The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books: Warren Buffett’s Best Kept Secret to Success

“I just read all day long in my office.”

The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books: Warren Buffett's Best Kept Secret to Success
The Art of Reading, Remembering, and Retaining More Books: Warren Buffett’s Best Kept Secret to Success

One of the most successful businesspeople, Warren Buffett, explains his day in this manner. Sitting. Reading.

He encourages everyone to read more, which is undoubtedly an aim we can all support. Our efforts to read more and form reading habits at Buffer are a recurring theme in how we strive to develop personally. You must be in the same situation, in my opinion. One of our common goals is to read more.

What then should we do? And once we get it, what are we supposed to do with it?

Reading more and keeping it all in mind is a topic with many facets and intriguing possibilities. I’m pleased to offer a couple options here on how to read more and retain it all, and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

But let’s first establish some benchmarks :-

How quickly can you read?

Reading more quickly is one of the obvious shortcuts to reading more. That’s probably the first place a lot of us would seek in our reading routines for a quick win.

So how quickly can you read?

How quickly can you read?
How quickly can you read?

As part of a marketing drive to promote the sale of e-readers, Staples (yep, the office supply company) gathered information on rapid reading. A speed reading tool was also a part of the campaign and is still usable. Take the test to determine your reading speed now.

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(My word count per minute was 337. Yours?)

The Staples speed reading test provides information on the word per minute performance of various demographic groups. The average adult reads 300 words every minute, according to Staples.

  • Third-grade students = 150 words per minute
  • Eight grade students = 250
  • Average college student = 450
  • Average “high level exec” = 575
  • Average college professor = 675
  • Speed readers = 1,500
  • World speed reading champion = 4,700

Is reading more quickly always the best method to achieve your reading goal? No, never. Although comprehension is still important, several studies suggest that skimming or reading quickly causes one to forget things and has poor memory recall. However, if you can slightly increase your words per minute while keeping your reading comprehension, it would undoubtedly help you in your quest to read more.

The question of “reading more” might also be seen in a different light.

Do you read a lot?

Reading quickly and reading a lot are two different things. The greatest method to boost your reading regimen will be to combine the two, but each is beneficial on its own. In actuality, many people are more interested in the story itself than in the time challenge of reading a book or novel cover to cover. When you’re reading for enjoyment, speed reading doesn’t actually help.

In this sense, wanting to read more could just mean having more time to read and consuming more content—books, magazines, articles, and blog posts—in its entirety.

Do you read a lot?
Do you read a lot?

Let’s begin with a reading foundation. In a year, how many books do you read?

According to a Pew Research Center research from 2012, Americans read 17 books on average annually.

The word “average” is crucial here. Both people who read significantly more than 17 books annually and those who read substantially less—like zero—have enormous extremes at each end. 19% of Americans, according to the same Pew Research poll, don’t read any books. That percentage may be even higher, according to a 2013 Huffington Post/YouGov poll: 28% of Americans said they hadn’t read a book in the previous year.

You join a rather select group of people if you want to read more.

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5 strategies to increase your book, blog, and article reading

#1 Tim Ferriss’ technique to reading 300% faster: Read for speed

Tim Ferriss is one of the top authorities on lifehacks, experiments, and getting things done. He is the author of the 4-Hour Workweek and several other best-sellers. It follows that his speed-reading technique, which triples reading speed, is not surprising.

His strategy consists of two tactics:

using a pen as a pacer and tracker, similar to how some readers move their finger across a line back and forth as they read
Read each new line starting at least three words after the line’s first word and finishing at least three words after the line’s last word.

The tracker/pacer, the first technique, is primarily a tool for mastering the second technique. This second method is referred to by Ferriss as Perceptual Expansion. By picking up the words that your eyes don’t directly track, you can improve your peripheral vision with practise.

Tim Ferriss' technique to reading 300% faster: Read for speed
Tim Ferriss’ technique to reading 300% faster: Read for speed
To quote Ferriss:

“Untrained readers go from the first to the last word, using up to half of their peripheral field on margins, and spend 25–50% of their time “reading” margins that contain no information”

Numerous workshops and suggestions on quick reading contain similar concepts (some going so far as to suggest you read line by line in a snake fashion). As we read, we frequently make the rapid eye movements, or saccades, that cause our eyes to leap from margins to words. The key to increasing your reading time is to reduce these.

The lesson learned from this is that if you can improve your peripheral vision, you might be able to read more quickly. It might not be 300 percent faster, but every little bit helps.

#2 Try reading in a different way

Is reading still ripe for innovation? Yes, according to a few recent reading aids.

Both Spritz and Blinkist take different techniques to encouraging you to read more—one speeds up reading while the other promotes faster reading comprehension.

Spritz first. Side-to-side and top-to-bottom reading wastes a lot of movement, as was already indicated in the section on speed reading.

Try reading in a different way
Try reading in a different way

Spritz completely stops all motion.

In a box, Spritz displays one word at a time from a book or article. The optimal recognition point—phrase Spritz’s for the location in a word that the eye instinctively seeks—is used to centre each word in the box, and this centre letter is highlighted in red.

Although Spritz has not yet made any products using its technology available, has developed a bookmarklet called OpenSpritz that enables you to read any online text using the Spritz reading style.

You can test out the demo on the homepage of the Spritz website and adjust the speed settings as necessary.

The new app Blinkist is available alongside Spritz. Blinkist is a reimagining of how we consume books rather than a reimagining of how we read. Blinkist takes well-known non-fiction books and divides the chapters into manageable chunks in the notion that knowledge from books should be more accessible to us all.

