Legendary investor Warren Buffet gave the following advice when asked about the importance of reading:
“Read 500 pages…every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. Everybody can read what I read, it is a level playing field. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
For me reading has been a super power. I've been able to learn from mentors whom I've never met by reading autobiographies, taught myself how to scale every element of a business and grown as a person by applying what I've learned from books. I routinely read 2-3 books each week and did so during my time working as a surgeon and now as the CEO of a tech business.
Each of the following eight tips are things that I have used to improve my reading consistency and my reading technique and allow me to read and learn regardless of how busy I am.
A New Mindset For Reading
Tip one is to shift your mindset away from the traditional way that we think about books. When I was younger I treated books like they were sacred - I would read a single book at a time and push through to finish it before starting a new book. I would also be precious with the book and be careful not to damage the cover and I certainly wouldn't annotate the pages.
There are two reasons to read firstly for enjoyment and second to learn or to be inspired. Enjoyment is usually fiction and learning is typically non-fiction and autobiographies.
If I don't find a fiction book enjoyable I'll put it down and read something else. I treat non-fiction books more like reference tools and I won't worry about skipping sections I find boring or not finishing the book. The key takeaway here is that you don’t always need to read the entire book to extract its value and it's fine to skim long sections of description to get to the most enjoyable or useful bits.
Depending on a book’s quality, I’ll either read it all or skim my way through it more quickly when there’s not much helpful content or I'm finding it less well-written and a bit boring. Some books only have one or two main ideas that are valuable. I'll bookmark these, note down the key points and move on.
Read Things That Are Relevant To You
This leads on to tip number 2 which is to choose books to read which are of most interest to you and that you'll enjoy. I used to feel like I had to read certain well-known books like War and Peace or Sapiens rather than jumping into a self-development book or reading the Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett. You don't have to read so called classics unless you are genuinely interested in the topic and it's fine to put them down if you get bored.
If you are starting off and are not a consistent reader my tip here is not to jump directly into long classical books like Crime and Punishment but to start off with something you're excited to read whether non-fiction or fiction and yes Harry Potter is great.
If I'm reading a fiction book for fun I'm fine with not reading every word and skimming over long descriptive sections or conversations to advance the narrative more quickly.
For non-fiction once I have chosen a book that that is relevant to what I want to learn about I focus on the most relevant sections of that book. When opening a book, I’ll read the table of contents once and skim the text for a high-level overview. Then, I’ll read the first and last sections of the book with any other chapters of interest. Finally, I’ll focus on the chapter that interests me most, and read it closely. If the book clearly offers value and is well-written with practical examples I'll likely read every page but for many books it's helpful to think of yourself as a gold miner, if you have to. You’re looking for that one valuable nugget to move your life or business forward.
Read Multiple Types of Books At Once
Tip number three is that it's fine to read multiple types of books at once. Going back to what I said earlier the traditional mindset of reading is that you read a single book at a time before moving on to the next. You might work through a fiction title you enjoy then read a business book and then read a self-development book. This slows down that initial skim over the book described in point 2 and means you might never get around to reading a book lower down in your reading order.
I'm currently reading about 5 books at once all of different styles and genres. I will read through pages of business books in the morning around topics I am currently working on, I'll read fiction books like The Expanse series which I'm currently reading through on weekends and I love to read biographies of successful people before I go to sleep each night to get me inspired for the following day.
By mixing up genres like fiction, biographies and self-development it keeps reading fun and reduces the chance you'll stop reading completely if you find one book a bit hard work or boring. Elon Musk is a huge fan of biographies too:
Use A Kindle and Audiobooks
Tip 4 is that you should get a Kindle and Audible. Research from the National Endowment For The Arts showed that people who use e-readers and listen to audiobooks read between 50-100% more than those who read using physical books alone. This is almost certainly a function of convenience and accessibility as Kindle and Audiobooks allow us to access our books from anywhere at anytime just as Elon points out.
I like to read physical books but I also have a Kindle and an Audible account. I'm happy reading books on the Kindle App on my iPhone if I only have a short time between meetings and if I'm travelling and don't want to lug around lots of physical books I'll take my Kindle Paperwhite. Both Kindle and Audible allow you to highlight paragraphs, bookmark pages and export to notes. Kindle also shows you your personal reading insights and streaks to help make things more like a game and Kindle and Audible integrate so you can read and listen at the same time.
