When we think of “hacks,” many of us think of tricks to make a task quicker and easier than we’d previously believed possible. And of course, people have been trying to “hack” reading for decades, whether through speed-reading courses or apps or … well, Cliff’s Notes. The temptation of speed-reading is strong; the sheer number of books to read in the world is daunting to even the most dedicated reader. If only we could read quickly and painlessly, maybe we could make a real dent in the world’s literature in our brief lifetimes!
Reading, however, isn’t like chilling a drink or opening plastic packaging: The experience itself has just as much to offer as the end result. Hacking the reading experience by speeding it up seems to miss the value of the reading process. Plus, speed-reading may not work as well as its proponents claim, especially for more complex texts, as faster reading tends to work out to worse comprehension.
That doesn’t mean we can’t use relatively simple tricks and techniques to improve our reading. These easy reading hacks may not allow you to breeze through books and articles at the speed of light, but they should help you concentrate better, process what you’re reading more effectively, and get more out of each book.
Here are 7 basic hacks to turn your reading up to 11:
Don’t read in bed
Okay, we all love reading in bed. It’s cozy, it’s relaxing, it feels like someone is dreaming a beautiful dream for you. And then, two minutes later, you fall asleep, only to wake up four hours later with a crumpled book on your face, confused. If you want to get some actual reading done, you have to do this the right way: in an at least somewhat vertical position. Stand at your standing desk. Sit on your exercise ball. Sit (don’t lie!) on your couch or armchair or at your kitchen table. Read with your mind clear and alert, in a place and physical position you associate with mental activity, not drowsiness.
Reading isn’t a group activity, and it certainly isn’t one facilitated by Gchat or Twitter. Set aside time to read alone, without distractions. If possible, read in a different room from your family or roommates, where there’s no TV blaring or conversation pulling you in. Definitely switch off your devices — checking for new texts, Facebook notifications, emails, Twitter mentions, Gchats, and Instagram likes is a sure path to distracted, ineffective reading. We’re so used to constant connectedness that after a couple pages it seems natural to check in (“I’ve been offline for five minutes, I bet that tweet’s gotten some RTs by now!”), but this habitual checking in pulls our attention away from the page and interrupts the flow of our thoughts.
Read in print if possible
Sorry e-reader fans — several studies have suggested that reading in print leads to superior comprehension and retention compared to reading on a screen. This suggests that trickier materials or books…