My Journey into Effective Reading — Tips and Techniques to improve your Reader Self

Intro: My Love for Reading

Reading has been part of my life since I was a little kid. I can still remember one of my first books, a children’s version of Star Wars: A New Hope. I honestly don’t know who gave it to me, but it was a trip of a life time. I have to admit that I read the book before watching the movie, and that feeling stayed with me until today. And by feeling I mean two things: the love to read and the habit of always reading the book first before watching the movie. Two interesting facts about the latter feeling, I’ve broke the rule more than one time but I tried to live it as much as I can. Second fact, and I know some of you are going to kill me for this, I haven’t seen any of the Lord of The Rings movies, until I finish all the books. I know, I know. I’m missing a masterpiece. However, I would like to honor Tolkien’s writings. I just feel I have to.

Anyways, back to reading.

The Internet: the information fire hose

Reading came to me easy in middle school and high school. I considered myself a book worm and felt good about it. I was in a happy place borrowing and buying books like an animal. I felt that I was in total control of my information intake and I was the Jedi master of it, until the second biggest event in my reading life happened: the Internet.

Holly Shit! I got the same feeling as when you get inside a cold pure waterfall: a great deal of excitement but at the same time a complete shutdown of my senses. Literally, too much information everywhere (feels like a Buzz Light Gear meme should be here). But I still loved books and as you know the Internet has everything for everyone, so I found two amazing websites: Computer Literacy Books (CLBooks which later became FatBrain and later acquired by B&N) and the now behemoth The insanity continued. Are you telling me I can ordered any book I want and these guys will deliver it to my front door. Awesome! I was living in Guatemala at the time and even with the international shipping charges, it was still a dream come true.

In university (Studying Computer Science), I was able, not only to order the books that were part of my syllabus, but even books from the same courses from the elite universities in the world. I focused my reading on completing my undergrad and post graduate. I learn tons.

Rock bottom: finding instant gratification

I started working one year before finishing my undergrad, and I think that is when the shit hit the fan. I was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of information available, the one that I wanted to consume, and the one that I was capable of consuming. And that is when I started going downhill.

I started focusing more on the quantity of the content I was reading than the actual quality. As such, I reached out to one of the most dangerous drivers in our current society: INSTANT GRATIFICATION

I wanted to read faster, better, effectively and NOW. That was my biggest mistake. I starting buying books on how to read faster. Books that offer the alternative to read 10 books in a day or something as crazy as that. By the way, I know what you are thinking. What kind of idiot buys a book that he needs to read to fix his lack of reading problem? Yep, that was me. It is obvious now that I reflect on it but at the moment it felt like the right thing to do. Besides I kept telling myself that reading was my thing.

I tried to read books, took courses and gave my fare share of salary to the instant gratification market with the expected real results. No improvement at all. Not only I was not reading effectively, now I felt like an idiot after falling to all those “As seen in TV” look a like products.

In the meantime, the fire hose of information kept smashing my brain every minute. Emails, websites, blogs, books, ebooks, Free PDFs all over the Internet. I was going insane.

At this point, I was reading but consuming nothing. I bought books and read only one or two chapters, skim through email and magazines but nothing was sinking. I realized that I needed to change my attitude and habits towards reading and that whatever success I had in the past consuming information it will never take me to the future state that I wanted to be or will serve me better. So here is where the transformation starts.

Changing reading attitude and habits

I truly believe that we all have an attitude or a personality towards reading. Mine was that reading was meant to happen in the perfect setting/ambient, with a calm and open mind full of white space to fill. And my habits, they were just driven by instant gratification as I mentioned before.

One more thing about personality. For some reason I thought that I needed to know everything about anything. And if you add the fact that the information was available, I was procrastinating my reading.

My New Reader Self

I needed to change my approach on how to read effectively. And the good news is. I did. One caveat though. There is no easy way out of this. No instant gratification, no bullshit. I will share with you the things that have worked for me towards becoming a better reader and be more self-aware of my reader personality.

Tips and Techniques to Improve your Reader Self

Effective Reading Principles

1.-Read every single day!

Yeah! that’s it. However, you have to create a framework to make it work for you. This is not saying that you should read for the sake of reading. What is saying is that you should allocate a specific amount of time for reading purposes only. Believe it or not, this can be as simple as 5 minutes per day (measure it with your smartphone) or one page per day. The important thing is to kick start reading as an activity in your schedule.

As ridiculous as it sounds, commit to it. Put the 5 minute block in your schedule. It means 5 uninterrupted reading exclusive minutes. You can read a book or half a book a year, which is better than no books a year.

