How to read faster and be more productive

How to read faster and be more productive image

Ever wanted to be more productive, get through that pile of books, blog posts or magazines faster? For most of us, our reading training ended in elementary school, so our skill set is a little outdated. Being able to consume more information quickly will not only make you more productive but give you the ability to learn much faster.

Abby Marks Beale the author of 10 Days to Faster Reading breaks down the mindsets and bad habits that inhibit us from effective reading and replaces them with highly efficient techniques for speeding up your reading and helping you retain more along the way.

Selecting and Prioritizing

Most of us put so much pressure on ourselves when reading. So much to read so little time, how can we fit it all in. The reality is you don't need to read every single paragraph, word and letter to understand what's happening. 

Get into the habit of previewing what you read, selecting what's important and what you should pay attention too. The remaining parts you can scan over.

You don't need to remember absolutely everything you read. School has trained us to try commit to memory and recall all we read, as we will more than likely be tested on it. We're not in school anymore so taking notes, and highlighting allows you to create review markers so you can always come back and refer to those points at a later date. Our short-term memory typically retains information for few days, there after it's often forgotten. Having review markers be it notes, highlighted points or scribbles in the margins helps us to refresh our memory while reading and reexamining what we've read in the future.

Eliminate Bad Habits

There are some common reading habits we tend to pick up that inhibits us from gaining speed when reading. So how do we fix them?

Passive Daydreaming

While we read, we're thinking about a thousand other thoughts, none of which are related to what we're reading. The goal here is instead of wandering off track in thought, rather focus and shape this into active mind wandering. Start connecting what we're reading to your daydreams, looking for points of reference to help you remember.  

Switching to this pattern can be as simple as finding common links. A word jumps off the page, and it reminds you of something you've experienced in the past. The more you can associate, the more your mind can link new material and help you retain what you're reading.


Another bad habit, where you re-read what you've just read. You can avoid this regression pattern by covering the text you've read with your hand or scroll down the page when reading electronically leaving only enough space for the current line you're on. 

Discipline yourself only to regress if the language is hard to understand, or the information is packed full of useful information.


When you want to speed read, you need to stop subvocalizing. Too often we find ourselves mouthing out the words or mentally whispering the text. Reading out loud our talking speed is around 150 words per minute, but your brain can process about 400 words per minute quite easily when we don't speak our the words. 

Eradicating subvocalizing will more than double your speed, but you'll need to practice. Try skipping over words, chewing gum or humming when reading. This will keep your mouth distracted, and your brain focused on the words, not the two working together.

Take shortcuts

So with the bad habits in the bag, you can also implement some other techniques to increase your speed.

Have a clear purpose

Be selective in what you read, focus on those pieces of literature that have stood the test of time or are going to improve your knowledge in a particular area. Ask yourself two questions before reading something "Do I need this information?" and "Why am I reading this?"


Scan over all nonfictional material before diving in. Look at the table of contents, flip through the pages and preview the headings to get a better idea of what the section is all about. Having the background information allows you to focus your energy on topics that you don't know and skim over parts you do.

Pre-viewing alone will give you about 40 percent of the information and will help you eliminate fluff or filler information.

Speed Reading Techniques

The next step beyond the bad habits is to practice actual speed reading techniques. It will take some practice but in a few days you will start to adapt. See which of the following works best for you.


Try focusing on only important words that are more than three letters long and carry meaning. For example, try reading only the words in bold in the next sentence: 

The task is defined by a series of steps and elements.

You need to read less than 50% of the words to understand the meaning, roughly average that out over a book and it will trim 40 - 50% of your reading time.

Focus Group

Another strategy is to chunk out words into groups instead of separate words. Our minds break up sentences word-by-word this technique uses words-by-words. Imagine phrases as being divided by slashes: By looking for/thought groups,/you force your eyes/to move forward faster/while maintaining/good comprehension.

This technique requires you to use your peripheral vision; it takes practice. If you start feeling that your eyes are getting a bit strained, it's just your eye muscles getting used to the new rhythm.

Reading between the lines

Your brain only needs to see the top half of every letter make out the word. It will fill in the rest automatically. So instead of fixating on whole words, read the whitespace between the lines forcing your eyes to see the top half of the words. It will take some practice, but you'll find your eyes moving faster and not settling on every word from left to right. 


Another strategy involving your peripheral vision is indenting. Instead of placing your eyes at the beginning on each new line, aim them half an inch inside the left margin and stop reading a half an inch toward the end. You start to focus on the middle of a line moving down the middle of the page and let peripheral vision do the work on the edges. 

This reduces the number of stops and starts when reading. It will feel unnatural at first but will increase your speed when you get used to it. You can practice by covering or drawing lines on a page to force you to focus on the center column.

Lead your eyes

Using your finger or another object to pace our reading also helps to focus your eye on the movement and maintain a pace increasing the speed as you go. 

Try Combinations

You can also combine strategies. For example, Get used to reading using the indenting method. Once you can comfortably read the middle column of a page start placing your finger in the middle of each line. Then drop your finger down line-by-line reading down the center of the page combining indenting and leading your eyes. This will dramatically increase your speed when you're used to it.


The above methods can be awkward or uncomfortable at first, but they will help you develop faster reading habits. When practicing these strategies, take a break every 20 minutes, so you don't overdo it. A 5-minute break recharges your brain and gives your eyes a rest.

Get the most out of reading, expand yourself, save time and grow. You already have your reading "training wheels" from school so learn to read without them.


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