How I Read Over 300 Books This Year (Tips For Smart Speed-Reading Included)

Siim Land

I read over 300 books this year, which amounts to almost one book a day. In this article, I’m going to tell you how I did it, how you can practice the art of smart speed-reading and give you my top 5 books of the bunch.

The year 2016 was so far the most successful one of my life but the reading challenge wasn’t like a part of my bigger goals. I didn’t have a schedule, I didn’t measure my progress but simply logged what I had read.

Why Do I Read

I believe the reason as to why we should read is quite self-explanatory. We as individuals are thrown into the world with little pre-existing baggage in terms of knowledge about the world. We only have tools that allow us to create and organize our own individual experience. We have our intelligence, creativity, the ability for abstraction and learning.

If we’re to make sense of the world, then we need to know how it functions. What’s more important, we have to understand ourselves better in the midst of it. Learning is a never-ending process because we’re always in a reciprocal relationship with our environment, both of whom are in constant motion.

Reading allows us to gather the wisdom of others and learn from their experience. We could spend years going through the process of trial and error ourselves OR we could speed up our learning curve remarkably by picking up some good books.

How I Read Over 300 Books This Year

So, how the hell did I do it? How on earth did I manage to read almost one book a day when most people have read maybe 10 books after graduating high school?

Well, my first answer would be that I love to read but I also like to invest in myself. You see, learning is an investment you make into your future. It gives you the knowledge with which you can conquer the world with.

If you’re doing one thing (i.e. mindlessly scrolling through social media or procrastinating), then you’re preventing yourself from doing something else (i.e. reading, exercising, building a business). There’s a huge opportunity cost you’re robbing yourself from.

It’s not a matter of time but of priorities. If you consider something important, then you will always find a way to it. This marks the point of reference in the thinking process between the mediocre and the great. Successful people simply value different things and they are willing to do whatever it takes to get it.

My Reading Strategy

The second aspect to this is purely habitual. Although I had set myself a goal of reading 300 books this year, I never measured my progress or read just to keep myself in schedule.

Instead, I’ve created a system for myself that allows me to increase the rate at which I gather knowledge from books. It’s based on my own individual preference, but you can apply the same principles to your own reading strategy.

  • Make room for daily reading. You have to commit to reading something every single day. The best way is to simply schedule it – make it a part of your routine. I usually read an hour or two in the afternoon and maybe 30 minutes before bed. It doesn’t even have to be a lot – 30 minutes to an hour is great for beginners. However, if you really want to achieve something great, then you need to step up your game. Warren Buffet – one of the richest man in the world – spends 80% of his days reading.

“Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.” – Charlie Munger

  • Carry a book with you. Whenever you have a dull moment in your day – while using public transport, waiting for an appointment or having a break – just pop out a paperback and bust through a few pages. Don’t escape into social media but, instead, value your time and make a short investment into yourself. You can use a Kindle or any other e-reading device.
  • Listen to audiobooks. This is by far my favorite way of gathering knowledge. To be honest, I would say that nearly half of those 312 books are audiobooks. It’s incredibly simple and convenient. You can listen to them almost everywhere – while driving, while walking, while working out, while cooking…wherever. What’s more, if you’re a real badass, then you can double your rate of investment and listen to them on double speed as well. Audible.com sells audiobooks and you can also get your first book for free if you sign up for the trial period – click here. However, this isn’t ideal for some books. I wouldn’t recommend using audiobooks for topics about science, quantum physics or anything like that. The best audiobooks to listen are about human behavior, personal development or philosophy.

How to Read Faster

You have to realize that your reading speed is purely subjective and habitual. Like with any other skill it can be trained and improved. Here are some of the key principles of speed-reading.

