How do I read faster and more frequently?

If you asked me how many books I read a few years ago, I wouldn’t even know the answer. I’d probably respond with, ‘maybe 5 or 6 per year?’ and never think about the conversation again.

I was too busy to care because my mind was elsewhere. Between the baby on the way and the work stress all day, I felt like I didn’t have the time and didn’t want another mountain to climb. 

I chose Instagram posts over book chapters, online blogs over printed pages. And I wasn’t alone in my decision. We live in an age of shallow skimming. Nobody does deep dives anymore. 

As my social media addiction grew, it slowly dawned on me that this is a problem. Reading content online isn’t the same as reading physical pages in real books. That’s right, put down the e-readers, folks. I’m convinced that they’re a double-edged sword. You become glued to yet another electronic, but they get you reading. They’re part of the problem and the solution.

So how do we turn over a new page, flipping away from this “social media addiction” chapter of our lives, and regress back to a time when we actually valued books enough to read them? 

Here’s how you can learn to read faster and more frequently.

Centralize reading in your home

What do you hang on your walls? Most of us have some art, a coat rack, maybe a picture frame or a vision board. But what’s the focal point of your home?

I’m willing to bet it’s a TV. And maybe it’s not just the focal point of your home, but the centrepiece of most rooms. In a mere few decades, we’ve become accustomed to TVs being the main attractions in our bedrooms, living rooms, kitchens, and basements. 

My wife Leslie and I moved our only TV from the center of our living room to our unfinished, dark basement. Now, if we want to watch a movie, we have to physically remove ourselves from our main living space.

What replaced the little mind-numbing box on the wall? A beautiful bookshelf.

And what did that do? It centralized our reading. Our bookshelf now acts as an organism that breathes and changes as we do. We’re constantly pulling books out to give to friends and adding new ones from the local library or bookstores to the shelves because it’s right there. It becomes top of mind because we see it all the time.

Take it from Roald Dahl who once wrote:
“So please, oh please, we beg, we pray,
Go throw your TV set away,
And in its place you can install
A lovely bookshelf on the wall.
Then fill the shelves with lots of books.”

Make a public commitment 

I love the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Professor Robert Cialdini. In it, he showed that when people make a bet on a horse, they suddenly think that specific horse will win. His work suggests that the act of making the bet is what inspires people to believe in it. 

Why can’t you be the horse? Make a bet on yourself. Make a public commitment that you will read more. Create a Reco account. Share your reading goals with your spouse every night at dinner. Write the number of books you want to read in your agenda. Join a book club. 

I created an online book club a couple years ago to try to increase the number of books I read. Now, over 30,000 people expect me to email them once a month with book recommendations. And guess what? The public commitment I made to my subscribers forces me to read more.

I went from reading 5 or 6 books per year to 50. That still wasn’t enough for me, so I launched a podcast all about books, publicly committing to read 1,000 books by the last podcast episode on September 1, 2031 … and now I’m on track to read 100 books this year. 

Bet on yourself.

Read what you want and learn to say “no”

I’m all for the ‘Yes Man’ movement. Say yes to going on the blind date, taking that last-minute vacation, or kissing the girl. But don’t be afraid to say no to the books you don’t love.

Many of us hold this false notion that we need to finish a book, so we don’t pick up the books we really want to read because we’re busy trying to read Fifty Shades of Grey. (Unless you loved that book, then kudos to you. No book shame here.)

Because, let’s be honest, it takes a lot longer to finish books we dislike. We develop excuses not to read just to avoid the pages, and have to reread parts because we daydream or fall asleep during them. It becomes the friendship we maintain out of comfort, despite knowing our interests have grown in opposite directions. You just don’t clique anymore, but that’s okay.

It’s one thing to quit reading a book and feel bad about it. It’s another to quit a book and feel proud of it. All you have to do is change your mindset. Just say, “Phew! Now I’ve finally ditched this brick to make room for that gem I’m about to read next.” 

An article that can help enable this mindset is “The Tail End,” by Tim Urban, which paints a striking picture of how many books you have left to read in your lifetime. Once you fully digest that number, you’ll want to hack the vines away to reveal the oases ahead.

I quit three or four books for every book I read to the end. I do the “first five pages test” before I buy any book (checking for tone, pace, and language) and then let myself off the hook if I need to stop halfway through. There’s no reason to feel bad because by getting more comfortable with quitting, you’ll increase your total numbers of books read. 

Take a “news fast” and pool your reading dollars

I get it, books are expensive. But not if you cancel your subscriptions to The Economist and The New York Times. It’s a shorter, choppier style of writing that’s often filled with negativity and false information. I went on a “news fast” a few years ago in hopes of increasing my happiness. It worked -- but it ended up increasing the number of books I read as well. 

My mind was no longer craving these shorter bits of content, so I was free to consume longer pieces. Cancelling all my subscriptions also saved me $500 per year, which translates to roughly 50 books per year if you’re buying them at your local indie bookstore or online. 

Think about it. 10 or 20 years from now, would you rather have a prized book collection you’ve read, or a pile of old magazines and newspapers? 

And let’s not forget about your local library. If you download Library Extension for your browser, you can see what books and e-books are available for free right around the corner.

Reapply the 10,000 hours rule

Have you heard of the 10,000 hours rule? In Malcolm Gladwell’s cult classic Outliers he suggests that you can become a pro at anything if you deliberately practice for 10,000 hours.

Want to read faster? Read more often.

I’m not saying this is a fact, but a friend of mine told me he ran into Stephen King at a movie theatre and as they were waiting in line for the movie … he was reading the entire time. Then they went into the movie theatre and he continued reading until the film started. Then he saw Stephen reading again as they were walking out of the theatre.

Point being: you have the time to read, you just need to find it. Squeeze a few minutes in here and there. Take a book in your backpack and read on your subway commute. Place a book in your car and read it while you wait for your kid’s soccer game to finish. You don’t need to make time to read because you already have it. You just need to reallocate it. 

In a way, it’s like the 10,000 steps rule. Those egghead scientists say we need about 10,000 steps per day to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That sounds nuts, until you walk around the grocery store, park at the back of the lot, chase your kids around the house, and bam — 10,000 steps.

There are minutes hidden in the creaks and corners of the day. Spend those few moments doing whatever it is that you love. Reading? Great. Writing? Excellent. Burping the alphabet? Why not. You have a finite amount of time here on this big blue planet. Use it wisely.