4 Tips To Read Faster & Retain More

By Shawn Dexter / March 30, 2017
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How To Read & Retain More

I got an email from one of the SkipMBA readers asking how he could read faster and retain more information.  For the sake of anonymity, I'm going to refer to him as "CJ" in this post.  Now, CJ seems to be struggling with keeping up with the Reading List and believes that if he increases his reading speed, he'll be able to break through this barrier. But I believe there's a different hurdle he needs to tackle. .

Here's the letter from CJ:

Hey Shawn,

Thank you for the breakdown. That was an informative read.

I notice that at the end of each of your emails, you recommend further readings based on the books you have read. I also see that you have a reading list on the SkipMBA website. These are a lot of books to keep up with.

Do you have tips and tricks to improve reading speed & retention? I want to break out of this loop and I feel like increasing my speed might be the key.

Best,
CJ

CJ 

I actually get this question a lot  and I answer CJs question in the video below. I really recommend you watch it. But you can also read the post for the same info (more or less)

A Deeper Issue...

I've been in CJ's shoes — I've felt the frustration. Around 5 or 6 months ago, I committed to reading at least one book a week no matter what. It definitely felt like I had bit of more than I could chew. It was slow & frustrating. And I almost quit. Today, however, I am sitting at an average of  approx  2 books a week. It feels good — but there was a learning curve along the way.

A lot of people have emailed me and asked about how they could do the same. But more often than not the question is "How do I read faster so I can read more". They believe, much like CJ does, that reading faster will solve their problems.  I , however, don't think it will. There's a deeper issue that many people need to solve first. And in this post (and the video above) I will give you guys 4 tips on how to get to where you need to be.

Tip #1 : Stop Caring About Your Reading Speed!

Reading is a skill — and skills take time. When you’re just starting, you wanna focus on building a habit. If you set unrealistic goals, you’re gonna crash and burn and feel shitty about yourself. So  focus on building the habit first. Tell yourself you’re going to read for one hour a day no matter what.

read-faster-frustrated-reading-speed

Setting unrealistic goals leads to frustration

 Don’t set a number of pages you wanna read, but set the time you wanna spend on reading.  Don't tell yourself  "I'm going to read 100 pages today". Instead, tell yourself "I will sit down with a book for 1 hour today". Cause, honestly, that’s the initial struggle most people face -- spending the time on reading! 

Once you build some momentum, you will notice yourself get faster. More on why that happens in Tip #3.​

Tip #2 : Reduce The Barrier To Entry

As human beings, we have mastered the art of procrastination. We will come up with reason after reason to avoid doing something. To combat this, we need to eliminate resistance. One way to do this is to make "starting" the activity easier. Like I mentioned before - the struggle most of us have is to just start.

A technique that works very well for me is keeping a spare kindle in my bathroom. This way, I get at least 5 - 10 minutes of reading every morning. (Don't take your phone into the bathroom with you if you want this to work)

Another trick is to keep the book you want to read on the couch - opened to the current page you are on. Keep your TV controller away from the couch. I've also gone as far as to keep my book next to my milk in the fridge!

reading-speed-reduce-barrier

Don't make it hard to get to your books

Tip #3 : Stop Giving A Rats Ass About Retention

I probably have the worse memory/retention in this entire community. And I don't let it phase me at all. Listen, if you’re trying to memorize the entire book, you’re not going to get anywhere.

While some people take speed-reading to an extreme, there are others who TRY to take retention to an extreme. And unless you have an eidetic memory -- you’re not gonna get anywhere.

 When you read for knowledge acquisition - you do so to form mental models in your mind. 

reading-speed-retention

Don't worry about your retention too much...

A mental model is essentially someone's world view of a certain concept works -- so when you read, you either develop understanding for a new concept or you correct your understanding on an old concept.

As you get through more books, you will notice that authors are often very redundant. In fact, several books will have the same overlapping information. Authors from the same category will often reference or quote each other.

All this redundancy will drill the information into your head and automatically solve your retention issues. So simply focus on getting through more books - and never stop.

Tip #4 : Challenge Yourself - The Power Of Regression

This is one of the main reasons I recommend disregarding speed when you just start off. In fact you should probably never prioritize speed.

Your priorities should always be knowledge acquisition and to learn something specific. You can prioritize speed after those conditions are met.

One of the reasons some people read faster than others is because they have a firmer grip on the concepts, sentence structure and vocabulary of the book. They don’t have to stop, and read sentences over and over again -- something called regression.

reading-speed-regression

Flipping pages and re-reading sentences is important! (Regression)

Regression is important. You need to read over new concepts over and over again to crystallize your mental models. Once you attain a firmer grasp on a concept, you'll find yourself breezing through the paragraph when it's referenced in another book.

Final Thoughts 

As you may have noticed, these tips build on each other. If you employ these tips in conjunction, you will find yourself reading faster & retaining more without actively trying to do so. 

Reducing the barrier will ensure you read more often. Not caring about your reading speed will ensure you​ don't disappoint yourself by setting unrealistic goals. This will ensure you build a habit of reading without quitting.

Finally, regression coupled with the redundancy in books will ensure you retain more information and build mental models.

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About the author

Shawn Dexter

Shawn Dexter is a Product Manager, Entrepreneur & Software Developer. He is passionate about innovation management & technology.