2.-Be present

This is the tricky part and it is directly correlated with principle number one. You need to be present and focused on one thing only: reading. That is the reason why committing to 5 minutes is not much of a crazy idea. Put your smartphone on Airplane mode, block all distractions and just read.

Tips and Techniques

Please keep the following in consideration while you read this:

Don’t think of these tips and techniques as the cookie cutter solution to your reading challenges. My invitation is to take a look a these tips and inject your own DNA to each one of them. My suggestion is to try one at a time. If it doesn’t work, change it bit by bit until it feels yours. That is the secret sauce (first tip). If it doesn’t work for more than a week, throw it out of your life and look for the next. If you already feel comfortable with one technique and also found another interesting, start combining them and do the same exercise

But enough preamble,let’s dig into it. I categorized the tips and techniques so you can easily get what you need more effectively.

Tips and Techniques to Prep for a Good Read

  1. Find Reading Time by Observing Your Day — If you think about it, you spend a lot of time commuting or just waiting for time to pass. Use those windows of time, as small as they seem, to read. I decided to give this a try and started using every single opportunity to read. I commit myself to the following rule: If I’m moving from point A to point B, I’ll listen to an AudioBook. Even if the route is short. I live very close to my office. It is approximately a 10–15 minute walk (total 20–30 minutes getting to the office and back home in the evening). Only that gives me between 360–600 minutes of time per month to listen to an audiobook or a podcast. Every month, I’m reading approximately 1 book and 3–5 20-ish minute podcasts. This is amazing. And If I have longer commutes due to work or an event, even better. Take into account flights, grocery shopping, etc. You can accumulate minutes if you really commit to it.
  2. Context for the Content — More than a tip, I think of this as a personal preference or style. I love movies. I really do. Before a movie that I want to see hits the theaters there is a promotion phase where actors, directors and producers talk about the movie. There are also trailers, teasers, etc. I love to watch all that content prior the movie. The more context I have, the more excited I feel. I don’t see it as a spoiler. I love context. The same thing happens with books. In this day and age, with the Internet and social media at its prime, you can get up close and personal with most authors in the business. You can find interviews, social media content, even trailers (Tim Ferriss did an awesome trailer for his 4-Hour Body book. Hollywood style). Another good example of this was the recent release of @BreneBrown book Rising Strong (highly recommended BTW). You could find her all over the Internet and also on Oprah Winfrey OWN channel (Super Soul Sundays, highly recommended as well). Other examples is Gary Vaynerchuk. This guy is my idol. He is just fantastic. I get so much value out of him that I have purchased all his books and already pre-ordered the next one (Hey Gary Vaynerchuk, your guilty model is working like a charm over here, LOL). You get the point. Explore the book and the content even before you start reading. This will help you filter or get what you need in a short piece of content like a post or a tweet. May be that is all you need, a piece and not the whole book. Another example I can give you is that I’m exploring the book “The School of Greatness” by Lewis Howes. I’m still not convinced is the right book for me. So I listed to James Altucher podcast interviewing Lewis and other sources too. If I feel is a fit for me, I’ll buy it. If not, that is ok. Lewis is going to do fine anyways.

Tips and Techniques for the Reading Process

  1. Read only one book at a time — It is extremely tempting, for some of us, to read multiple books at the same time. Focus on one book at a time. Switching from on book to another requires additional brain effort to do the switch. Remember, it is not the reading only your brain will remember. Your brain will try to recreate the last setting when you were reading this book or any important highlights. It will drain your brain before you start reading
  2. Same content different inputs — We all have a preference of physical, digital, audio, etc. Choose your flavor. I have made a full transition to eBooks to the point that I prefer an eBook above all. However, I’ve been experimenting with Audiobooks as well (more detail tips on audiobooks next) and sometimes get back to Hardcovers. I realized that what I really care is about the content. So expand your possibilities. Explore Podcasts, Magazines, Blogs, Short articles, tweets, etc. You will be surprised that sometimes you are not interested in becoming a subject matter expert. You just need a quick piece of information and you can move to the next item
  3. Your Hand as a Pointer — I learned this tip from @jimkwik. When you are reading any content, use one of your index fingers as pointer to follow up your reading. It sounds simple but there is a trick. If you are right-handed, like me, use your left index and vice-versa. Why so specific? Typically only the hand that you are using to hold the book is focused on reading. This translates in only one side of your brain focused on the reading. By using your other hand as pointer, you are forcing both sides of your brain to focus on what you are reading. Practice will make you better at this. But believe me, it works.
  4. All Senses in Reading Mode — I learned this trick from @fghtmediocrity YouTube channel. Here is the ideal. Buy the book (physical or digital) and also the audiobook. As you read the book, play the audiobook at the same time but the audio should be between x1.5 to x2.5 normal speed. The fast-paced audio will drive your reading and will make you read more effectively. I have been able to read a full book in 3–5 days (and this is conservative as you can actually read a book in a day if you put the time) by reading approximately 45–60 minutes a day. Remember, the key is the audio speed. I have to admit that at the beginning the idea sounded ridiculous but it actually works.

