How to Master Efficient Reading

5 steps to keep motivated and maximize effort to get through your book list.

Isabella Merjanian
Sep 14 · 9 min read
Hand holding book stack.
Hand holding book stack.

How I Became a Master Reader

Until a year ago, I suffered from the plight of inefficiency that most wannabe-readers experience. I so badly wanted to be well-read, and I even enjoyed reading, but I just couldn’t get the plane in the air. If I was reading something I loved, I could plough through a book in a week, but once I was done my progress would come to a grinding halt. Over the past year, I’ve gone from finishing one book a month (on a good month) to finishing nearly a book a week.

1. Find Books You Like

No surprise, this is probably the most important thing you can do to inspire a reading habit. If you’re not interested in what you’re reading, it becomes a chore and it takes a tooth-and-nail effort to develop a habit that doesn’t feel good.

  • Reading lists: Everybody has a reading list these days: book shops, blogs, even celebrities. Reece Witherspoon and Oprah have book clubs, and I’ve gotten some great reads from Bill Gates’ semiannual reading lists, I’m just saying. Or you can go it the old fashioned way and read the staff-picks at your local bookstore.
  • Read several books at a time: There’s no law against cheating on one book with another and it can actually be super helpful. Make it easy to pick up a book any time, and when you’re in any mood. When I want to feel productive I read about social justice or learn a new skill, but when I’m getting ready in the morning I want something that takes it easy on my single firing neuron.

2. Have a Book List

Everybody has a million books they want to read, but when they’re looking for a new read they draw a blank. If they’re lucky they remember one book their annoying coworker was talking about in the break room, but that’s no way to live. Accept that you just don’t have a mind to remember 100 offhandedly-mentioned titles and authors and just keep dang a list. Make sure when you’re itching for a new read you have a hearty selection to choose from.

  • Always have a book ready: Don’t wait to finish your book before you queue up the next one. Shipping takes time, your local bookstore has limited hours, or you could get distracted watching I Love Lucy reruns and before you know it you haven’t read in 6 months. I always have a short stack of 3 or 4 books on my nightstand and in my Audible queue so when the time comes, I’m ready.

3. Be Smart About How You Read

How you read books, I would argue, is just as important as what you read. Do you want to enjoy the book, or simply extract the information? How deep of an understanding do you want? It’s not the 1400’s when we were forced to lug around 15 pound Gutenburg bibles; we now have a buffet of ways to consume literature.

  • Audiobooks: I’ll be honest, I held out on audiobooks for years because I was a book purist who didn’t consider it “real reading”. Honestly, that girl hardly finished a book a month, and now I’m easily burning through 3 times that, so I can put my pretensions aside. Audiobooks allow you to read when you’re getting ready in the morning, when you’re cooking or driving. Mindless tasks now become mindful.
  • Hardcopies: You didn’t think I’d forget the original did you? I really only read real books when I’m looking to savor it. It’s by far the least efficient method (unless you’re going to go down the road of speed-reading), so it’s got to be a labor of love. I always snuggle up with a chapter before bed.

4. Challenge Yourself

Full disclosure: I’m a highly competitive person. I have family members who refuse to play Monopoly with me and I have to actively control my snarling trash talk at the bowling alley. It’s a disease. Anyways, a little healthy challenge can be tremendously helpful in keeping your focus. Make it a game or a challenge you can feel good about completing and you’ll be much more likely to keep on track.

  • Have reading goals: Have something you’re working towards and keep pace. One of my New Year’s resolutions was to read 24 books in 2020, and completing that goal only halfway through the year was HIGHLY satisfying. GoodReads (yes I know, AGAIN) has a very simple “Reading Challenge” feature that tells you how far you are in your reading goal, and how many books ahead or behind you are. Having concrete targets will make it easier to visualize and stay motivated. Find what works for you and run with it!
  • Friends: Tell people about your reading goals and have them keep you accountable. Have a competition with your friends or, if you’re feeling like a less oppositional approach, start a book club. Having regular check-ins will keep you on-track and it’s always fun to have somebody to talk about the book with. Don’t have friends who want to read the same books? There are countless online forums and book clubs you can join. *cough* GoodReads *cough*

5. Use What You’ve Learned

If you don’t use it you lose it, right? Now that you’re going to be reading loads of books, don’t let all that good information drift in one ear and out the other. Make sure you’re doing what you need to actually remember the information you’re consuming. I’ve found that reading so many books means I often get confused about which book I’m referencing in conversation, and I find myself misquoting an awful lot. Don’t be the fool who reads a lot but can’t recall those juicy tidbits when you’re trying to impress your coworkers at a wine-and-cheese soirée.

  • Have a book club: This one’s pretty simple — book clubs allow you to have in-depth discussions about the books you’re reading and make new connections you may not have made on your own. Having to explain something to another person forces you to understand it more deeply. Plus, the pressure of knowing you’re going to talk about what your reading might scare you into taking really detailed and useful notes.
  • Write reviews: Sure, you’ll be doing a service to the reading community by contributing to the endless pool of literary reviews, but the real reason you write a review is to get some serious book-nerd street cred. Jokes aside, it’s actually a great way to put your thoughts and feelings about a book into a succinct opinion nugget that you can draw from when you’re talking to that cute guy you’re trying to impress at the library.

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Isabella Merjanian

Written by

Isabella is a UX Researcher and Designer, an avid hiker, and an insatiable reader. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado.

The Innovation

Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Design Thinking, Sustainability & Creativity

Isabella Merjanian

Written by

Isabella is a UX Researcher and Designer, an avid hiker, and an insatiable reader. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado.

The Innovation

Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Design Thinking, Sustainability & Creativity