How I Read and Listen 300% Faster

22 January, 2023
Self-improvement; Productivity

You can train yourself to read and listen 300% faster. Being able to consume content faster is the ultimate productivity skill in three ways.

First, you learn more per unit time (read 3 books in the time someone else reads 1).

Second, it frees up time for every other part of life.

Third, it increases the rate at which you can think. Once you learn to listen at 4x speed, a normal speed conversation provides so much extra thinking time.

The underlying assumption in this article is that you are reading primarily for learning. For me, learning leads to enjoyment. However, I recognize that this isn’t universal.

Part 1: Speed reading

Only 40% of speed reading is about reading words faster. The remaining 60% comes from the method you apply to reading. I’ll first, explain my ‘method’, and then how to ‘read words faster’.

1. Learn the Right Method

1.1. Focus on what matters

Success in reading isn’t defined by # of pages read. It’s defined by insights gained per unit time.

To maximize insights, non-fiction books shouldn’t be read word-for-word. Instead:

  • Skim stories. Around 70% of non-fiction books are made up of stories and examples
  • Skim the boring or tedious. The start of a chapter often ticks this bucket. The last few chapters of a book also tend to be less useful
  • When skimming, read the first line of each paragraph. A good author summarizes the entire paragraph in the first line. The last line of the paragraph can also be helpful

1.2. Read actively

To measure insights gained, observe your compulsion to take notes. If you are compelled to take lots of notes, that’s often a sign of an insightful book.

However, there are many exceptions to the ‘note-taking rule’. Biographies and fiction typically fall into the exempt category. “Dune” and “Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman” have had an enormous impact on my life, yet I didn’t take many notes on them.

To have more insights from a book:

  • Ask questions about what you are reading
  • Every few pages, pause and try to recollect what you just read. If you can’t recall it, then you weren’t focusing (or the content was meaningless)
  • Sometimes speeding up generates more insights since it forces you to focus
  • Sometimes you need to slow down to give yourself time to process the insights
  • Always ask yourself, “how am I different now that I’ve read this?” This is the definition of a valuable insight. You want books to catalyze actual change

Typically, the main reason I’m not having insights is that the book is boring or repetitive. The solution? Read faster or read a different book.

1.3 Compound Knowledge

Your knowledge base determines how quickly you can comprehend complex information.

Bill Gates can read 100s of challenging books because he has a large knowledge base.

If Bill and I read the same thing, he will learn more.

To build your knowledge base, try to gain multidisciplinary knowledge.

An example is Elon Musk. In his teenage years, Elon would read two books per day. His reading spanned philosophy, programming, science fiction, religion, engineering, physics, product design, and more.

This allowed for learning transfer. Learning transfer is taking knowledge from one domain and applying it to another.

1.4 Making Connections

Some of the best insights come from reading multiple books simultaneously. For example, reading Dune alongside Steve Jobs’ biography alongside Jeff Bezos’ shareholder letters was like chocolate ice cream with olive oil and salt; it sounds stupid, but is mind-blowing in practice.

Another way I increase insights is to consume similar content in concert. For example, I listen to 20 of one person’s podcasts in a row whilst reading their book. This is because (a) you get a complete picture of someone’s thinking, (b) repetition hammers home the key points, and (c) you can increase listening/reading speed since parts are repetitive and you are adjusted to the person’s style.

2. Learn Speed Reading

Speed reading is a useful tool. The problem is when we apply speed reading before first learning the right reading method — there’s no point speed reading what need not be read at all.

In any case, here are my top speed reading tips.

2.1. Use a visual pacer

Use your left pointer finger, a pencil, or some other pointing device to pace yourself when reading. This is useful for a few reasons:

  1. Eyes are attracted to motion. Adding motion increases focus
  2. Your nervous system is set up to absorb content better when both sight and touch are involved
  3. Pacing avoids back-skimming, which is a massive problem in reading

2.2. Make fewer fixations per line

In every line we read, our eyes fixate on a certain number of words. We might fixate on 12 words, 8 words, or 4 words. The goal is to fixate on around 3 groups of words per line.

To make fewer fixations per line, you can try to use your peripheral vision. To force yourself to do this, you can indent an inch on either side of the book when reading and trust your peripheral to pick up the rest.

2.3. Read for shorter, more intense bursts

Lack of focus is one of the primary reasons for slow reading. Speed reading requires intense focus. I enjoy this focus since it allows me to have more insights per unit time.

Reading faster can increase comprehension because it forces you to focus.

2.4. Practice reading beyond your current ability

Reading is like gym training — you need to stress your ‘reading muscles’ to grow. When reading unimportant content, force yourself to read above your current ability. You will comprehend a bit less, but it will pay off in the long run.

Part 2: Speed Listening

I don’t have any special hacks for learning to listen faster. It’s simply practice. Particularly practice outside of your comfort zone. If your comfort zone is 1.5x speed, listen to some content at 2x. If your comfort zone is 3.5x speed (as it is for me), listen at 4x speed. My friend claims to comprehend 6x speed.

To get to these speeds, you need to use specific apps:

  • Apple podcasts only goes to 2x
  • Spotify and Audible go to 3.5x
  • Owltail goes to 32x speed and is a wonderful podcast player all around. Would recommend!
  • Video Speed Controller is the Chrome extension I use to speed up videos
  • Apple text-to-voice can read Kindle books to you. Or you can use a tool like Speechify

It’s important to be selective about which content you listen to at faster speeds.

If it’s a new or complex topic, it pays to slow down.

If you’re tired, it pays to slow down. I notice my HRV and recovery scores correlated with my ability to listen quickly.

If it’s an audiobook of a biography or a more story-based podcast, it works to speed up.

It’s also easier to speed up when the audio quality is good, which is a combination of (a) your headphones, and (b) the speaker’s microphone.


So that’s it, if you take away one thing from this article it’s that success isn’t defined by # of pages read. It’s defined by insights gained per unit time. Learn what works for you to optimize that. Or don’t. It’s up to you!