  • Reduce sub-vocalization. This is the biggest impediment to speed reading. Don’t read the text to yourself in your head. Instead of having a monologue, we have to distance ourselves from the book slightly. Our brain is actually capable of storing the information by simply looking at the words without repeating them in our head. You don’t need talking for comprehension. To practice this, we need to simply use our eyes for skimming and looking at the lines without re-vocalizing them.
  • Pointer method. Using a pencil to go through the lines will make our sight follow it at a quicker pace. You don’t want to over-do it either. Keep it at a speed where you’re slightly challenged but not to the point of struggle or anxiety (i.e. Oh shit, I can’t keep up!).
  • Deliberately practice. – To get good at speed reading we need to be actually doing it. In addition to reading books as we normally would there are some programs out there that can help us as well. The website spreeder.com offers this solution. We can simply copy a piece of text into its software, adjust the speed at which it will spit it at us and read. This is great practice for conditioning our eye and mind to comprehend chunks of words all at once as they will only appear on the screen for a moment.

Chunking

The fact is that most of what is written isn’t that important. We’re after only the general idea. It means that we don’t have to read every word in a paragraph. Instead of eyeballing each letter and subvocalizing them, we can view sentences as chunks.

You want to take advantage of your peripheral vision. If you focus on one point, then you can easily still see what’s in the background. While reading, you simply look at a word, simultaneously your subconscious mind registers the other surrounding words as well, and you can easily jump over like an entire line or something without losing any key points.

What I tend to do is start off with about the second or third word of the sentence, then skip a few of them, maybe jump somewhere in the middle and that’s it. I may even skip a few paragraphs all together. Sometimes I even jump back and forth within paragraphs. For instance, I look at the beginning, switch to the last bit — the middle —- back to the beginning and so on. At the same time, I’m registering different key words and phrases that begin to give me an idea of what the text is about. After a while, the entire picture merges together. If we’ve arrived at the essence of what the author is trying to tell us, then we don’t have to waste time and can move on. Doing this repeatedly will greatly increase your reading speed.

How to Chunk:

Let me illustrate chunking with a paragraph from one of the most important books I read this year – Power vs Force by David Hawkins.

Here’s the original paragraph in its full form and glory: “If we analyze the nature of force, it becomes readily apparent why it must always succumb to power; this is in accordance with one of the basic laws of physics. Because force automatically creates counter-force, its effect is limited by definition. We could say that force is a movement. It goes from here to there (or tries to) against opposition. Power, on the other hand, stands still. It is like a standing field that does not move. Gravity itself, for instance, does not move against anything. Its power moves all objects within its field, but the gravity field itself does not move.”

Here’s how you would chunk it: “Analyze—-force—always—-succumb to power——automatically—–counter-force—–power still——-gravity——-does not move.”

The core idea of this paragraph is that force is always acting against something and producing counter-resistance, whereas power is a source of omnipotence that doesn’t have to act but simply is. I highly recommend reading Hawkins’ book – it has been quite a paradigm shifter for me.

How to Read Smarter

Speed-reading is only one half to the equation of increasing your knowledge – the purely physical aspect of it. The second part is smart-reading – they’re the two sides of the same coin.

The key principles of smart reading:

  • Read books that are relevant to you and necessary for your growth. Just reading something that doesn’t serve a purpose to you is almost as worse as not reading at all. Instead of picking up books that will never find a practical application in your life, you have to focus on the topics that are the most significant to what you want to accomplish. It should also be applied to what’s most important to your life right now – if you want to get fit, then read something about health and nutrition; if you’re getting a degree, then read the books of your chosen vocation. All in all, you should still improve your general knowledge about topics, such as human psychology, finance, personal development and physiology.
  • Don’t get sidetracked. Have you ever had the experience where you’re reading this book and all of a sudden you realize that you haven’t been paying any attention for the past 2 pages? You simply blanked out in your head and started daydreaming about what you’re going to do afterwards. To prevent that, you need to be a strategic motherfu#%a and learn how to improve your focus. Check out my video on how to attain this Jedi-like concentration.
  • Review beforehand. To speed up your chunking and comprehension, you would want to increase the speed of your reasoning. What I mean by that is making our understanding of certain ideas and topics faster. In some books there might be completely new concepts that we’ve never heard before – some quantum magic stuff or economic terms. To understand them fully, we would have to go through them slower. If we already know some of the theories or notions the author is referring to then we can snap our fingers and chunk it. This is especially relevant in science books. Before picking up any scientific literature, it’s best we acquaint ourselves with the context.

