How to read

The internet has reduced the cost of distributing written content (as well as many other forms of content, but this post is about written content) to zero. The resulting explosion in written content means you can’t consume it all. You have to prioritize what you read and read what you do choose to read effectively. This post is about the latter.

There are two parts to reading effectively. The first is the speed at which you read and the second is what information you focus on when reading.

Conventional wisdom is that the faster you read the more effective you are. I partially disagree with this. Although you don’t want to read slowly, there’s a point after which reading faster simply results in not internalizing what you’re reading. For example, whenever I hear about someone who reads one or more non-fiction books a week, I think that they either have too much time on their hands or are reading so fast as to not understand what they’re reading.

So the speed at which you read should be fast enough to make progress while also being slow enough to understand what you’re reading. And this brings us to the second point. How do you define what’s slow enough to understand what you’re reading?

There are many levels of understanding. If you attempted to really understand all of the implications of everything you read, you would need to spend a lot of time thinking about what you read and, when necessary, researching external sources to better inform this understanding. This is not practical for everything that you read.

What is practical is to trust your intuition about the varying levels of importance of the information that you’re reading. Most of what you’ll read is information that you already know or information which helps build up to a key insight. What you really want to focus on is the key insight. Whenever your intuition tells you that you’ve hit on something very important, you need to spend as much time as necessary to really understand its implications. These are the moments that matter. They are the reason for reading in the first place and the rest of what you’re reading can wait.

So, to recap, I recommend reading fast enough to make progress and as slow as necessary to extract the full implications of the key information which your intuition identifies.


Also published on Medium.