The universal reason people give for not reading is that they don’t have time. Since most people read around 200 words per minute (wpm), about as quickly as they speak, most people can take a week or two to finish one book. If you’re only finishing a book every few weeks, it hardly seems like a good use of time.
Luckily, anyone can learn to read a book every day. If you could read 5 times faster, you could theoretically get through 5 times as many books. You could learn new things much quicker, be more cultured, get through the news quicker in the morning, and more.
The problem with normal speed reading is that it can be very hard to apply above certain speeds. You have to turn pages, or wait for them to shift on your e-reader, and moving your eyes around the page slows you down. But there’s an excellent solution that I use to get through a new book every day or two.
Step One: Learn to Speed Read
First you need to start training yourself to speed read. The easiest way is to simply start using Spreeder to practice (I’m not affiliated with them in any way). They have a few articles on how to speed read most effectively, but it can be distilled to these main points:
- Don’t speak the words as you read them. You can read faster than you can speak, so mouthing each word as you go slows you down.
- Don’t try to read each word in your head, but rather create a mental picture of the overarching message being conveyed. Your mind also has a speed limit for speaking individual words.
- Keep your eyes fixed on the center of the page and read from your peripheral vision. Be sure that you’re far enough from your screen for this to work.
- You don’t remember everything perfectly when you read slowly, so don’t expect to remember everything perfectly when you speed read.
When you use Spreeder, start the application at 250 wpm. That’s a little above the 200 wpm rate that most people read at. As soon as you feel comfortable, add another 50-100 wpm. Keep going up in increments until you hit a ceiling that’s hard to get through–after a couple hours of practice I was able to hit 1,000 wpm.
The important thing is to not only increase your wpm, but also your chunk size. This means reading 2, 3, or 4 words at a time instead of just 1. Trying to read just one word at a time at 1,000 wpm is very difficult, but when there are 3 words it’s not so bad. You’ll learn to absorb blocks of text at a time instead of specific words. When you can get to 4 or 5 word chunks, you’ll be able to read most book pages in 2 or 3 chunks, which means you have to move your eyes significantly less than if you were reading each word individually.
Step Two: Find Reading Materials
To use Spreeder, you need plain text that you can copy in to the application. This is can be kind of tricky. Amazon has heavy digital rights management (DRM) on their books, as does Barnes and Noble, so you can’t simple open the file up in Notepad and copy the text. There are a ton of free books online that are out of copyright (meaning they were published before 1942), and there are also places you can buy books in formats that are easily convertible to text (such as PDFs).
However you get the texts converted to plain text, make sure you are doing so legally. Piracy is illegal, and unfair to the author who spent his time and energy creating the book.
Step Three: Create the Environment
Once you’ve taught yourself to speed read at a decent pace, and have some books you want to work through without Spreeder, you need an ideal reading environment. Speed reading at high paces is mentally taxing and after an hour you’ll likely find yourself tired. In addition, since it requires perfect attention and focus, any distraction (including music) can mess you up. You need as little sensory stimulation in your environment as possible.
Here are some additional tips to creating the perfect speed reading environment:
- Set aside at least an hour to read, and only to read. Don’t let other distractions interrupt.
- Get noise canceling headphones or go to a quiet place. Playing white noise through headphones can help as well.
- Make sure you have the screen at an optimal distance. Tablets are great for this because you can hold them right where you want them.
- Have a way to take notes! When you burn through a book in an hour, you’ll naturally forget things. Taking notes along the way is very helpful
If you take the time to practice, and make yourself go slightly faster each time, you’ll quickly become a reading machine. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you can learn new things, and absorb concepts that would have taken days or weeks before. At the same time, sit back and read in your normal fashion from time to time as well! Speed reading is mentally taxing, so if you want to read to relax you shouldn’t feel pressured to speed through it.
Featured photo credit: Books by Algiamil via SXC.hu