The Short Story
How much more could you get done if you could do all of your reading in one-third or one-fifth of the time? This is why we’ll cover how to read 3 books a day here.
Reading speed has little to do with raw brain processing power. In essence, it’s just about controlling eye movement and minimizing eye idle time.
To read three books in one single day, you’d need to increase your reading speed to 500 words per minute (WPM). One average book contains about 90,000 words. At 500 WPM, you can crush through three books in nine hours—this is feasible. The average reading speed is 250 WPM, so you’d just need to double it using these quick and straightforward methods. It’s not really that hard, you’ll see.
The Long Story
“One Trouble With Developing Speed Reading Skills Is That by the Time You Realize a Book Is Boring You’ve Already Finished It.”
—Franklin P. Joneshe
I read somewhere that Elon Musk used to read two books a day. Without corroborating nor refuting that piece of information, I just thought: “is that even possible?” Let’s see. An average book has about 90,000 words. It would take someone about six hours to read two books at double the standard reading speed. The usual reading speed is 250 words per minute (WPM). At 500 WPM, it takes 360 minutes to read 180,000 words. This is how to read 3 books a day. It’s definitely possible. 500 WPM is achievable by anyone; we’ll see how soon in more depth soon.
First things first, how to compute your reading speed? Test your reading speed using the Speed Chrome Extension. The pace can be adjusted to find out what your current WPM is and get your starting point. If you prefer manual ways, you can just start measuring your reading time with this article. Take a stopwatch, start it exactly here (exactly back there), and just keep reading. When you reach the end of this article, I’ll tell you how many words you read. Then we divide that amount by the time shown on your stopwatch to get to your WPM.
Before we get busy with how let’s talk about why. I started regularly reading books in third of fourth grade. I love reading. At some point along the way, I just understood that everything ever known to man has probably been written already. It’s just a matter of finding it, absorbing as much of it as fast as possible, and eventually, piece things together in ways that nobody did before. Even creating new content is mostly just assembling existing pieces of information in a new, innovative way. The iPhone is one of those things. All the individual pieces of technology to develop it were built years before. It was just a matter of making sense of it and putting it together to create utility for the customer.
When it comes to me, I look at reading the same way I looked at meat sauce pasta on the family dinner table when I was a kid: it’s about voraciously ingesting as much of it as fast as possible. Back then, I just needed to eat faster than my other 12 cousins—and they ate very fast too. Now, I just need to read as quickly as possible while maintaining a good comprehension and retention ratio.
For instance, it used to take me around one hour to read 30 pages. I used to think I’m just slow at reading and that my mind simply can’t absorb information all that fast. Then I discovered that there’s a technique for reading.
Let’s first dispel a couple of common misconceptions about reading. First, you can use services that summarize books and give you the 15 minutes condensed, diluted audio version of a 200 pages book. If you need to, you need to. In my experience, summaries are always subjective to what the summarizer thinks is essential. That might differ significantly from what you feel is important. Also, most books I’ve read had much more compelling side stories than main themes. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten deeply inspired by little side comments on random pages, which made sense. It’s impossible to get that without reading the actual book. Also, people who write books – let’s call them authors because that’s their name – generally put some thought into their writing. In most cases, they’re writing about something they are either passionate about or researched extensively. People who write summarize are much less passionate about what they’re doing, by definition.
Second, reading speed is not about raw brainpower. It’s attainable—easily. Reading speed is about eye movement efficiency, nothing more, nothing less. Think of it this way: have you ever listened to an audiobook? The answer is probably: “yes.” Then try to listen at double speed (2x) or even 3x or 4x. You’ll notice that you get used to it, and you can very well understand the information being conveyed. Therefore, the limiting factor in reading speed is not your brain’s raw processing power but much more your ability to control eye movement. Think of it this way: you’re probably familiar with old mechanical hard disks being read by lenses. Reading speed is not about the transfer rate between the reading material (book) and the CPU (your brain). The bottleneck is the lens speed, or in this case: your eye speed.
I read now at about 900 WPM regarding simple articles or books, which means I can read 30 pages in about 9 minutes. It’s about three times the average reading speed of 250 WPM. Don’t be impressed; you’ll get there in a couple of weeks, too. By the way, when it comes to reading uncommon scientific literature, that number drops down to 300-400. This is not because it takes more time to read, but it does take me a certain amount of time to process what I’m reading. Dramatically increasing reading speed is not that hard and can be learned in a couple of minutes. Here’s what to do.
Also, reading comprehension and reading speed are different things. Of course, the end goal is the understand and assimilate what you read. But to increase reading speed, first, you must do just that, just concentrate on speed alone. Comprehension will come later.
The 1-2-3-4 Method
Most people read by speaking words in their heads at the pace of their speaking voice—this needs to be avoided no matter what. The 1-2-3-4 Method is a vocalization technique. This will allow you to focus on your reading speed and get out of your head. As you read through the rest of this article, try to count 1, 2, 3, 4 in your head, and don’t focus on saying the words on the screen out loud—just count.
As you use this method, eventually, you’ll be able to stop counting in your head, and your WPM will get significantly higher.
Controlling Eye Movement
The untrained eye reads in seceding blocks. It starts up-left and then goes bottom-right in a somewhat circular fashion. The trick to increasing reading speed is by making your eyes move in a flat line or at least as flat as humanly possible.
You can convince yourself of how your eyes naturally read by merely taking a pencil and following your eye movement along. You’ll notice quite fast that the movement doesn’t happen in a straight line from left to right but more in a vertical zig-zagging motion from left to right. You start on the left, then start reading. Your eye movement drops, then it goes back up, then it drops again, and so on.
The good news is that you can train this away by merely taking a pencil and forcing your eyes to move in a straight line and eliminate vertical motion. It does feel uncomfortable at first, but one gets used to it quite fast. Following this method, you’ll be able to increase WPM in no time.
The Perceptual Expansion
Most readers lose eye reading time at the margins. Another way to boost your reading speed is to strengthen your peripheral vision. Draw two lines down the middle of a page vertically. Try not to let the focus of your eyes go outside of the lines in the middle. This reduces the amount of eye movement your eyes need to do.
In the beginning, you may need to start with the lines about three centimeters (1.25 inches) away from the margins of the page. As you get better, begin to narrow the two lines on the page, pulling them inwards from the edges. If practiced regularly, this trick will raise your WPM significantly.
Speechify is one of my favorite pieces of software ever developed. It reads anything I throw at it at top speeds. It’s highly practical when you want to destroy half a book while jumping rope or vacuum cleaning. The only limiting factor for the latter is the quality of your headphones.
Speechify is excellent for listening to any text fast—very fast. There’s a feature to it that will also help in increasing your reading speed. You can set the reader to your current WPM, e.g., 300 WPM. Then you put the reader to automatic, and the software will speak out loud the words to you and highlight them along the way so that your eyes can follow along. More importantly, the software increases speed gradually by a couple of WPM every 500-1000 words.
Now the trick here, for pure reading speed, is to disable audio and just use the app scanning to train your eyes in being faster at reading.
It’s like the proverbial way to boil a frog, i.e., put the frog in water and slowly increase the temperature. In this case, you’d be likely to double your reading speed just by training your eyes to follow along, effortlessly without even noticing it.
Stop recording time here. You’ve read 1343 words. Now divide the number of words by the time on the watch to come up with your WPM.
Have fun reading a lot!