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How to triple your reading

January 7, 2013

How to Triple Your Reading

Photo: Kamil PorembiÅski (CC)

I love reading. Much of my continuing lifelong education comes from reading. Every single day, I read for fun and for work, though the two often intertwine.

If you don’t care about reading, stop here. The rest of this post is to help you start 2013 out right.

In 2012, I read a ton of books, more than I had in the last few years thanks to these techniques. Being very busy as a consultant and a nonprofit board member and a man about town, I have to squeeze in reading where and when I can. But it’s completely worth it.

I never run out of ideas for posts, or snippets for small talk, or even interesting asides in presentations.

You are strapped for time. You can’t remember the last time you picked up (or finished) a book. Not to worry: You are the perfect candidate for this crash course in reading more in less time. And it won’t cost you a cent.

I have a vested interest in having you read more: I love discussing books and articles with people. I tweet dozens upon dozens of interesting stories I have read and want you to check out. And writing is my primary (though not my only) form of teaching and sharing.

(By the way, I don’t want you to triple your reading as a measure of productivity, though it will be enhanced. I want you to enjoy reading and fit it in within your available time.)

Let’s pledge to read more in 2013 …

1. Learn to speed-read. Bloody obvious, right?

You have so many choices. And why don’t they teach this in school? Talk about a practical skill: I learned years ago in a book and with software.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, you train yourself to scan material faster. Your brain can comprehend much faster than we typically see or hear material. (If your mind wanders during a presentation, it’s not just boredom, but also a v-e-r-y s-l-o-w way to receive information, the spoken word.)

You become accustomed to reading faster and absorbing pages and concepts and plot faster. You might not read a dense scientific article as fast as a trashy novel, but you’ll still read faster across the board.

This step alone can make you a superhuman reader. If you practiced in January, think how much reading you could do throughout the rest of 2013.

2. “Read” while driving. I had previously limited audiobooks to roadtrips and business travel. But I realized, thanks to business coach Marc Corsini, that any time in the car could be reading time.

For me, the easiest way wasn’t juggling CDs or hooking up my smartphone. It was having a dedicated MP3 player hooked up all the time. I needed one-button simplicity: Hit Play when I start driving, hit Pause when I arrive.

iPod ShuffleI use an iPod Shuffle that I bought new on eBay; battery lasts for about 10 hours typically. You can find them new on Amazon [aff. link] for $25 and up. As a bonus, I can grab it for when I go walking.

It’s small enough and cheap enough that I leave it in the car all the time without worry. (The tiny gadget hard to find, which is a big plus.)

All those commutes add up. Even a 5-minute trip to the supermarket helps me knock out a few pages. (Yes, I’m the weirdo who has mostly stopped listening to music in the car.) I always have a couple of books loaded on the iPod, so I won’t run out of reading material on the road.

I am a fan of unabridged works, but by all means, get the abridged version if you like. I don’t understand why audiobooks come in both flavors but print editions don’t — think about how many more copies authors could sell and how many more books readers could enjoy.

Parents: Find audiobooks that appeal to both you and your kids. I’ve heard it can be done.

library stacks

3. Hack the library. I have been going to the Jefferson County, Ala., libraries since I was a young boy. I have never stopped.

As much as I love books, I no longer feel like I need to own a copy of most of them. I’m just as happy selling them back on or simply borrowing them for free from the library.

If you’re going to triple your reading without tripling your book budget, hacking the library is a must.

Our library system in Birmingham is wonderful. They offer so many features, and I try to use as many as possible. It’s worth checking to see if your local library has these services …

  • E-books and audiobooks available 24 hours a day online (these go straight into my iPod and iPhone);
  • order books, CDs and DVDs from any branch to be delivered to your closest location (I use this all the time);
  • return books, CDs and DVDs from any branch to your closest location (only a few restrictions);
  • books by mail (for those unable to travel in person to branches);
  • automatic delivery of new books by preferred authors.

Bonus library hack: If you need a nudge to return items on time, use the free service Library Elf. It will email or text you several times as a due date comes up. I also have it notify me when my orders are in at my local branch. I haven’t had to pay an overdue fine in years.

Another bonus library hack: If you really want to get through a book quickly, borrow multiple formats (audiobook, e-book and print) of the same title and keep reading no matter where you are.

4. Browse through more free ebooks than you can read in a lifetime. Even if your library isn’t as awesome as mine is, you have the Internet. And on that Internet is a worldwide web of free ebooks. (If you will never ever read an e-book, then skip steps No. 4 and 5.)

All the classics and a slew of modern offerings, which you can grab at no cost and without a library card.

5. Turn your device into an e-reader. What if you don’t own a Kindle? Or a Nook? Or a Kobo? Not to worry.

Your computer, your smartphone or your tablet can all stand in.

I love reading on my iPhone. I’ve done it for years. I understand not all of you love the tiny screen, but for me, it’s perfect.

I always have my phone, so I can read when I’m standing in line or waiting for a client. I read a chapter in bed before going to sleep, and I can switch to white-text-on-black-background in the dark. And it’s free.

I never use my laptop for books; I prefer a printed or audio version, or my phone.

I have six(!) different e-readers on my iPhone, all free:

Carrie Rollwagen, KoboIf you’re not familiar with Kobo, don’t worry. I wasn’t either, till my friend Carrie Rollwagen (at right) integrated it brilliantly into her Birmingham coffee shop and bookstore, Church Street Coffee and Books.

Shoppers who prefer the digital edition to the print edition (which, by the way, she can order for you) can purchase it through the Church Street site. The ebook can be read on Kobo devices [aff. link] or using the free Kobo app for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows and even Blackberry.

(Carrie explains it all in this wonderful post [704 words = 4 min.].)

When you use reading apps that sync (iBooks, Kindle, Kobo, Nook), your virtual bookmark follows you from device to device, a real timesaver. (I’m hoping someday for perfect sync, so I can start reading an ebook where I left off in an audiobook, or even a print edition. We’ll figure it out …)

6. Batch your reading using Instapaper. I can be easily distracted with the number of great articles and links that cross my social media paths. And I don’t always have time to read them with focus.

Enter Instapaper.

Any article I find on my computer or iPhone can be bookmarked into one synchronized Instapaper reading list. I can always pull up these articles (regular or text only) and read them when I have a few minutes. Or I can power through 10 of them, time permitting. This allows me to devote part of my day to learning and keeping up with my preferred topics.

I can also send articles via custom email address, Google Reader and many apps; text can be sent to the Kindle and Nook readers, too.

Collect all your favorite news articles in one spot, then enjoy them on a Sunday morning from your device of choice.

Alternatives include Readability or Pocket, both free. I like to use the Readability extension on my Web browser: With one click, it transforms any article into a clean, ad-free, easy-to read format (see example).

Whether you spend 2013 reading for pleasure or for enlightenment, for chills or for thrills, enjoy the words and spread the love.

What are you reading more of in 2013?
Tell me in the comments.

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