How to Read Slower and Yet Retain More

The rise of Twitter, Facebook and a host of “read it later” services (i.e. Instapaper and Pocket) make reading a lost art.

Think about it- in the last week, how many articles or posts did you read in their entirety? Notice that I didn’t mention books since fewer and fewer people read them (read: "The Decline of the American Book Lover")

Still, reading accomplishes at least three things:

  1. It humbles us. Trappist monk Thomas Merton once said, "Pride makes us artificial and humility makes us real." When we read, we bow to the ideas of another.
  2. It enhances our leadership. As the saying goes, “all leaders are readers”.  The best leaders I know have 2-3 books that they devour at one time, hungry for new insights.
  3. It deepens our spiritual core. Reading, in its pure sense, is an old fashioned way of taking in information, making sense of it and then putting it into action.

I noticed, about 6 months ago, that I was reading very little. Sure, I was scanning a ton but as for reading things in full, I was a slacker.

What to do? I decided to declare “Read it Later Bankruptcy” and start from scratch.  I deleted all of my old articles and posts and just started fresh.  Heck, what are the real chances that I'll get to that article that I saved months ago?  Slim to none...

This meant a few practical action steps:

  1. I would empty (i.e. read fully) any article that I had saved in Instapaper within 24 hours.
  2. I would be much more choosy as to which blog posts I would put into Instapaper.
  3. I would take my time and not rush through things.
  4. Hardcover books would become a pleasurable experience once again. As a result, David Brooks’ The Road to Character has been in my hands a lot lately.  It feels slow (and wonderful) to turn the pages and enjoy the author's salient points.

One surprising side benefit to all of this is that I’m now reading other things in more consistent spurts. Our family has the Bible Verse of the Day (said in a Count Dracula sort of way for dramatic effect) just before dinner. Also, my morning devotions have become more contemplative and patient as I’m taking time to really read rather than just scan.  Finally, by reading slower, I'm sitting with the author, getting to know him and his thoughts.

The bottom line: by reading slower, I'm retaining more.

As a follow up- how do you read each day? What are your routines and habits? How can you slow down your own reading such that you not only take in information but enjoy the ride?