🚵How To Read For Longer At A Time

🚵How To Read For Longer At A Time
Photo by John Cameron / Unsplash

Can you read for more than 10 hours straight? I can't either. But Elon Musk read voraciously for ten hours every day when he was a kid. David Perell sometimes reads for 3-4 hours in a row. Warren Buffet claims to read 500 pages a day.

Like training for a marathon or for the Olympics, your reading stamina is a skill.

How do the world's best readers use to increase their reading stamina? By the end, you will know the principles that will allow you to read for hours instead of minutes.

💬Text-based and speech-based media

The secret many of these talented readers follow is that they never read the same type of media for too long. David Perell wrote one of my favorite analogies for this in his article,

Swimming and Scuba Diving: How to Learn on the Internet

David differentiates between speech and text-based media.

You consume speech-based media through podcast, audible, or video format. It's high-energy, loaded with emotion, and the vocabulary is straightforward and gives an easy-to-understand, two-dimensional subject overview. Consuming speech-based media is like casual toes in the water swimming.

In contrast, text-based media — books and articles — is like transitioning to full-on scuba diving. It usually takes much more effort than speech-based. Generally, text-based media is more informative. Speech-based media is largely meant to build intrigue and relationship with the speaker and the audience they are talking to.

I listen to podcasts all the time to learn. However, nobody would scold me for saying they aren't as informative as reading a book. I listen to them because I want to build my relationship with the speaker.

Reading forces logic. In relative terms, reading is an emotionless experience. It inspires critical, independent thinking. The author packages their ideas in the most easy-to-digest format possible, but it's your job to dissect and understand what they are saying.

Unlike videos and podcasts, books and articles don't have an auto-play feature. You can't press play and do something else while the information flows.

🔁Switch media of consumption

The key to improving your reading stamina is to switch up your media of consumption. Your body and mind will get tired of it.

When I have free time during the day, I will pick up a kindle book. If I read for an entire 90-minute block, I sometimes struggle to come back and read again.

I like to switch what I'm working on every 2–3 hours. By switching between podcasts, videos, and books, I can keep learning and stay fresh. However, I only listen when I'm doing an activity prohibiting reading. I value reading books above all else.

Text-based media is a better medium for actual hard-bones learning than speech media. You can highlight more readily, annotate easily, and there is generally more information in a section.

Generally, when I’m listening to something I’m doing something else at the same time: cleaning the dishes, biking to class, or walking. I like to listen to things during this time because I couldn’t consume text-based media if I wanted to.

However, there is nothing wrong with listening to speech-based media if you feel it on a given day. Even if you have the ability to read. Having fun is more important than optimizing the process. If you have a consistent reading habit, you are doing better than 99.99% of the population.

I made that statistic up, by the way. Did you know that 80% of statistics are wrong...

Comment if you liked that joke.

🪜Different learning stages are good for different media

Interestingly, different mediums, such as articles, books, videos, and podcasts, are better for different stages of the learning process.

David and I funnel our information by scouting out information with speech-based media and moving to text-based once we know it's good. My learning flow goes from podcasts and videos to books and articles.

One of my favorite ways to do this is listening to book summary podcasts. Bookworm is one of the best. They read a book or two every other week and discuss their thoughts and give a rating out of five. I have listened to three podcast episodes and discovered a new book to read every time. One of my favorite books is Daily Rituals by Mason Curry.

I even made an entire video book summary linked up above. Two of the other books I have discovered through their podcast are Oliver Burkeman's Four Thousand Weeks and Personal Socrates by Mark Champagne.

However, this process can reverse. I'll sometimes swim upwards and improve reading comprehension with videos and podcasts. Speech-based media usually distills information down into its simplest parts. If a book or concept is particularly confusing, listen to what an expert says about it.

🕘The 90-minute rule

We have talked about altering our media of consumption to increase reading stamina. But what about using time to our advantage? Ninety minutes is about the longest the brain can focus on a cognitively demanding task without experiencing brain fog.

Of course, you probably haven't trained your focusing muscle even close to this. Most beginner or intermediate readers can only read straight for fifteen to forty-five minutes.

How do you know where you are at?

We all know the feeling of reading a couple of pages only to realize we didn't soak in any information. As soon as you start to feel difficulty thinking clearly, it's an excellent time to take a break.

It sounds obvious, but many people don't realize they need breaks so often. I have a friend at Cornell studying physics who would regularly spend three hours straight going through physics problems every night and wondered why he never got anything done during the latter half.

Before getting to this point, transition to doing something else or walk outside to get that oh-so-delicious vitamin D. Your brain needs about a 20-minute break before getting back to work again.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "All Truly Great Thoughts Are Conceived While Walking."

When I walk, I hear the birds chirping, leaves rustling, and if it's a nice day, the sun bathes me in a glorious sheen of angelic sunlight.

What? Sometimes blog post writing can be too concise. I got to get some poetry in there.

Remember not to do the same activity during the break you were doing while reading. If your "break" from reading is reading a manga, your brain won't be able to truly rest.

🗻Understand the environmental effect

One more technique these readers use is to begin their routine in a novel environment. This is because of the environmental effect; an effect that makes us associate habits with the environments we do things in.

If you try and start your reading routine in the television room, what do you think will happen?

Try choosing a room you don't have many other habits associated with. You don't want thoughts of enacting that habit cluttering your mind the entire way through. Novelty also allows us to read for longer. I find that switching environments resets my brain to do more reading.

It could be as simple as going from your living room to sitting outside on your porch in the summer. Sometimes I will take off my left or right sock to change things up. Sometimes I will wear a glove on my left hand. Anything that makes the habit seem slightly different will make it easier to read for longer.

Reading in similar places every day and at similar times also trains your mind to get into what scientists call the "literature state" much more readily. Your brain learns to associate the room and time with reading.

One cool way I have used this trick is to read multiple different genres of books at once. I choose a different part of my house for different genres. I only read scientific/philosophical nonfiction books in my living room fireplace.

However, I read fiction, fantasy, or sci-fi books in my bedroom upstairs. My brain associates these rooms with those genres, and I can quickly get in the zone when I sit down.

✍️Take notes while reading

Finally, my last tip to increase your reading stamina is to make reading active. Most people read passively.

If they even read consistently, ask them about the book they read months down the line, and they likely won't even remember the title.

Don't be this person. Read with a pen (or finger) in hand. Take notes in a way you enjoy while reading like highlighting sentences, underlining passages, and creating annotations.

Summarize key points and create notes saying what a passage means in your own words. Everyone has experienced sitting down to read and then falling asleep halfway through. It's hard to fall asleep while taking notes for a book.

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