“I just sit in my office and read all day.”
This is how Warren Buffett, one of the most successful people in the business world, describes his day. Sitting. Reading.
He advises everyone to read more, and that’s certainly a goal we can all get behind. Our personal improvements at Buffer regularly come back to the books we read—how we aim to read more and make reading a habit. I imagine you’re in the same boat as well. Reading more is one of our most common ambitions.
So how do we do it? And what are we to do with all that information once we have it?
Reading more and remembering it all is a discussion with a lot of different layers and a lot of interesting possibilities. Let’s set some baselines.
How fast do you read?
One of the obvious shortcuts to reading more is to read faster. That’s likely the first place a lot of us would look for a quick win in our reading routine.
So how fast do you read?
Staples (yes, the office supply chain) collected speed reading data as part of an advertising campaign for selling e-readers. The campaign also included a speed reading tool that is still available to try. Go ahead and take the test to see how fast you read.
(My score was 337 words per minute. Yours?)
The Staples speed reading test includes data on how other demographics stack up in words per minute. According to Staples, the average adult reads 300 words per minute.
- Third-grade students = 150 words per minute
- Eight grade students = 250
- Average college student = 450
- Average “high level exec” = 575
- Average college professor = 675
- Speed readers = 1,500
- World speed reading champion = 4,700
Is reading faster always the right solution to the goal of reading more? Not always. Comprehension still matters, and some reports say that speed reading or skimming leads to forgotten details and poor retention. Still, if you can bump up your words per minute marginally while still maintaining your reading comprehension, it can certainly pay dividends in your quest to read more.
There’s another way to look at the question of “reading more,” too.
How much do you read?
There’s reading fast, and then there’s reading lots. A combination of the two is going to be the best way to supercharge your reading routine, but each is valuable on its own. In fact, for many people, it’s not about the time trial of going beginning-to-end with a book or a story but rather more about the story itself. Speed reading doesn’t really help when you’re reading for pleasure.
In this sense, a desire to read more might simply mean having more time to read, and reading more content—books, magazines, articles, blog posts—in whole.
Let’s start off with a reading baseline. How many books do you read a year?
A 2012 study by the Pew Research Center found that adults read an average of 17 books each year.
The key word here is “average.” There are huge extremes at either end, both those who read way more than 17 books per year and those who read way less—like zero. The same Pew Research study found 19 percent of Americans don’t read any books. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll from 2013 showed that number might be even higher: 28 percent of Americans haven’t read a book in the past year.
Wanting to read more puts you in pretty elite company.
5 ways to read more books, blogs, and articles
1. Read for speed: Tim Ferriss’ guide to reading 300% faster
Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek and a handful of other bestsellers, is one of the leading voices in lifehacks, experiments, and getting things done. So it’s no wonder that he has a speed-reading method to boost your reading speed threefold.
His plan contains two techniques:
- Using a pen as a tracker and pacer, like how some people move their finger back and forth across a line as they read
- Begin reading each new line at least three words in from the first word of the line and end at least three words in from the last word
The first technique, the tracker/pacer, is mostly a tool to use for mastering the second technique. Ferriss calls this second technique Perceptual Expansion. With practice, you train your peripheral vision to be more effective by picking up the words that you don’t track directly with your eye. According to Ferriss:
Images from eyetracking.me show how this concept of perceptual expansion might look in terms of reading.
You’ll find similar ideas in a lot of speed reading tips and classes (some going so far as to suggest you read line by line in a snake fashion). Rapid eye movements called saccades occur constantly as we read and as our eyes jump from margins to words. Minimizing these is a key way to boost your reading times.
The takeaway here: If you can advance your peripheral vision, you may be able to read faster—maybe not 300 percent faster, but every little bit counts.
2. Try a brand new way of reading
Is there still room for innovation in reading? A couple of new reading tools say yes.
Spritz and Blinkist take unique approaches to helping you read more—one helps you read faster and the other helps you digest books quicker.
First, Spritz. As mentioned above in the speed reading section, there is a lot of wasted movement when reading side-to-side and top-to-bottom.
Spritz shows one word of an article or book at a time inside a box. Each word is centered in the box according to the Optimal Recognition Point—Spritz’s term for the place in a word that the eye naturally seeks—and this center letter is colored red.
Spritz has yet to launch anything related to its technology, but there is a bookmarklet called OpenSpritz, created by gun.io, that lets you use the Spritz reading method on any text you find online. The Spritz website has a demo on the homepage that you can try for yourself and speed up or slow down the speeds as you need.
Along with Spritz is the new app Blinkist. Rather than a reimagining of the way we read, Blinkist is a reimagining of the way we consume books. Based on the belief that the wisdom of books should be more accessible to us all, Blinkist takes popular works of non-fiction and breaks the chapters down into bite-sized parts.
These so-called “blinks” contain key insights from the books, and they are meant to be read in two minutes or less. Yes, it’s a lot like Cliff Notes. Though the way the information is delivered—designed to look great and be eminently usable on mobile devices so you can learn wherever you are—makes it one-of-a-kind.
I’m sure we can agree that it’s a lot easier to read more when a book is distilled into 10 chapters, two minutes each.
3. Read more by making the time
Shane Parrish of the Farnam Street blog read 14 books in March, and he tackles huge totals like this month-in and month-out. How does he do it?
He makes it a priority, and he cuts out time from other activities.
If you look at it in terms of raw numbers, the average person watches 35 hours of TV each week, the average commute time is one hour per day round-trip, and you can spend at least another hour per week for grocery shopping.
All in all, that’s a total of 43 hours per week, and at least some of that could be spent reading books.
4. Buy an e-reader
In the same Pew research study that showed Americans’ reading habits, Pew also noted that the average reader of e-books reads 24 books in a year, compared to a person without an e-reader who reads an average of 15.
Could you really read nine more books a year just by purchasing an e-reader?
Certainly the technology is intended to be easy-to-use, portable, and convenient. Those factors alone could make it easier to spend more time reading when you have a spare minute. Those spare minutes might not add up to nine books a year, but it’ll still be time well spent.
5. Read more by not reading at all
This is quite counterintuitive advice, and it comes from a rather counterintuitive book.
How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, written by University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard, suggests that we view the act of reading on a spectrum and that we consider more categories for books besides simply “have or haven’t read.” Specifically, Bayard suggests the following:
- Books we’ve read
- Books we’ve skimmed
- Books we’ve heard about
- Books we’ve forgotten
- Books we’ve never opened
He even has his own classification system for keeping track of how he’s interacted with a book in the past.
- UB: book unknown to me
- SB: book I have skimmed
- HB: book I have heard about
- FB: book I have forgotten
- ++: extremely positive opinion
- +: positive opinion
- –: negative opinion
- –: extremely negative opinion
Perhaps the key to reading more books is simply to look at the act of reading from a different perspective. In Bayard’s system, he essentially is counting books he’s skimmed, heard about, or forgotten as books that he’s read. How might these new definitions alter your reading total for the year?
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