Tips and Techniques for Post Read

  1. Free your mind to allow more information — Once you have read some content, your mind needs to digest it and made the relevant connections in your brain that apply to you. Once that happens, your content might transform into an idea, a concept or directly into action. It doesn’t matter which of the three happen, but you need to spit out your own version of the content. This open your brain to receive new and fresh content and repeat the cycle. I have made the mistake of holding information in my head for too long. I feel tired and felt that my head was going to explode. Also my reactive behavior was to talk about it to anyone I can. Even during personal events. This only made me the know-it-all jack ass in the room. I was not intending to be one, but the truth is, just because you find it interesting doesn’t mean everyone around you is interested at the same level or even at the same thing. My solution to this: Write about it. You don’t have to do a long format type of thing. It could be a post, tweet or a pic. It doesn’t matter. Most of the stuff that I write that comes out of my search probably will never make it to the public Internet. I’ll keep them in my journal ( I use Day One App, great BTW) and review them or just let them collect bytes of dust. The important think is that it serve the purpose of opening my mind to new stuff. In this information age, data has a expiry date. The same principle applies in your brain.
  2. Sleep, but not for the sake of it — I can’t not create a headline for this any simpler than just, Sleep. Having said that, we all have our own unique way of getting rest and regenerate our bodies. In my case, if I sleep between 6–7 hours per day, I’m good for the rest of the day. However, this metric tells me nothing about my sleep and regeneration process. You know the only time your brain is able to detox from all the biological waste in your head is through sleep? So I needed to know more about my sleep. Solution: @Jawbone UP24 wearable. This amazing piece of hardware is able to measure my levels of REM, light and deep sleep. In a nutshell, light sleep means nothing to your brain, deep sleep is more relevant to your body and REM is the key to your brain. REM sleep is the sleep level that allows you to dump data from the short-term to long-term and regenerate neurons and connect new paths. It is amazing how simple things like hydrating throughout the day can help with that, or what to eat and not to eat a few hours before going to sleep. Even if you had a huge steak for dinner, you know what is going to happen (close to zero REM sleep). but you can change your sleep patterns and next day activities to compensate. That is the fundamental difference between going to sleep for good and not for the sake of it. Bonus: Short naps a really helpful to increase your REM sleep (25–30 minutes).
  3. Go with your gut, get the book now and read it later — If I walked near an Indigo Store (Canada), a Barnes & Noble (US), or Amazon (Internet), my adrenaline starts pumping and I start scanning for all the books that my gut is telling me to get. I’m not suggesting to buy them all, but don’t forget about them. If you have the feeling that a book or an article will help you, keep it handy. My technique for this is to leverage the Amazon/iBooks Sample feature like an animal. Any book that appeals to me, I request a sample and keep it there. Some times they stay there for a long time and hit the bottom of the list and I will never see it again (I setup my eBook readers to order books and samples by last used) and you can delete them. But there is always a book that you will hear about in many different places and get many different signals from all over the place. That is my gut signal to buy it. Sometimes I buy them right away. The key point is to have a repository of the books that you are interested. There are other tools like Shellfari (Bought by Amazon), GoodReads, etc. I also recommended to check your public libraries. Here in Toronto, Canada, our public library system is fenomenal! I have access to Overdrive books, Digital Magazines, O’reilly Safari online books, and recently Lynda training courses. They are easy to access and they are “free” (you actually pay for this via your taxes but it is there for you). Leverage it.

One Last Thought…

Book Summaries — People ask me what are my thoughts about book summaries. My answer is very plain and simple:

A summary will never communicate the essence of the book and/or the author’s main message

Call me a purist, but I feel the same way about trailer movies or magazine covers. You learn enough but not all of it.

Book summaries can help you get away from conversations where you are the only person in the conversation who haven’t read the book and you are concern that people might think of you as an illiterate or ignorant. Personally, I don’t care about that. In fact, I use it as a conversation starter to nurture my network. If I haven't ready the book, ask for reviews and points of view. Book summaries can also be helpful regarding my previous tip about “Context for Content” gathering more information about the book and the author.

So, here you have them. I hope this really adds value to your Reading Self in some way or the other. If you have any other tip or technique, please feel free to include it in the content.