January 3, 2018

To read more

One of my goals for 2017 was to read more—I am actively learning new skills and reading is one of the ways I achieve this.

But I was not satisfied with my reading habits: When, how, and how much I read. As a result, I decided to try a few things to improve this.


Set goals

I think that it’s harder to succeed without a goal—don’t you? I had set a modest goal of 12 books for 2017 (a 60% increase from 2016, as far as I recall). But how to track progress?

I wasn’t a big fan of Goodreads (the UI feels antiquated) but I gave it another shot. I forced myself to invest some time in it and I listed the books I had read in the past, as well as those I’d like to read. It is now my unique source of truth for my book info.

Goodreads has a reading challenge feature built-in that’s really helpful to keep track of my goal. It is also part of Amazon and syncs nicely with the Kindle reader (hardware or iOS app—more on this later).

I went one step further and I made reading one of my Streaks (iOS) tasks to get daily reminders and added motivation (don’t break the streak).

A book for each situation

To read more, it is also helpful to always carry a book but it doesn’t have to be a paper copy.

At any given time, I am always reading:

  • an audiobook
  • an ebook
  • a few paper books

The audiobook is my format of choice when I’m walking to work (I am lucky to live about 15 minutes away from my office.) The app I use (OverDrive) lets me speed up the reading pace to up to x2. I can then pack about 50-60 minutes of reading on my daily commute. Audiobooks require a lot of concentration but that’s fine since I’m just walking and not driving. I treat it as a form of meditation (as thoughts control, not really relaxation).

I was never a fan of ebooks, but a video by Don Norman convinced me to give the Kindle app for iOS a try:

A bit like with Goodreads, I spent more time with the app and adjusted the settings to find a comfortable space for reading (I own an old iPhone 6S Plus, and the screen is pretty big, too). I am glad I did as I added a new mode of reading. Ebooks are great when I’m waiting in line somewhere. I used to waste these moments on social but I now can add 5-10 min of reading here and there. I also like the ability to highlight passages and export these notes.

Finally, paper books. A lot of books I’m reading are not available in ebook or audiobook format. They are mostly technical in nature. I try to find time to read those at the office, during my lunch break, when I’m eating at my desk. Paper is also my go-to format for my bedtime reading—I don’t really want to be staring at a screen, then.

To read differently

I also challenged the way I read. An article by Tim Ferriss (I know…) got me interested in speed reading. As an average reader (about 245 wpm) and I was curious about these techniques. I heard good things about Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Kump, and I got a copy.

I am still going through the method but simple things like using one’s finger as a pointer and trying to eliminate regressions made some big changes. It’s still a bit scary to try to read that fast, but it made me think about retention: How much do I expect to remember when I read a book? What/how much do I end up remembering? How can I improve this?

I don’t try to use these techniques for my bedtime reading.

What about reading online?

A lot of reading happens online and I’ve tried to improve this, too.

Have you heard of Spritz? It’s this amazing technology that came out in 2014 and that completely eliminates regressions by focusing on one word at a time. It looks something like this:

Why this is not completely ubiquitous by now is a mystery. I would pay a decent amount of money to read articles on my Apple Watch with this!

I started using Spreed, a Chrome extension that relies on the same idea, and I go through articles a lot faster: I read a long piece on the New Yorker, today, that would’ve taken me about 35-40 minutes on paper. I read it in less than 20 minutes thanks to Spreed. Also, I am not distracted by ads…


The next step for me is to work on systematizing how I take and archive notes.

For the past few years, I’ve been trying to highlight important thoughts and transcribe them on index cards upon finishing a book. I’m considering moving these notes to Paper for quick reference on any device.

I am also looking into Know, Will/Want, Learn (KWL) and Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review (SQ3R) methods. These are really academic ways to read, but for some of the denser books, I think it would help.

Oh, and I ended up reading 14 books last year 🎉 My 2018 Goodreads goal 20 books. I hope to be between 40 and 50 in a few years.

Photo credit: Reading, by Joan M. Mas – CC BY-NC 2.0.