At the beginning of 2013, I set a lofty goal for myself: to read 100 books through the course of the year. When August rolled around and I had just crossed the 52 book mark, it became apparent that I needed to step up my game. I could have chosen simpler books (cheated) or abandoned my other pursuits (not something I wanted to do). Instead, I decided to learn how to speed read.
How to Speed Read
I decided to use the technique published by Tim Ferriss on his blog. I used a simple tap-counter iPhone application (which recorded each time I pressed the screen, and the overall time per session) to keep track of how many pages per minute I read, and then converted the pages per minute into words per minute. First, I took a baseline of my words per minute for both reading a casual book (novel) and a denser book (science-heavy book).
Then, I worked with the speed reading techniques for 2 weeks.
My speeds for both science went up 2.5x (from 400 WPM to 1,000 WPM) and novels went up 2.2x (from 550 WPM to 1,200 WPM).
What About Comprehension?
My biggest fear was that I would have decreased comprehension. Much of the time spent learning to speed read is extraordinarily uncomfortable: it requires pushing beyond the ability to comprehend for the sake of training the mind to take in more information. This discomfort was a natural part of the learning process, but thankfully it disappeared after I finished my training.
In an attempt to ensure that I was not losing any comprehension, I kept track of the average number of passages which I highlighted on my Kindle, and found that it did not decrease – indicating that my attention was still focused enough to select the same quantity of relevant content.
The typical paperback novel is about 100,000 words long. At 1,200 WPM, this means it theoretically takes me a mere 1 hour 20 minutes to read the average novel.
To be sure, my speed has dropped a little since first employing these techniques. I try to do a 10 minute training session every week or two, to keep my speeds up. Even at a 2x speed improvement, though, this makes my 100-book-goal far more achievable; I’m now on track to meet the goal easily. I am able to read an average sized book on a 3 hour plane flight, or over the course of a weekend while doing other things.