Want to be smarter? Wealthier? And happier?
There’s no magic pill. But there is a magic skill.
We’ve written about it often. That means – proving that you’re already halfway to the goals above – you’ve read about it often.
You see, it’s no secret that the world’s most successful folks read a lot of books. Billionaires like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are quick to tell us they aim to read a book a day.
They purposefully push off other high-dollar endeavors to sit down and read a book.
It’s what made them rich and keeps them getting richer, they’ll tell you.
Pondering that idea a bit, we bet you’re wondering how they get it done. If you can’t find time to exercise or to clean the kitchen… how in the world are you to put a new book on the shelf each day?
More With Less
Most folks turn to speed-reading. Many super-reading advocates swear by the idea. And depending on your reading goals, it may work. But a word of warning… most speed-reading techniques are junk.
You may be able to turn more pages in a minute, but your comprehension will plummet.
You’ll be reading… but you won’t be learning.
And that’s just a waste of time.
Science tells us that the average person reads about 200 to 400 words per minute.
Breaking those numbers down a bit, we learn that we naturally spend about a quarter of a second actually looking at and recognizing each word. That’s called “fixation.”
Once we’ve read the word, we move on. It’s a process known as a “saccade.” It takes about a tenth of a second.
As we do this a few times, our brain needs to take a quick break – just shy of half a second – to make sense of everything.
These are the basic “mechanical” moves of reading. They’re biological and very tough to change.
And don’t forget, those figures come to us when we’re reading simple text that’s easy to understand. The figures plunge when the ideas get complex or comprehension is tough for whatever reason.
In other words, if you’re forced to put your finger on a sentence and ponder its idea for a bit, your reading will slow.
Good Writing = Good Reading
Fortunately, not everything we read is published by the dweebs of academia. It’s written in simple words with repetitive ideas.
In fact, a good writer will purposefully repeat himself in the name of boosting comprehension.
It’s why good writers say things twice. (See what we did?)
If your aim is to read fast, consider that repetition a grand gift. It allows us to speed up, push our biological limits and, this is important, let our comprehension slip just a bit.
We’ll make it up through the repetition of the idea.
In some regards, the human mind isn’t all that different from a computer’s memory. It can work only so fast.
We’ve got only so much RAM built into us.
It’d be great if we could go to the store and buy some extra memory, but we can’t. Instead, we have to find a way to read that involves less computing power.
That’s where the margin trick comes in.
You see, if our eyes moving across the page are what slow us down so much, the key to reading faster becomes limiting your eye movement.
That’s why we recommend practicing a simple “page shrinking” technique.
By widening the margins of our books and essentially not spending time on the words at the edge of the page, we don’t need to move our eyes nearly as much… and therefore, we can get through each page much faster.
Think of it like a typewriter resetting at the edge of a page. If we allow the carriage to go the whole way to the edge of the page, it takes precious time getting there… and then back again.
But if we keep the carriage confined to a narrower range of the page – widening the left and right margins – suddenly, its travel time is dramatically reduced.
Eventually, you’ll be able to use this method without any tools. It takes just a bit of practice.
Until you get to that point, we simply recommend drawing some guidelines in your books.
They’ll look like this:
The idea is simple. Focus only on the words within those lines. (By the way, that’s our all-time favorite book, On Writing Well, by William Zinsser.)
You may need to start your lines farther out on the page. But you’ll quickly be able to find the ideal spot for them that speeds up your reading time, with the minimal amount of comprehension lost.
Again, your comprehension will suffer, but only by 10% or so. Meanwhile, your reading speed will nearly double.
It’s a fair trade-off… especially if you’re reading to merely pick up the general idea – not master it.
Give it a try. But be sure to measure your progress.
Start with a baseline count (simply count the number of words you read in a minute), and then measure your progress each week over a month.
You should be able to hit your brain’s maximum comprehension limit of 800 to 900 words per minute fairly quickly.
When you do, you’ll absolutely be on your way to becoming a smarter, wealthier and happier person.