The Three Stage Reading Method

This brings me to a very efficient way of reading books. It involves going through the book several times. There are 3 distinctive stages – preview, overview, review – all of which increase comprehension in a different manner.

Stage One – Preview

The first thing we need to do when picking up a book is to examine it. This means looking at the title, cover, who’s the author, what’s the topic and theme etc. Go through the table of contents and if there’s something you don’t completely understand in terms of terminology then it’s best you search its meaning before going any further. At least Google it and get a very basic glimpse of it.

Now that we’re informed ourselves with what the book is about, we might have already made some conclusions of our own. However, it’s important to keep our pre-conceived notions at bay.

We can now start reading the book.

Instead of actually going through it we need to skim it first. This means reading the introduction, the table of contents, the beginning of each chapter and so on. At the moment, we’re simply gliding over quickly to see what interests us the most.

If the title of a chapter is self-explanatory and we already understand it completely we don’t need to spend as much time on it. Going through it quickly will still be beneficial because the author might have something new to add. We’re better off spending our time on topics we lack comprehension of. At the beginning of each paragraph we can get a clue of what it’s going to be about. We can avoid reading it all over again, although, repetition has its merits and is always advisable.

Stage Two – Overview

After we’ve skimmed the book we’ll have a pretty clear picture of how it’s structured and what’s it about. Now we’ve distinguished the parts that we already understand and those we need to learn about. Those sections that we have no comprehension of are the ones we will actually read, in order to get a grasp over them. This is the stage in which you can spend as much time as needed on the necessary topics.

It’s highly advised to take notes while reading. Either get a notepad, have a word document or simply highlight the book with a pencil. This way you’re reiterating the information you’ve learned and can store it in long term memory more easily. It’s also great for future reference, as you don’t have to search for the same ideas all over again.

Stage Three – Review

Once you’ve gone through each chapter of you’ve finished the book. Congratulations! We can re-read it again. It enforces comprehension and prevents us from forgetting about it.

This time you don’t actually spend almost any time on reading. You simply deliberately skim through the book like during the preview stage. However, some books are worth reading more than once. Go through your notes as well and make some of your own conclusions about what you’ve read. Writing out some ideas is also a great way to spark creativity.

Use this three step method for books that are slightly more difficult to understand and will make a huge contribution to your growth.

WARNING: Don’t Read Unless Your Read This

The biggest danger to reading is that you won’t apply the knowledge. You have to put what you’ve read into use, otherwise it’s pointless to invest so much time into it. My purpose with reading isn’t to pat myself on the back and say ‘good job!’

Instead, I read so that I could apply the knowledge learned into my life. You don’t want to just comprehend – you want to get the wisdom and wisdom is knowledge that is put into use and gained through experience.

You have to take action on what you’ve learned, otherwise it can’t be said that you’ve actually understood it. There’s a very important concept I’m about to share with you – it’s speed of implementation. In essence, it’s about taking action as soon as possible and not waiting for the perfect moment. This way you’re not only increasing your learning curve but will also get more results.

What Books Did I Read

So, you might wonder what books did I read this year? There are just so many of them, ranging from many topics, such as anthropology, psychology, mindset, quantum physics, The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness, Superintelligence and so on.

I’m just going to give you the top 5 of my favorite ones I read this year.

  • Power vs Force by David Hawkins. It’s about the hidden determinants of human behavior and the mysteries of consciousness.
  • Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink. How to completely shift your mindset about personal governance and leadership.
  • The Code of the Extraordinary Mind by Vishen Lakhiani. How you can restructure your beliefs and start living a more fulfilling life.
  • Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is one of my favorite books of all time because it reflects my personal philosophy quite a lot. In fact, up to the point I read the book, I had been living and embodying it wholeheartedly. It’s about facing adversity and adapting to it in a way that you actually become stronger than before. You don’t perish because of chaos but actually get better because of it. Expect a thorough overview in the future.

Most recently, I’ve finished Tim Ferriss’ newest book Tools of Titans, which talks about the tactics, routines and habits of world-class performers. Make sure to check out my review about it on my YouTube channel.

In the mean time, get my free book Body Mind Agoge as well, in which I teach you other ways of empowering your life.

300 books this year
300 books this year