How To Focus On Reading: 15 Ways to Improve Your Concentration
I know concentrating is hard. That’s why we’re here. I’m going to show you how to improve your reading instantly.
Learning how to focus on reading is super important. Sharpen your reading skills to understand more, defeat boredom, and maybe even enjoy it.
It doesn’t matter what your reading material is: textbooks, online articles, Kindle, or a novel. If you are having trouble focusing, everything feels like eternal punishment.
I wouldn’t blame you for trying to avoid it.
But then you would also have to figure out how to stop procrastinating.
And even if you do get through the material, readers don’t understand much when they can’t concentrate.
Being unable to focus makes for miserable, slow, shallow reading.
By learning how to focus on reading, you will read more, do it faster, and take in the words.
You’re actually lucky.
Not only is it possible to improve focus — you can work on it and build up strength, just like a muscle. It’s the same for focusing on reading.
So, are you ready to find out how?
First, you need to get ready to read.
How To Prepare For Focused Reading
The better prepared you are, the easier it will be to focus. And having good daily habits is a great way to get ready.
Here are 4 great tips for preparation.
1. Practice Meditation
Sources of anxiety and distraction are never far away. So learning to clear your mind won’t just make you happier. It’ll make you a better reader.
A really simple way to do that is meditation.
Sit in a comfortable, quiet space, and try to empty your mind.
Practice letting thoughts come to your attention and pass through. Learn to hold your focus.
This skill won’t just get your brain ready to concentrate on reading. It will also help you block out distracting thoughts while you read.
If you want some help learning to meditate, try guided meditation with an app like Headspace.
OK, that’s enough sitting. You also need to get moving.
2. Exercise Before You Read
Raising your heart rate is another good way to clear away stress.
It has also been shown that exercise improves concentration and memory. There’s a book called The Real Happy Pill on this topic if you want to find out more.
A boost like this will make you a good reader instantly.
The benefits are pretty immediate, so you should try to read straight after your activity. But doing it regularly will help long term as well.
And while we’re making you healthier, food is also important for better focus.
3. Improve Your Nutrition For Better Concentration
What you eat and drink affects your concentration.
The simplest change is to have less sugar and more protein in your diet. Whilst a little kick from sugar and caffeine can get you through a bit of reading, don’t go over the top.
Nuts, eggs, fish, and lentils are all good reading fuel options.
Foods that are good for your body and energy levels generally help the brain too.
And there’s just one more step to get you ready for focussed reading:
4. Set Up Your Environment For Fewer Distractions
The last bit of preparation you should do is to make some quick changes to your space.
If you are trying to read or work from home, you have a great chance to control the area. Try to read in the same spot every time, so that your brain knows it’s a productive place for reading focus. Choose somewhere quiet. And ideally, reserve that area just for reading.
Second, get as many distractions out of the room as possible. Leave your smartphone in your bag, pocket, or another room.
I wouldn’t recommend you lock any humans away, but try to keep some distance from them as well.
You need to make it difficult to cave to temptations — such as social media — when you’re reading.
I also find that controlling the sound is important for my reading space. I don’t like silence, or music with lyrics, so I use ambient coffee shop sounds (usually from YouTube). The background noise helps me keep my brain on task.
Focus music might improve your mental performance too. Nature sounds or calming instrumental music would be a good place to start reading.
But above all — do what suits you. Figure out what works, and what doesn’t. There aren’t rules, just ideas to try.
And that’s probably enough preparation. You should be ready to tackle the hardest kind of reading:
How to Focus on Reading Boring Text
There are few things worse than being forced to read something that’s not interesting.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re studying, working, or doing personal admin. Being able to happily read boring text is a lifesaver.
These tips are great for making the process less painful, and getting yourself to the end faster.
5. Focus on the Motivation For Reading
If you’re bored by something, there’s probably a reason you are trying to read it anyway. Use that to your advantage.
What’s your motivation for reading?
You want something, and reading it is a part of achieving it.
It could be getting a good grade in a class, doing your job well, or learning a new skill. Making it through the boring words is a step in that direction.
Keep your eye on the prize.
6. Understand What You Need to Get Out Of The Reading
So now you know the motivation for reading. But what’s the purpose of reading books or articles?
Do you need to understand the entire thing? Are you looking for one specific fact or reference?
Is a general idea of the content enough?
If you know what level of understanding you need, it’s much easier to read efficiently.
Don’t waste hours reading every detail of an article when all you need is one section.
But if you know the whole thing is important, prepare some questions to answer from the beginning. Your brain will be on the lookout for the answer. Therefore, you’ll stay engaged for longer.
You can highlight sections that are relevant to your questions, and keep notes if it helps.
For larger texts like books, break your objectives up into sections and tackle them separately.
This approach will not only make reading more interesting, it will also be worthwhile. You will get the information you need from the material — which is the whole point.
7. Set Small Targets to Get Started
Sometimes you can do everything possible to be ready and motivated. And then it’s still painfully boring or hard.
You still need to find a way to make progress.
