Let’s be honest; most of us probably aren’t reading as much as we should.
Yet reading has so many benefits; it expands your vocabulary, helps you learn new things, facilitates personal growth, and even reduces stress.
In short, books make you a healthier, smarter, and more well-rounded person.
But reading does require a certain level of focus. And even if you love it, there are probably many times when you find it tough to concentrate. For example, do you ever the bottom of a page only to realize you didn’t take in a single word of it?
Or find yourself reading the same paragraph over and over again?
It’s literary purgatory!
Fortunately, you don’t need to be a slave to your wandering attention span; you just need to train your mind to stay focused on reading.
Whether it’s a book you’re reading for leisure or an 800-page tome you need to slog through for a psychology class, these tips can help you stay focused enough to effectively retain the text’s meaning.
Listen to (The Right) Music
Putting on some tunes can help you zero in on whatever you’re focusing on, including books. But choose your music wisely; you’re not likely going to make it through War and Peace while blasting Beyoncé.
That’s not to throw shade at Queen B, but the tones you choose to read by should be more ambient. Ideally something without lyrics, like classical music or low-key instrumental music.
It’s as easy as popping over to YouTube and simply looking up “music for focus”.
Personally, my favorite music to read to is lo-fi “jazz hop”. You can find one or two great live-stream music videos on Chillhop Music’s YouTube channel (check some of our favorite Lofi hip hop channels here). The music is enjoyable but relaxed, low-key, and non-distracting.
Alternately, if you really want to hack your concentration and take it to the next level, you might be interested in Focus@Will. This service works by playing scientifically-tested music that guides your brain activity towards a more productive and focused state.
A survey of their 22,000 most active users found that the music boosted their focus up by 200-400%! It is a subscription-based service but you can try it out for a week for free.
If you’re the kind of person who can focus on audio better than text, audiobooks might be the most effective option for you. Audible by Amazon is probably the well-known audiobook service, but there are others you can check out too, like Kobo and Hoopla.
If it’s material you really need to study, I find it helps to jot down a few bullet point notes as you listen to help you absorb the words better, similar to how you would while listening to a lecture in school.
Easier-to-consume audiobooks allow for multitasking. For example, you can transform your long commute to the office into your designated reading time.
Better still, pop your earbuds in and listen during your next run or workout session. Not only will you burn calories while you “read”, but the exercise will actually boost your focus too!
Audiobooks come with another bonus: you can speed up the recording which allows you to get through it in a fraction of the time. (I’ve “read” entire books this way in an afternoon before!)
The Pen Technique
This low-tech method just requires a pen or your index finger. Use the tip of the pen to trace under the words as your reading. Our eyes naturally follow motion, which you can use to your advantage when reading. (Just leave the cap on to prevent from scribbling all over the page!)
It also keeps you from losing your place while you read. Simple but effective!
2-3 Word Summaries
To stay focused on what you’re reading and really absorb it, put the book down briefly after every paragraph and write down a 2-3 word summary of what just happened.
It doesn’t really need to make sense, it just needs to be the words that stood out to you the most. This helps your brain “file” what you just read and stay focused.
It may take longer to get through the book but hey, better than rereading the same page over and over again.
If you sit down to read a book all in one sitting, you’re setting yourself up to fail from the get-go – particularly if it’s a subject matter you’re not all that interested in.
Set limits for yourself and you’ll be surprised at how much more productive your reading session is. That’s because it’s a lot easier to stay focused when you already know when you’ll finish before you begin.
You can set limits either by using an egg timer or by deciding on a number of pages. Start small – with 10 minutes or 10 pages. Then when you reach that goal, put the book down and take a break.
Then do another 10 minutes or pages.
As you build your focus, you will find you’re able to read more pages for a longer period of time without your mind wandering off.
Change Up Your Reading Time or Location
Where and when you sit down to read can definitely impact your ability to stay focused. For example, if you’re struggling to concentrate on a book at night, it could be that your brain is just too fatigued by then.
Try a 15-minute reading session earlier in the day and see if it makes a difference.
Likewise, some places in your house are going to be better for a successful reading session.
If you’re trying to read while your family is in the same room watching TV, a book is going to have a much harder time keeping your attention. (“Sorry Marcel Proust, Stranger Things is on right now!”)
Try to find a quiet place to read or, failing that, go somewhere else where you can find some peace and quiet, like the library or a small park.
Try Spritz eReading
Spritz is an e-reader that presents your reading material one word at a time while you keep your eyes focused on the same point, enabling you to read without moving your eyes.
Putting the words right at the best focal point for your brain helps you stay focused on the content and improve comprehension. The speed at which the words appear is adjustable, and Spritz claims that with practice, readers can consume up to 1000 words per minute.
That’s a 300-page book in 80 minutes.
I gave “spritzing” a try myself, and I think that 1000 words a minute might be a little too intense for most people. But I was able to comfortably get up to 400-500 words a minute pretty quickly, which means I could theoretically get through the same book in under 3 hours.
Even if you Spritz for 20-30 minutes a day, that’s a book a week!
Stop Getting Distracted & Start Reading!
Reading is a great way to learn new things and a unique form of entertainment. But its value is lost if you can’t stay focused on the words long enough to absorb a book’s meaning.
With a few simple methods and a little help from technology, you can transform your reading sessions from slow mental torture into a legitimately enjoyable and productive activity. Experiment with these strategies a little and you’ll find your reading groove in no time!