’t be afraid to evolve your habits when you sense that they don’t bring you where you want to go.

When I started reading, it was about reading business and tactic books. But two years into it, I switched to philosophy books which don’t teach me anything “applicable,” but instead teach me how to think.

The most important ability of the 21st century is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn. The strongest tree is the willow tree – not because it has the strongest root or biggest trunk, but because it is flexible enough to endure and sustain anything.

Be like a willow, adapting to the new ways of doing things.

9. Set a Goal and Then Forget It

The most successful of us know what they want to achieve, but they don’t focus on it.

Sounds paradoxical? You’re right, it does. But here is the logic behind it.

You need to have a goal of doing something – “I want to become a healthy individual” – and then, you need to reverse engineer how to get there with your habits- “I will go to the gym four times a week.”

But once you have your goal, you need to “forget” about it and only focus on the process. Because you are working on the process of becoming healthy and it’s always in the making. You will only be as healthy as you take care of your body.

So you have a goal which isn’t static but keeps on moving.

If you went to the gym 150 times year and you hit your goal, what would you do then? You would stop going to the gym.

This is why goal-oriented people experience yo-yo effect[2] and why process-oriented people don’t.

The difference between process-oriented and goal-oriented people is that the first focus on daily actions while others only focus on the reward at the finish line.

Set a goal but then forget about it and reap massive awards.

10. Punish Yourself

Last two sections are pure Pavlovian – you need to punish bad behavior and reward good behavior. You are the only person who decides what is good and what is bad for you, but when you do, you need to rigorously follow that.

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I’ve told you in point #3 about bad days and how after one occurs, I do double the work on the next day. That is one of my forms of punishments.

It’s the need to tell your brain that certain behaviors are unacceptable and that they lead to bad outcomes. That’s what punishments are for.

You want to tell your brain that there are real consequences to missing your daily habits.[3]

No favorite food to eat or favorite show to watch or going to the cinema for a new Marvel movie- none, zero, zilch.

The brain will remember these bad feelings and will try to avoid the behaviors that led to them as much as possible.

But don’t forget the other side of the same coin.

11. Reward Yourself

When you follow and execute on your plan, reward yourself. It’s how the brain knows that you did something good.

Whenever I finish one of my habits for the day, I open my tracker (who am I kidding, I always keep it open on my desktop) and fill it with a number. As soon as I finish reading 20 pages of a book a day (or a bit more), I open the tracker and write the number down.

The cell becomes green and gives me an instant boost of endorphin – a great success for the day. Then, it becomes all about not breaking the chain and having as many green fields as possible.

After 100 days, I crunch some numbers and see how I did.

If I have less than 10 cheat days, I reward myself with a great meal in a restaurant. You can create your own rewards and they can be daily, weekly, monthly or any arbitrary time table that you create.

Primoz Bozic, a productivity coach, has gold, silver, and bronze medals as his reward system.[4]

If you’re having problems creating a system which works for you, contact me via email and we can discuss specifics.

In the End, It Matters

What you do matters not only to you but to the people around you.

When you increase the quality of your life, you indirectly increase the quality of life of people around you. And sometimes, that is all the “motivation” we need to start.

And that’s the best quote for the end of this article:

“Motivation gets you started, but habits keep you going.”

Keep going.

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More Resources to Help You Build Habits

Featured photo credit: Anete Lūsiņa via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Sorites paradox
[2] Muscle Zone: What causes yo-yo effect and how to avoid it?
[3] Growth Habits: 5 Missteps That Cause You To Quit Building A Habit
[4] Primoz Bozic: The Lean Review: How to Plan Your 2019 in 20 Minutes

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