Create A Daily Page Goal
Tip 5 is to split books up based on their page number and set yourself a goal to hit a certain number of pages each day. For example if you pick up a 200 page book you want to read every page of in the next five days dividing 200 by 5 gives you a daily page goal of 40 pages per day. You can further break this down by splitting your reading session between morning and afternoon so you then have a goal of 20 pages when you wake up and 20 pages when you get into bed.
I use this method all the time and I'll routinely look at how many pages are in a book and the sections that I wish to read and will then challenge myself to hit my daily page goal. This breaks reading down into more manageable reading sessions and means you are more likely to find time for reading knowing that you can get through 20 pages in an hour. If I want to hack things even further I'll mix up short 100 page books with longer books as finishing a book gives me a sense of reward when I have learned something from it and I put it onto my bookshelf. Yep I'm applying game design to reading to help form a habit and if you want to get really focused you can even set yourself a book goal for the year and then break this down by the total number of pages across all the books
Build A Daily Reading Routine
Tip number 6 follows on from tip five and is to build out a daily reading routine to help you avoid distractions and stay consistent. I used to read exclusively at night and now I have protected time when I read as soon as I wake up, at weekends and embedded into my sleep wind-down routine.
When I wake up I have my Kindle or the physical version of a book I'm reading on my bedside table to reduce procrastination and I will spend the first 20-30 minutes of my day reading through a set number of pages. This is typically a non-fiction business book to help me creatively attack work. I might then pop on an Audible audiobook of either the same book or a different one if I head to the gym or grab a coffee and walk. I then integrate reading into my sleep wind down routine every evening when I'll usually read an autobiography to give me some inspiration for the following day until I feel tired and fall asleep. To remove any barriers I'll keep my Kindle charged by my bedside table and I'll switch off my phone and pop on some lo-fi reading music. In the evenings I'll usually read for 30 minutes to an hour till I feel sleepy but might stay up later if a book has really grabbed my attention. If you prefer reading during the daytime you might want to carve out a reading nook or a comfy space where you can go to read where you can place your Kindle or books.
Just like going to the gym regularly I might also take a break from this routine for a week after finishing a book to mix things up and change the times that I read to keep things interesting. If I'm travelling I'll make a conscious effort to read some pages on the plane or while waiting for the flight.
Go Fast and Skim
Point 7 is to increase the speed at which you get through books and be okay with skimming. Skimming is reading rapidly in order to get a general overview of the material. To increase your reading speed, pay attention to your eyes. Most people can skim in 1.5 inch chunks, which, depending on the font size and type of text, usually comprise three to five words each. Rather than reading each word individually, move your eyes in a scanning motion, jumping from a chunk (of three to five words) to the next chunk of words. Take advantage of your peripheral vision to speed up around the beginning and end of each line, focusing on blocks of words rather than the first and last words.
Pointing your finger or a pen at each chunk of words will help you learn to move your eyes quickly over the text. And it will encourage you not to subvocalize as you read. Subvocalization means silently pronouncing each word in your head as you read and will slow you down and distract you from the author’s main point.
Audible is great for speed too. If I am out and about I'll switch the playback speed to 1.3 or 1.5 which reduces the time to finish the book but is not too quick that I might miss any key points. Even if I do miss something I don't feel guilty and will quickly skim read the section in the physical book or on my Kindle whether it is fiction or non-fiction.
Use Summaries and Recommendations
Point eight is to leverage book summary tools and recommendation tools to help speed up your reading even further.
I use Blinkist to provide text and audio summaries of popular books. Just like the Kindle store Blinkist also provides recommendations based on the types of books you read. If I am struggling with a book I might hop into Blinkist and read the concise summary to save time. The recommendation tools in Kindle and Blinkist help me to select books I know I'll enjoy reading. Blinkist can also quickly send notes and Blinks to Evernote with appropriate tags to complement my Kindle highlights.
I also use Readwise as a recommendation tool and a way to quickly browse books. Readwise connects to your Kindle account and reminds you about highlights from books you have read and it will also recommend sections from books you haven't read which you might find helpful.
Those were my eight tips on how to read more effectively. Remember reading is meant to be fun and it's fine to skim sections and put down a book if you don't find it interesting. Most importantly turn reading into a habit and read regularly.