How to get better at reading?

Tips to be a better and consistent reader from Elizabeth Filips.

How to get better at reading?

We struggle finding motivation time and technique to make reading a habit. Lately, I have been watching some videos on youtube from Elizabeth Filips about becoming a better reader. I am going to share some of her tips in this blog.

Read more books at a time

Before watching those videos, I have to admit that I also made the mistake of reading only one book at a time. Unlike movies, I can’t finish an entire book in one go (unless the book is too small). It normally takes me 2-3 weeks to finish a book if I read for half an hour after dinner. On many days, I skip reading and decide to watch something on my laptop. According to Elizabeth, typically,  this is not because I want to avoid reading at all, but rather I want to avoid reading that specific book. Reading a diverse set of books is more pleasurable. We experience different moods at different times. Having the same book to read at all the times is hence not so pleasurable. This lack of pleasure can prevent reading to becoming a habit.

Reread books

This is also something I need to improve at. I mostly read books once and then never touch them again. Compared to that, I have rewatched many movies. Thinking more on that, I have read many of my academic textbooks multiple times. Sometimes to just make sure that I remember the concepts. But many times, I have found new insights by rereading those books. Mainly because when I am rereading, I am no longer the same person who read that book first time. My perspective and knowledge has changed over the time. The most recent example of this is the column generation book that my advisor is writing. He gave me a few chapters to read when I started my research in column generation. I read them. Later on, I started working on a column generation project. Working on a project gave me a lot of new insights. Later on, when I reread that same book again, I found new ideas!

There is no reason to believe that the same can’t be true for non-academic books. Our opinions change over time. So, we might end up meeting a previous version of ourselves while rereading a book. I also don’t have to reread the book from beginning to end. I can just read some random chapter. This way, I can keep a set of books that I have read, as my backup option when I don’t feel like reading something new.

What’s up with all that highlighting?

For a while, I have been avoiding audiobooks, mainly because I can’t highlight some important parts that I like. I mostly read books on my kindle or a physical copy. Turns out that this is not the right way of thinking. Audiobooks have many advantages. They are cheaper, faster to read, requires less effort compared to the kindle or physical books. The notetaking can be completely skipped because there are many websites and blogs that provide an excellent summary of any book that I like. All the quotes are already flying around on the internet. There is no point for me to take notes myself again. If I don’t have to highlight, I can focus a lot more on the book and finish it faster. I can also focus more on why am I reading that book.

Apply speed reading techniques

Speed reading is something that can be naturally developed if we read a lot. This can help us move through boring parts of the book faster (or completely skip them). We can also achieve our book reading goals faster by using this properly. Here are some tips:

Train your eyes: Focus on the third or fourth word in the line that you read. Let the peripheral vision take care of the first couple of words. Many people also recommend using a finger or a pointer while reading text. This helps the eyes move in a smooth way and eventually helps us read faster.

Train your brain: There is no point if we read fast and don’t understand anything. But this can be fixed with practice. The idea is to be okay with understanding only 70 or 80% of the text in the beginning, and then trying to increase those numbers. The visualization improves over the time when we read more.

Train your focus: Speed reading consumes more energy than normal relaxed reading. So don’t do it for a long period of time. Take breaks often while speed reading. On the digital medium, increase the font size and adjust the brightness to make it less tiring.

Retain maximum of what we read

We tend to forget most of what we read for fun. Rereading helps with this vanishing memory problem. Another good way is to write a small summary or our impression of the book after reading it. Kind of similar to what I do in a lot of my blogs. It might also be worth noting down actionable takeaways while reading books. This is different from highlighting. This is more personal. Something very specific to our lives that we can directly apply.

My Favorites

Video of the week: The expert

Quote of the week: “A person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”― Timothy Ferriss, The 4 Hour Workweek.