We could all read more to improve our lives.

It seems like, no matter how many books we want to read, we always feel like we don’t read enough.

Sure, we may get lost in fiction books, and that’s great (I’ve actually been reading a lot more fiction lately), but as far as reading books on the areas of our life that we want to improve, we’re often lacking.

Here’s the thing, reading more may not be the answer.  There’s a better way, that actually works…

The Wrong Way to Read

Sometimes I avoid keeping a count of how many books I’ve read over any given period, because I tend to turn it into a challenge to read more and more.  That sounds like a good thing, but I said read more and more, not retain more and more.

The problem with reading goals is that they often cause us to force our way through books so fast that we don’t retain anything.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t set reading goals, I’m simply saying to revaluate them if you read quickly and retain little.

This may not be you.  You may be able to blow through books and retain everything your eye touches.  That’s awesome!  But you’re superhuman.  This article is not for superhumans.  It’s for the rest of us.

OK, you got it.  Obviously it’s not very helpful to read books so quickly that you don’t retain the information (as well as reading slowly and not retaining), but what can you do about that?

Welcome to efficient reading.  It will change your life…

A Better Way to Read

If you aren’t putting at least one thing in action from each of the last three nonfiction books you’ve read, you’re doing it wrong.

Read slowly, take notes and really ponder the ideas you’re reading.

But…if you do that, you won’t be able to read as many books.  And that’s the point.  Read less, retain more.

So how is this accomplished?  Here’s how:

  • Be more selective.  If you’re going to be reading fewer books, that means you have to be more selective in choosing the books you read.  Fortunately, things like internet reviews and top-book lists (like this finance book list and this productivity book list) will become your greatest resource.  Always know what you’re going to read next.  Spend time researching the next book, while you’re reading your current book.
  • Actually do what the book says.  It’s nice to read about all kinds of different brilliant ideas that will improve your life.  Actually doing them is even better.  Try to take at least one action away from every book you read.  There is something that you can change in your life, for the positive, after reading any good nonfiction work.  Implement it right away, which may mean before you finish the book.
  • Get a system.  Underlining, highlighting and taking notes are all great things, but do you actually do it for a reason, and with a purpose in mind?  Underlining a sentence may help you retain it a little bit, but if you never come back to that book to see what you’ve underlined, it will have mostly been useless.  Whether you choose to underline, highlight, or use certain symbols to signify certain things in the book, get a system and utilize it.
  • Don’t be afraid to quit.  If you’re being selective, you should be reading books that are packed full of awesome content, but if you somehow choose a dud, don’t be afraid to put it down and leave it there.  Don’t tell yourself that you’re building discipline by muddling your way through a bad book.  The truth is, you’re just wasting your time.
  • Learn to really retain.  Mortimer Adler wrote a book called…How to Read a Book.  Seems like a weird thing to read about, right?  Well it’s not.  It’s actually a great investment of your time.  Not only will Mortimer show you how to select a good book, but he will show you how to get the most out of any book you read.  Read his book, takes notes and start implementing his ideas in every area of your reading.  You’ll thank me Mortimer for it.

I’ve been guilty of inefficient reading in the past.  In fact, if I ever tell you not to something, it’s probably because I’ve done it and realized how bad of an idea it was.  Inefficient reading is one of those things.

Stop wasting your time by reading the wrong books or inefficiently reading the right books.

Read less, read better.