Length: 1543 words. Reading Time: ~8 minutes.

Technology has made information ubiquitous. What used to require attendance at a major university, is now available within a few key strokes. Online tools like Youtube, TED, and Lynda.com making exploring knowledge and learning new skills easier than ever. Massive-open online courses (MOOCs) are also available through a variety of online services like EdX , Udemy, and Coursera that offer both for free and low-prices.

Access to knowledge simply isn’t the barrier it used to be. And, with so many options for learning online it’s easy to forget about the greatest personal development tool in history… books.

As an eLearning professional it might surprise you that most of my learning isn’t done digitally. The reason for this is simple: speed. To learn something fully, to immerse in it deeply, to appreciate different views and opinions, and to reflect on how it affects you, you need to slow down. The rapidly changing, short bursts of information you’ll find on social media and in blogs doesn’t allow this. Books, on-the-other-hand, give you the opportunity to slow-down and smell the pages.

To learn something fully, to immerse in it deeply, to appreciate different views and opinions, and to reflect on how it affects you, you need to slow down.

Need more convincing? If you desire to be a top performer in any field – you need to read. There’s a reason there is no shortage of reading lists provided by the top performers from around the world; it’s because they all read. Most of them insatiably. So, whether you want to reach the standards of Richard Branson, Sheryl Sandberg, Elon Musk, anyone of dozens of CEOs – reading is on the list of admission requirements. And, frankly, if these people can make time for reading, you have no excuse.

5 Tips to Get the Most from Your Reading Time

When you read, you want to get the most out of it and these tips will help. It’s an investment in yourself and your time is valuable.

1. Treat Reading like a 20-Mile March

Just read 10 pages per day… How long will reading 10 pages take you?

In his best-selling book Good to Great, Jim Collins describes a race that took place in 1911 between polar explorers Ronald Amundsen (Norway) and Robert Scott (England). The two explorers set out on separate expeditions to become the first men in modern history to reach the South Pole. While several differences between their expeditions have been noted, Collins focuses on Amundsen’s 20-mile rule, whereby his team marched 20-miles every day. Scott’s team on the other hand marched as much as they could each day, depending on conditions. Amundsen’s conviction to march 20-miles in all conditions – not less in bad, not more in good – had his team reach the South Pole on December 14, 1911. Scott’s team also reached the South Pole, but over a month later on January 17, 1912; and, they all perished on the return trip.

So, what does this have to do with books? The most common reason individuals neglect reading is the same reason we neglect everything else… time. The story of Amundsen vs. Scott represents a simple method to increase your knowledge consumption – just read 10 pages per day. The average book is 240-300 pages; therefore, if you read only 10 pages per day, you’ll finish at least one (1) book every month. That may not feel like a lot, but how many books did you read last year? Was it more or less than 12? How long will reading 10 pages take you? The average adult reads at about 200 words per minute. The average book has 300 words per page. So, your 10 pages per day will cost you 15 minutes at breakfast, on your lunch break, before bed, or standing in a line somewhere (we all spend too much time standing in line, right?).

2. Read in Themes

Exploring a topic and exposing yourself to the ideas and opinions of different authors helps you analyze and synthesize the subject.

Your goal isn’t to simply parrot the ideas of others, it’s to create ideas of your own, based on your experience and world view.

Rarely is there a definitive resource on a topic, particularly when considering subjects such as leadership, design, and entrepreneurship. Not every approach will work for all people in all situations. That’s why it’s so important to invest in a topic and stick with it. What’s your biggest gap? Where do you most need to increase your capacity? Find that subject and dig in. Jump online and order three or four books on a topic. This may sound tedious and time consuming, but at just 10 pages a day, you’ll complete a theme-read in the next three months. What should you have been reading about over the last three months?

For example, if you want to improve your ability to hold tough conversations in business and in life, you might consider the following theme read:

There are consistencies amongst these three (3) books, in some cases they present the same ideas in different ways. They each present different stories that may or may not resonate with you. And, they each have their differences. While reading any one of these books would be beneficial, focusing on this topic over an extended period will internalize the learning more deeply and give you more opportunities to practice the skills you’re learning.

3. Link Your Reading

An extension to theme reading, “linked reading” builds on a theme you’ve already been reading about, while introducing new ideas and concepts. Continuing with the tough conversations theme described above, linked reading may take you into books on negotiation, then sales, then listening, then… All of these topics have related skills that are valuable to any professional and strengthening one of them strengthens all of them. With linked reading, it doesn’t really matter where within the linked subjects you start, or if you complete one theme at a time. The power in linked reading is in the relationship between topics.

4. Takes Notes, Make Highlights, Use Post-its

If you’re a purest who believes books should look brand-new when you’re done reading them, you should probably skip this section.  Books are a tool and writing in them, highlighting in them, ‘dog-earing’ pages, and throwing them into a travel bag are perfectly acceptable ways to use them. The goal shouldn’t be to have a pretty book on a shelf in your office, the goal should always be to learn and apply something new. Using notes, highlights, and post-it notes (to mark pages or make notes on) are a great way to mark and reference the content that stood out to you.

Here’s the best part: as described in the Scientific America article A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop, individuals “who write out their notes on paper actually learn more.” In the theme of this article, taking notes slows you down and allows you to internalize an idea, think about it more broadly, and consider it in the context of your life and career.

If you’re an Amazon Kindle user, you can highlight and make notes throughout an eBook and then find them online at https://kindle.amazon.com/your_highlights. This is a tidy way to store your notes, although you lose the benefit of taking notes by hand.

5. Learn to Speed Read

If you can read faster, without sacrificing retention, you should.

There are both critics and supporters of speed reading, so it’s a skill worth proving or disproving for yourself. There are claims of readers reaching reading speeds in the 1,000s of words per minute (WPM). While that certainly would be fantastic, you don’t need to reach such an extreme to benefit from speed reading. There are many readers who regularly read at 500+ WPM and most of them don’t consider themselves speed readers, even though they are reading at two or three times average reading speeds.  How much more would you read if you were reading at two or three times your current rate?

There are several resources such as classes, software, and even books on speed reading. The most popular is likely Wade Cutler’s, Triple Your Reading Speed, which is a self-study guide to improving your reading. It’s a fantastic tool and worth investigating. While this article promotes slowing down and internalizing ideas, it’s not intended to promote inefficiency. If you can read faster, without sacrificing retention, you should.

Summary

Books should be a staple in your personal development arsenal. They will help you slow-down from the frantic pace of a digital world and allow you to immerse in a subject so you can internalize ideas and create your own thoughts and opinions. While reading a book can feel time consuming, using the 10-page-per-day rule will help you finish no less than 12 books in the next 12 months (and likely more, because reading is addictive, just ask Karl Lagerfeld). You can further enhance your learning by reading in themes and linking your reading list through common subject matter. Finally, whether you are a critic or supporter of speed reading, everyone can increase their reading with a few simple techniques and a bit of practice. Consider how improving your reading speed can help you get the most from your personal development time.

“Books are a hard-bound drug with no danger of an overdose. I am a happy victim of books.” Karl Lagerfeld

Clint Clarkson

Clint Clarkson

VP, eLearning at Xpan Interactive
Clint Clarkson is the VP of eLearning at Xpan Interactive, a digital-services firm that specializes in the delivery of custom eLearning solutions. He has 15+ years of evolution in Learning & Development as a facilitator, instructional designer, and leader. Connect with Clint on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter.
Clint Clarkson

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