These so-called “blinks” are supposed to be read in no more than two minutes and include the books’ most important lessons. It does resemble Cliff Notes quite a little. Although it is unique in the manner the content is presented—designed to look fantastic and be extremely useable on mobile devices so you can learn wherever you are.

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#3 Make time to read more

The Farnam Street blog’s Shane Parrish read 14 novels in March, and he regularly sets lofty goals like this. What is his secret?

He prioritises it and takes time away from other pursuits.

“What interferes with reading?

I don’t watch TV all that frequently. (The only time I watch more than one game per week is during football season.)

I rarely see movies.

I don’t commute for a long time.

I don’t go shopping very much.”

The average person watches 35 hours of television per week, the average commute is one hour each way, and you can expect to spend at least another hour each week on grocery shopping.

That’s 43 hours altogether per week, out of which at least some could be used for reading.

#4 Purchase a Kindle

The average reader of e-books reads 24 volumes in a year, as opposed to a person without an e-reader who reads an average of 15, according to the Pew research survey that revealed Americans’ reading habits.

Purchase a Kindle
Purchase a Kindle

Buying an e-reader alone could you actually read nine more books per year?

The technology is undoubtedly designed to be user-friendly, portable, and practical. Just those elements might make it simpler to read for longer periods of time when you have some free time. Even though those free minutes won’t result in nine novels read in a year, it will still be time well spent.

#5 Read less and more by doing nothing

This is some very paradoxical advice, and it’s from a book that’s also extremely counterintuitive.

Read less and more by doing nothing
Read less and more by doing nothing

In his book How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, University of Paris literature professor Pierre Bayard urges us to understand reading as a spectrum and to think about books in terms other than only “have read” or “haven’t read.” Bayard suggests the following in particular:

  • Books that we have read
  • Books that we have read

He even created his own classification scheme to record his previous interactions with books.

Perhaps the secret to reading more books is to just view reading itself from a different angle? In essence, Bayard counts novels that he has skimmed, heard about, or forgotten as books that he has read using his system. How might your annual reading goal change as a result of these new definitions?

3 strategies for remembering what you read

#1 Use repetition, association, and impression to train your brain

Understanding some of the primary ways our brain stores information is a wonderful place to start when trying to improve book retention. Here are three particular factors to think about:

  • Impression
  • Association
  • Repetition

Consider that you read one of Buffer’s favourite books, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. You enjoyed the material and are trying to retain as much of it as you can. This is how:

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Astonishment – Be astounded at the text. Stop and see a scene in your mind. If necessary, add details to heighten the impact, such as greatness, surprise, or a cameo from you. If Dale Carnegie is describing his dislike of criticism, try imagining yourself winning the Nobel Peace Prize and then throwing the award onto the podium.

(Reading a crucial piece aloud is another impression-boosting technique. Some of us may be more sensitive to information when hearing it than seeing it.)

Identify a connection between the text and something you already know. With memorising and the creation of memory palaces, this strategy is quite effective. If there is a particular principle in Carnegie’s book that you want to remember, consider a time when you were a part of a particular example incorporating the principle. Building associations is an excellent approach to use prior knowledge.

Repeating something helps you remember them better. This can be done by literally reading a piece again, underlining it, or writing it down, then going back to it later.

You can improve your memory by repeatedly using these three components. You’ll remember more as you put more effort into it.

#2 Pay attention to the four reading levels

Four reading levels are outlined in How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler:

  • Elementary
  • Inspectional
  • Analytical
  • Syntopical

Every stage builds on the one before it. You are taught elementary reading in school. Two types of inspectional reading are available: One of two options is to skim the introduction, table of contents, index, and inside jacket of the book.

Analytical reading and syntopical reading are when the actual work (and genuine retention) starts.

You thoroughly read a book when you read analytically. Even more so than that, reading a book according to four rules should aid in your comprehension of the context and plot.

  • Sort the book into categories based on its topic.
  • Describe the overall theme of the book. Be as succinct as you can.
  • Give the major components a hierarchy and order. Just as you did with the entire, outline these components.
  • Describe the issue (or issues) that the author is attempting to address.

In order to reach the last reading level, known as syntopical, you must read books that are all on the same topic and challenge yourself to compare and contrast them as you go.

You will find that you are adopting the impression, association, and repetition brain strategies as you move through these levels. Reading a book in depth (as in the analytical and syntopical level) will encourage repetition in the thoughtful, studied character of the various reading levels, help you form associations with other books you’ve read and ideas you’ve learnt, and help you solidify your impressions of the book in your mind.

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#3 Hold the book tightly (or at least your notes on the book)

Take good notes. This has come up repeatedly in my studies on how to recall more of the books you read.

  • As you go, doodle in the margins.
  • Save your favourite passages for later.
  • When you’re done, post a review.
  • Make extensive use of your Kindle Highlights.

Following completion of these tasks, periodically check and update your notes.

This approach, which I used for myself, radically altered how I viewed the texts I read. Instead of a transient epiphany that will soon be forgotten, I see books as investments in a future of learning. On my own blog, I keep all of my book evaluations and annotations so that I can look through them whenever I need to recall something I’ve read.

(Kindle also has a pretty useful online option where it displays a random highlight every day from your history of highlights. It’s a fantastic way to relive the books you’ve previously read.)

Next to you

What number of books do you read annually? What do you hope to accomplish this year? What is your best advice for enhancing reading and memory? I’d be interested in reading your remarks.

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