How to Build Useful Reading Habits – Part 2 of 2

how to read faster

This is the second part of a two-part series on how we can build better reading habits.

In the previous post, we discussed challenges that most of us face while reading, and four simple steps you can follow to build better reading habits, and saw proof that we’re capable of reading almost 2X faster than our current speed. You can read the post here.

A speed reader can read 50 books a year. Imagine the remarkable transformation that can occur in your personal and professional life!

In this post, we’ll discuss how we can improve our reading speed.

Just like you can follow specific exercises to improve your body and mind, you can follow exercises based on Tim Ferriss‘ recommendations to improve your speed while staying focused.

Before we go dive into how, let’s understand two key concepts of how we use our eyes to read.

Saccadic Reading

We read in saccadic movements – from left to right – and in phases with fixations on various words in each sentence. This means our eyes don’t read in smooth, straight line word by word. The fixations in each line can vary by readers – two, three or four words to complete reading the line.

Peripheral Vision

We use our peripherals extensively without being aware of it. For instance, if you stare at the center of your computer screen, you can still see what’s on the edges. While reading, this peripheral vision draws our attention to other objects and distracts us.

To Summarise three things contribute to reading efficiency:

a.) The number of fixations for each line
b.) The time on each fixation
c.) Amount of peripheral distraction

How to Increase Your Reading Speed

To know how much you’ve improved, you first need to measure your current pace.

Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Count the number of words that appear in 5 lines in your practice book. Divide this number of words by 5 and you’ll get the average number of words per line.

Step 2: Now count the number of lines on 5 pages and divide the number by 5 to get the average number of words per page.

Switch on your timer and read for exactly one minute – read for comprehension, and not faster than usual. When the time’s up, multiply the number of lines by your average words-per-line to determine your current Words Per Minute (WPM) rate.

To improve speed you need to improve your Saccadic movements and reading reflexes Following will help us improve on the same.
Speed reading requirements

To begin training to read faster, here’s what you’ll need:

1. A book that’s longer than 200 pages which can lie flat when opened.
2. A timer (you can use the free Metronome Beats app).
3. A pen or pencil which you must place below each word and keep it moving. This serves as a pacer and reduces the time for which you stay on each word.

The exercise has been split into two sections: technique and speed.


For Saccadic Reading

Keep moving your pacer underneath the line you read. Move it underneath the sentence depending on the number of fixations you would like to complete reading the line. Try for two fixations for each line.

This helps avoid back-skipping and re-reading, which happens when your eyes get tired and lose focus. By allowing your pacer along two fixations per line you can help overcome the same.

While building this technique try reading for comprehension, practice the same for 1 minute, 1 second per line (60 lines per minute).

Reducing Peripheral Distraction

The simplest way to reduce this is to be like Arjuna. Concentrate on the target and avoid distractions from the periphery. Easier said than done, right? That’s why we must train ourselves.

Normal Reading

We conventionally read from the first to the last word. In the example below, we read the entire yellow-colored circle. In the process we get distracted by the periphery – that’s before the first and after the last letter.

how we read in saccadic movements

Speed Reading

Focus on the circled portion ignoring the two words at the beginning and the end concentrating on the yellow-colored portion.

how to read faster

As you concentrate on the yellow-colored circled, you use your peripherals productively by reading the words in the periphery rather than getting distracted.

While building this technique, try reading for comprehension, practice the same for 1 minute reading 1 second per line (60 lines per minute). With time, you’ll notice that you can reduce the circle of concentration and enhance your peripheral vision to read the rest.

Spend the initial phase in mastering the technique in 1-minute intervals. Next, move to the Speed phase.


In this phase, read for five minutes at a pace in which you will have around 10% comprehension loss. Since you’ve practiced techniques of Saccadic reading and strengthening peripheral vision, you’ll use them better in this exercise and get comfortable reading faster.

If you learn to drive at 50 mph and hit 100 mph on a highway (above your comfort zone), then 80 mph speed becomes comfortable.

Now measure your revised speed (words per minute). How much has it shot up by?

For a video demo of the above exercise, you can check out Tim Ferriss’ video link below.

Click here if cannot view the link.

(You can read the first part of this two-part series on building useful reading habits here.)

Picture of Murali Sunderraghavan

Murali Sunderraghavan

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