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Many people I know are frustrated that they don’t have the time to read more. Between a commute, a time-consuming job, family responsibilities, and other hobbies, there just isn’t enough time in the day to start, much less finish, the book sitting on your nightstand. I’m certainly no exception – far too often I start a book with good intentions, just to have it collect dust next to my bed until I just give up and put it back on the shelf.
Sometimes it’s natural – not all books are worth finishing, and if you feel like you’ve already received 99% of the value in 10% of the time, sometimes it’s best to just move on. But oftentimes it takes a while for a book to get interesting, and giving up too soon means you’ll never know. Yet if you stick with it and don’t actually make the time to read, it could take 2-3 months to actually make it through – which means you may get to read just 3-4 books in a year.
There’s a better way. Note that some of these tips are clearly for people who a) want and love to read, and b) are frustrated with the amount of reading they can do. If you enjoy taking your time reading through a novel, ignore this post – but if learning and self-improvement are your goals, these tips can work wonders. Most of the books I read are non-fiction: self-help, fitness, productivity, business profiles, motivation, and so on. With books like these, I’m not looking for an experience, I’m looking for tools and tactics. And the more quickly I can synthesize and incorporate the information into my life the better!
Here are 5 tips to increase your reading throughput (definition for non-geeks):
- Set realistic reading goals. Each of the past few years as part of my annual goal-setting process, I always set out to “read more”. Unfortunately it just never materialized; until recently I was lucky if I could get through more than 6 or 7 books each year; I really wanted to be reading 20 or more. I would skim hundreds, but I wouldn’t actually comprehend them all. This changed for me this year when I started getting more specific in my reading goals and wrote, “Read more than 20 books by December by finishing 2-3 books each month.” Instead of leaving it at that, I also spent the time creating the ordered list of books I would read, and crossing them off as I finished them. If I fall behind, it’s quite apparent. Making my goal more actionable, more specific, and holding myself accountable has made a serious difference in my progress – and crossing books off the list elicits the same kind of small endorphin release as checking off a task!
- Embrace the audiobook. This has had one of the biggest impacts on my ability to devour books, primarily because I spend upwards of 2 hours in a car each workday. Previously that time was “dead time” whereas now my car is like a classroom on wheels (and I look forward to the drive). I can usually finish at least 2 books/month this way, but it’s sometimes closer to 4. Listening to an audiobook is really just having someone read to you, and for some people (myself included) hearing information actually helps me retain it better than reading it would. Of course, I make sure to use the voice recorder on my iPhone to take notes while listening if I need to. I signed up for the Audible Gold Listener program to save some money (audiobooks are pricey!) and love it so far. The iPhone/iPod also has an interesting feature: you can play audiobooks back at “fast” speed so you can “read” them faster.
- Fill the gaps. Never leave home without your book because you don’t know when you’re going to have downtime – of course this is easier if your mobile phone doubles as an MP3 player for audiobooks, but you can also just throw your book in your bag or purse. How many times have you flipped through a 3-month old People magazine in the dentist’s office and though “Grrr, I wish I had my book”. Filling those gaps can sometimes amount to an additional 30-60 minutes of reading each day! This works equally as well for audiobooks as it does for actual books; if you’re exercising or going on long walks 3-4 times/week, that’s time you could also be listening to books. The iPhone has a powerful enough speaker that you can even listen to an audiobook while you’re getting ready for work or making dinner!
- Set aside “reading time” and guard it – this may mean less TV time! If you have to choose between learning something new and valuable and watching the latest episode of The Bachelor, it can be a tough choice to make. Sometimes the reality show prevails – and that’s OK – but if you really want to read more, you need to prioritize it! Take a few nights each week (or mornings or afternoons, doesn’t matter) and designate those as “reading times”. Then stick to it just like you would stick to any other appointment; make it a habit to read at this time everyday (or just a few days a week) and you’ll make some real progress, even if it means you won’t find out who kissed who on 90210 until tomorrow morning.
- Learn to speed read. I haven’t actually done this yet but it’s something I’m planning to do this year. For people who have mastered speed reading, the difference they see in productivity can be pretty real. My research has started (1, 2) – from what I’ve heard and seen there’s fantastic free information on the Internet that rivals anything you can get from a book. If you have experience with speed reading, please let me know how it’s working for you and list your favorite resources!
Thanks for reading this far – hope this helps! What did I miss? What other tricks do people use?
By the way, just for kicks, this is what I’m currently reading – I always have several books in play simultaneously:
- Making It All Work by David Allen (audiobook)
- iCon Steve Jobs by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon (audiobook)
- Twitter Revolution by Warren Whitlock and Deborah Micek (eBook)
- Making Things Happen by Scott Berkun