How to Read More, Faster.
I have to read quite a bit, so I've picked up some tricks along the way that help me get it done.
On any given day, I have a significant amount that I need to read, or that I'm procrastinating on reading.
As a matter of necessity, I look at what I need to read over at least a 3 month time span (if not more) or I'll fall miserably behind. Here's a taste of what's on my plate right now, these are all either in progress, recently completed, or need to be started soon:
The Babylonian Genesis, Heidel
Christ Formed in You, Hedges
Conceptions of God in Ancient Egypt, Hornung
Creator and Creation, Simkins
Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? Hoffmeier et al.
From Paradise to the Promised Land, Alexander
Gospel Treason, Bigney
Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, Horowitz
Moral Questions of the Bible, Instone-Brewer
Myth and Scripture, Callender Jr.
Practicing Affirmation, Crabtree
Surviving and Thriving in Seminary, Zacharias et al.
Translating and Understanding the Old Testament, Frank, et al.
Water from a Deep Well, Sittster
There's also a stack of like two dozen journal articles that have been sitting on my desk waiting for me for the last two weeks. I'm not going to take the time to list those out.
Introduction to Biblical Interpretation, Blomberg et al.
Playing With Fire, Russell
Two Views on Women in Ministry, Beck et al.
The Color of Compromise, Tisby
God, Freedom, and Evil, Plantinga
Hebrew For Life, Howell et al.
The Many Faces of Evil, Feinberg
The Miracle of Theism, Mackie
This isn't to pat myself on the back, it's just to point out that if I don't have a strategy, I'm gonna drown.
Some of these I have to read the whole thing pretty carefully, some of them I'm refreshing on, and some I just need a chapter or two from. Regardless, it's a substantial amount and it can be a bit intimidating when it's all listed out like that.
So, what do I do? I've got a couple of strategies.
1. Read More
So I started this post promising how to read more, and here it is; read more. Now, that's obviously a bit counterintuitive and not necessarily helpful. But, I find that there are two main categories of things I find myself reading, things that I have to read, and things that I want to read.
You'll notice that my "have to" list (school + church) is much longer than my "want to" list (personal). Often, it can feel like I need to spend all of my time over there, and not get to anything else. So, I end up slogging through some of the stuff I need to read, but rarely accomplishing what I was planning, and often not retaining as much as I would like.
How do I fix this? Flip the order. Read some of what you want to before what you have to.
This does a couple things. If you're like me and you actually like reading, then this helps remind your brain that this is something you enjoy and that it's not a chore. It's kind of like a warm-up; it gets you in the zone. Instead of getting into the headspace to read while poring over information you need to learn, you can do it while reading something you enjoy.
For some people this may be a novel, I rarely read any although I should, for me it's generally something on a popular level in a topic I'm not well versed in.
Whatever you choose, reading more of what you want can help you read more of what you need to.
2. Don’t Read Every Word
Imbibe this idea. Reading every word is for chumps.
Let's take a look at a random page from The Many Faces of Evil by John Feinberg to get an idea of how to do this.
There's really nothing special here, but read a paragraph or two and pay attention to how you move your eyes across the page.
How'd you do? My guess is you went all the way from left to right on every line because that's how we're taught to read. However, it is my duty to inform you that this method is inefficient.
Stay in Your Lane
If I asked you whether you would rather jog a mile, or 3/4 of a mile, which would you choose? If you hate running like me, you'd choose the shorter distance. With reading, there is a certain distance that needs to be traveled, but we don't need to go the whole way; we can cut some corners (in a good way) to save a lot of time.
To read more efficiently, set up a mental "lane" in the center of the page. This is where you should look directly.
I have this illustrated below. Try reading a paragraph here, but don't look directly at any words in the red. Instead, use your peripheral vision to read those words.
At the top of the page, look directly at the "n" in inability, and try to read the two words prior while doing that. It feels unnatural at first, but as you practice it becomes second nature
It will start off being uncomfortable, but it will allow you to read much more quickly.
Another thing, if you're in the habit of narrating the text in your head while you read, stop! Just let your eyes move over the words, the process of "saying it out loud" in your head slows you down. If I get distracted I'll do this for a minute to refocus, but as soon as I have gotten a rhythm I stop.
So, stay in the center of the page and use your peripheral vision to grab the first and last words in a sentence to speed up your reading. Next:
Focus on the Important Stuff
This strategy comes in a couple of different forms. First, sometimes we head to a source for a specific piece of information. Don't feel the need to get all the information that you don't need too, just get what you need. Perhaps you buy a book for a presentation that has one chapter that is relevant to your topic, don't bother reading the whole thing, read the chapter, and get on to the next source.
This should also happen on every page you read. Not all the words on the page are created equal: some are more important than others.
Look for key information like titles, headings, topic and closing sentences. Make sure you comprehend these bits because they let you know whether you already know the information or not. If you know it, there's no reason to take your time; read quickly while looking for new details or arguments. If you are unfamiliar with what's being discussed, take enough time to make sure you're understanding the arguments and concepts so you can assess them, but keep your eyes moving.
Looking on this same page for that kind of information, we'll want to make sure we get the information in green because that tells us where we're going. Allow your eyes to move more quickly over the words in yellow, and see how you did with your comprehension.
The last thing that I'll stress is to look for important words, phrases, or things you may not know the definition of. I highlighted a few of those on this page in blue.
If you encounter a word you don't know, like theodicy, it's a good idea to pause and look it up. I hated this as a kid because it took so long to find things in a dictionary, but we really have no excuse.
If you're not already on a reader that has a dictionary built-in, just ask Siri or Google. It will only take eight seconds and you'll understand what is going on so much better.
We may recognize the "theo" and see that it's about God, but it's unlikely that from the context we will fully grasp that it's talking about a formal justification God's goodness.
I also highlighted a couple of places where the author is distinguishing between concepts; these will be key in grasping what he's saying. If all we did was read the topic sentences and take note of key concepts, odds are we would walk away with a pretty good idea of what is being said.
So, don't feel the need to read every word. Some are just more important. The trick with this skill is knowing when to step on the gas when to slow down. When there's lot's of technical language and new concepts, take your time and make sure you understand what you're reading, just don't take the time to self-dictate all the "of's" and "the's."
Now Make it Happen!
So, when reading feels like a chore, take a break and grab something that's not a chore. When you notice that your eyes are coming to rest on every word, pick it up! I definitely don't want to pretend like I've mastered this, but I've sifted through a few different strategies to find what works for me, and hopefully, it can be helpful to you too.
Now, go check out that book you've been putting off reading and give it a try, you may be surprised by how much some of these strategies can speed up your reading without sacrificing comprehension.