How You can Learn to Read Faster in Just 10 Minutes

Updated to Habits on December 14, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I took a speed-reading course and read ‘War and Peace’ in twenty minutes. It involves Russia. -Woody Allen

How do you read a book? Are you a ‘skimmer’, flying through the pages, gleaning only what is valuable for you? Are you a ‘starter’—slowly reading each word for the first five chapters and then losing interest or getting distracted with a new book?

We have become a society that doesn’t read books – nearly one quarter of Americans didn’t read a single book in the past year. That’s scary.

Not only is this bad news for all authors and the book business, it means we’re losing the deep satisfaction and learning only books can bring. I blame it on school.

I was taught to read words – one by one laboriously working my way down a page hoping I wouldn’t miss whatever was on the test the next day. No wonder YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat get millions (even billions) of daily users – it’s more fun.


Just like a good conversation, you can’t replace reading. It’s how I get a deep understanding of an author’s arguments, enjoy the twists of a great plot-turner, and escape with a cup of tea into another world.

Just like a good conversation, you can’t replace reading.

The trick is to get what the blog, article, or book has to give you without getting bogged down in the act of reading every word.

The average person reads at about 200–250 words per minute. With a few small improvements and a bit of practice, you should be able to double your reading speed and still have a comprehension rate of at least 75%.

Just for fun, you can take the speed reading test by Staples here (according to this test I should be able to read War and Peace in 12 hours and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 1 1/2 hours!).

Here are six quick tips (reading time: 10 minutes) for reading faster and getting better retention almost immediately (you can practice them as you read this post):


1. Have a goal. You can quickly calculate your reading speed by averaging the number of words on a line and multiplying that number by the number of lines on the page. From there, it is easy to measure your speed for reading the page. Set a goal to double your reading speed. You will save time and probably not miss anything important.

2. Plan to read. You will have greater speed and retention if you read in a quiet place, at a time of day when you are fully awake, and when you have committed time to read. My favourite time is the hour before bed. The house is quiet, the day is done, and I can easily dive into a good read.

My favourite time is the hour before bed. The house is quiet, the day is done, and I can easily dive into a good read.

3. Read the table of Contents. To get some idea of the flow of the book before you get buried in the pages, simply scan the Table of Contents. The Table of Contents will give you a heads up for the parts that have the most value and parts that can be skimmed.

4. For each chapter, read the first paragraph, then the sub-heads, and finally the last paragraph. Decide whether the chapter has any value for you. If not, move on to the next one. Remember, the goal is not to “read” the book – you want to get information and ideas, or for fiction, entertainment and then move on.

images_2_key5. Stop re-reading. Re-reading, or regression, can be your biggest barrier to increasing your reading speed. Notice as you were reading this post how often did you move back up the page to re-read a section? Instead, use a device—a piece of paper, a ruler, or your finger—to move down the page, keeping your eye moving along with the device. Keep moving at a steady pace, slightly faster than comfortable.

6. Skip words. You don’t need to read every word to get sufficient comprehension. Start by reading the third or fourth word in from both ends of the line of text. This will prepare you to take “snapshots” of lines, rather than reading every word. Read my post on how I use Evernote to quickly capture key points and quotes.

For your next book, do this.

Set a goal based on 500 words per minute – now you have a challenge. Commit to reading in concentrated periods of at least 15 minutes. Start with the Table of Contents, scan each chapter first, and use your finger or a ruler to keep a steady pace, moving down the page.

I think you’ll be surprised how quickly you can burn through your next book, have great retention, and maybe even read more books this year. That’s good for you (and good for authors, like me).