Reading: How to Get More from Your Books

BooksReading is an enriching activity, but how do you get the best from limited reading time? Here we tackle the 5 biggest barriers to enjoying your books.

I  Don’t Have Time

Time is short, and there are so many great books in the world. How can I read more books in less time?

Focus on Quality not Quantity

Don’t get hung up on the number of books you read. Instead, focus on:

If numbers really matter to you, choose thin books!

Make Reading Convenient

Take a book with you everywhere you go. You never know when you’ll get a couple of minutes to read. Some people find that e-readers help with this, others (like me) prefer paper.

One thing I really benefit from is audio books. I can read them whilst exercising, driving, ironing, walking home from work and so on. Of course, some books work better as audio than others. Most fiction makes good audio. The reader can make a world of difference here. I like Steven Covey‘s voice, for example, so I love his readings of his audio books. Other readers are less enjoyable, and books full of diagrams don’t usually make for good audio.

Make Reading a Priority

If you can, set a regular time aside to read. Often we try to fit it in around other things, but when life gets busy this can be hard. Scheduling reading time (and sticking to the plan) can help with this. I like to read last thing at night (my wife likes it if read to her at bed time) and on my way home from work.

Learn to Read Faster

See below.

I’m a Slow Reader

…that I never get much read. What can I do?

Read More

The main thing is to read as much as possible. No matter how fast you read at the moment, you’ll begin to read faster if you read more.

The more you expose yourself to different types of books, the more you’ll tune your brain to deal with their different formats and styles, so the faster you’ll get. At the same time, read a variety of books can help you not to get bored with reading.

Don’t Compare Yourself with Others

There will always be faster readers than you. Accept that. Focus on improving your reading speed rather than worrying about how you compare with others.

Enjoy Reading

Read for enjoyment first, information second. Pick good books on topics you really want to know about. You’ll be more motivated to read, and as a result you’re likely to read faster.

Learn Speed Reading Techniques

You could try learning some speed-reading technique. Some books need to be read word-for-word, whereas others can be skim-read.

Focus on Value

The value of reading comes not from speed, but what you assimilate into your life.

Track Your Progress

There are lots of tests of reading speed on the web. You might find these useful to see how your speed is increasing. However, knowing your reading speed has some value, but it is a poor measure of the value you extract from a text. Some people can read very fast, but have little retention of the information they’ve read, or have little ability to integrate new information into their existing body of knowledge.

Don’t Worry About It

Remember that reading speed can vary a lot according to the type of writing. For example, text on a familiar subject using short words and clear sentences can be read a lot more quickly than a technical tome that’s badly written and full of unfamiliar jargon. Reading speed can also depend on your mood and how fatigued you are. Also, bear in mind that it isn’t always easy to count the words in a book. Do you count the title page, contents and index pages? Are on-line word-counts accurate?

Go Outside

Get fresh air and exercise. Personally, I find that I am more alert and focused when I’m not stuck indoors with a book all day, and so I read faster.

I Don’t Get Much from Reading

How can I wring every ounce of value from the books that I read?

Be More Choosy

You won’t get much from poor quality books. Be exceptionally choosy about the books you read.
Some books have good parts and less good parts. If that’s the case, why not focus on the parts that are most valuable?

Take Notes

Take notes, as this can help you maximise the value you get from a book. Take a notebook everywhere with you, and make it a habit to use it.


Take time to reflect on what you read. Go back over your notes. Consider blogging about your reading.


Where you can, apply what you read.


…the very best books.

I Have Lots of Unfinished Books

How can I make sure I finish more books?

Leave Books Unfinished

Consider whether all your books need to be finished. Sometimes I just read single chapters of technical books, because that’s all I’m interested in at the time. Sometimes I abandon novels part way through, because my life’s too short to read poor quality books.

Focus on the One

Read one book at a time. Don’t start the next one until you’ve finished the last one.

Clear the Backlog

If you have a choice between starting a new book or finishing one you’ve already started, finish the one you’ve started.

If you’re part way through several books, finish the one that you’re furthest through first, then move on to the next most finished. Your pile of part-finished books will diminish more quickly that way.

I Own Lots of Books that I Haven’t Started

How can I deal with the backlog?

Weed Mercilessly

Give your unread books a score between 1 and 10, where 1 is low priority and 10 is high. Get rid of anything less than a 10.

Stop Buying Books

…completely, until you’ve cleared your backlog.
By the time you get around to reading the books you’ve bought, your priorities will have changed because you will have changed. As a result, you’re likely to find that the books you’ve bought are no longer as important to you as you thought they would be.

Don’t Be Afraid of Missing Out on Something

You might… but there are so many amazing books that you’re sure to miss out on something. So, stop worrying and make the best of what you can read.

Get a Summary

Summaries of many good non-fiction books can be found on-line, and these often contain the really important points from the book. Often, your time is better spent reading the summary than wading through the whole book.

Store Them for Later

Maybe it just isn’t the time for some of your books? If you suspect that is the case, consider getting rid of the book for now and acquiring it again later (either loan it out, buy it again or get it from the library next time). If that really is impossible, you may have to store the book for later. Set a data in your calendar to review your stored books.


Reading is one of the most enriching things you can do. But remember that living is more important than reading.


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