For a second, daydream about what you’d do with 15 extra days each year. Would you start a new project? Finally take that dream vacation? Spend more time with your loved ones?
There’s good news: all those things are possible if you simply learn how to read faster. We read constantly, from books and magazines to websites and emails to the back of the cereal box. Many of us read for about four hours daily. Saving just one hour a day on reading would give you an extra 365 hours a year … or just over 15 days.
Think it’s impossible? Think again. Many people read an average of 150 to 200 words per minute. But it’s possible to read 800 to 1,000 words per minute—and some peak performers do. John F. Kennedy was a speed-reader, and it’s said that he could finish six newspapers every morning over breakfast. I can show you how to do it too.
But first, discover your base rate. Find a book, mark where you start and time yourself while reading it for 60 seconds. Mark the end, then count the number of lines you read. Sentences that end halfway across the page count as a line. Finally, multiply the number of lines you read by the number of words per line (around 10, for most books). This final number is your reading speed.
Is that number lower than you’d like? Hack your reading speed with these tricks.
1. Get your eyes checked.
Many people who have trouble reading don’t have a learning challenge, but rather have trouble visually processing the information. If you have trouble reading, do yourself a favor and go get your eyes checked. It could work wonders. And if you have reading glasses, use them!
2. Turn the temperature down.
Have you ever noticed that professional conferences are held in chilly rooms? They’re kept that way for a reason: to keep you awake. Snuggling up in bed with a book is great. But if you’re training yourself to speed-read, you need to focus. Turn the temperature down to a comfortably cool level.
3. Use positive anchors.
If you’ve spent your whole life convinced that you’re a slow reader, speed-reading can be an anxiety-inducing task. Calm your nerves by creating an environment filled with positive anchors. You want your surroundings to soothe you. Fill them with inspiring quotes, photos of those you admire and mementos that remind you of the person you want to become.
4. Go outside.
Temperature isn’t the only environmental factor that affects how you learn. Lighting plays a big role too. Reading in dim light strains your eyes. Instead, find a quiet place with lots of indirect sunlight, whether that’s a park bench under a tree or by your biggest window. Not an option? There are plenty of light bulbs that imitate natural light. Skip the fluorescent ones.
5. Listen to the right music.
Some people can’t read while listening to music. If that’s you, feel free to ignore this tip. But if you can concentrate, listening to certain sounds may relax you and help get you into a peak learning state. Nature sounds are ideal, but baroque music by composers like Vivaldi or Bach works well too. Strive for songs that are 60 BPM (beats per minute )—that’s a normal resting heart rate.
6. Sit up straight.
Your brain is just 2 or 3 percent of your body weight, but it uses about 20 percent of your body’s oxygen. When you’re hunched over, you make it harder for air to reach the bottom of your lungs, where most of the oxygen is absorbed into the bloodstream and then feeds the brain. Your brain needs all the oxygen it can get to work at peak potential. So if you want to read faster, sit up.
7. Hold your book upright.
Now that you’re sitting up, don’t lay your book flat on the table! This can cause you to hunch over again—or worse, you’ll read at an angle with the words far away from you. Since reading is a primarily visual mode of learning, you want to see as much of the page as you can. Try to face the page directly, instead of at an angle. For most people, that means holding the book upright.
8. Drink more water.
Your brain is made up of about 75 percent water. It can’t function effectively if you’re dehydrated. Feeling sluggish as you read? Keep a tall glass of water at your desk and sip it frequently. Try this when you’re hungry, too, since your body often confuses hunger and thirst.
9. Use a visual pacer.
Children, who are the best learners on the planet, often read by running their fingers under each line. Many teachers hate this, so we lose the skill as adults. But it’s actually a great technique to improve reading speed and focus (which of course helps comprehension). Our eyes are naturally attracted to motion, since in caveman days, missing a moving bush could mean that we were lunch. With a visual pacer, like a finger, pencil or computer mouse, you may read about 25 to 50 percent faster.
10. Use your whole brain.
It’s not enough just to use a visual pacer. For best results, try it with your left hand. Why? To engage your right brain. Your left brain focuses on logic and words, while your right brain is tied to imagination and creativity. For most people, reading is a left-brain process. But since we read so much slower than we think, the act of reading can starve our right brain of stimulation and cause our mind to wander. Using your left hand as a visual pacer helps engage your right brain. This keeps you focused and enriches your reading experience.