Do this with reading targets. Make it easy to reach the first few targets — it will feel satisfying. That will encourage you to keep going, chasing down the next goal.
I use page number or chapter targets in books because they aren’t time-dependent. You figure out how much you want to get done and make yourself stick at it.
This lets you finish at natural break-points too. That means you won’t be rushing through to finish sections on a schedule.
Having a finishing point can help you get over the daunting task of a huge reading pile. If you know you only have to read 500 words, or one website article, it’s way more achievable.
As you get better at being disciplined and focused, you can set bigger targets. Through this, you can read a lot more each session.
8. Use Interval Reading Timers
Some people hate targets and end up failing if reading takes longer than expected.
If this sounds like you: try using interval timers (also known as Pomodoros).
Intervals are not just a time management strategy. They also help you break down hard tasks by using small commitments.
You don’t have to tackle the whole book at once — but instead, just read for a few minutes at a time.
It’s pretty straightforward:
You use cycles of focussed work with short breaks in between. After 3 or 4 reading sessions, take a longer break.
If you are having a lot of trouble focusing you can set small intervals for reading, and longer breaks. Something as low as 10 minutes can get you started.
Once you can get to the end of an interval easily, increase the time of the next one.
The thing I really like about using intervals is that our brains quickly adapt to the pattern. It becomes easier the more you do it.
And then, when you do start flying through the paragraphs — stop and celebrate.
9. Reward Yourself After Successful Reading Sessions
Whether you use targets, intervals, or another method, make sure you give yourself a reward at the end.
This is a great time to go for a walk, do a fun activity, or relax — which all prepare you to get more reading done after.
I like taking an occasional coffee break. It’s a quick, peaceful luxury that motivates me to push through whatever I’m reading. Healthy snacks are good as well.
And lastly, along the same lines:
You will need to rest.
10. Take Regular Breaks
It’s almost impossible to read for hours on end without losing focus. And as we’ve just covered — you should use targets, intervals, and motivating rewards.
Breaks are a key part of each strategy.
Concentration is hard to maintain. It’s stamina that you need to work on and build up. Take breaks so that your brain and eyes can recover and refresh.
You will read faster, and comprehend more when you get back to it, and be able to read for a longer amount of the day.
OK, that covers my tips for getting through boring material.
Next up, we’re going to cover how you should be reading.
Simple Techniques To Focus On Reading
Right, you’ve been for a run, set a reading target, and set your interval timer.
You open the text and look at the words.
Here are a few tips making the actual reading easier.
11. Use a Pointer For Your Eyes to Follow
Get a pen, chopstick, or your finger and trace along under the words your reading. This is a pretty simple hack, but it helps you focus and maintain flow.
Our eyes naturally follow motion. This keeps your gaze pinpointed to the sentence you are reading. As a result, you won’t wander over the page, screen, room, or beyond.
You’ll read faster and better by not getting distracted. And then you can start to increase the speed of the pointer.
Just make sure your eyes are keeping up.
12. Review the Whole Structure Before You Start Reading
Take away the mystery of your text if you want to focus better.
Rather than diving into the first paragraph, flick or skim through the text first. Find out what topics will be covered.
Look at how many sections there are, how they are broken up, and what order the topics are in.
This gives you a sense of place and context as you read. If you know where the information is headed, you will understand more, and know what is important.
If you know your goals for the reading, you will get to see which sections are relevant. Then you can focus on those.
If you still think it’s boring, at least you’ll know how far you are from the end of the tunnel.
13. Look For Clues About Which Parts Are Important
Look for headings, lists, bullet points, bold text in the writing.
Non-fiction writers want to make it easy for you to understand their key points. They’ll most likely use consistent formatting and patterns to help you with this.
What you are actually doing here is learning a key skill: separating core information and elaborative content.
Core information — no surprises — is the important content. They’re probably the bits you’re trying to focus on and understand.
Everything else is elaborative. It explains, details, and extends the main points.
You will find reading much easier once you can instantly recognize the core information, and then take as much extra detail as you need.
Reading Strategies for Better Reading Comprehension
A big problem with being unable to focus on reading is not understanding what you’ve covered.
Just giving attention isn’t enough — you need to take in the information you’re looking for.
This is comprehension. Let’s get better at it.
These tips are for during and after reading. They’ll help you get everything you need from reading.
14. Make Notes and Outlines While You Read
‘Regression’ is the problem we are fighting here. You’ve probably experienced it before.
It’s that moment when you realize you have been going over the same paragraph for ages without understanding it.
Here’s a good reading habit:
As you read, keep a notebook or document open. Write down important information, and create an outline for the thing you are reading.
This will remind you of the purpose of reading and help you understand everything you need.
As a result, you’ll remember more, and find it easier to stay engaged — which means better focus.
And if you make this a habit, it’s a good test of your comprehension.
You’ll be way more likely to remember the information you write notes about.
That’s not even all.
If you do forget something important, you’ve got a nice set of notes to refer back to.
And lastly, while we’re on the matter of notes…
15. Always Review and Summarize When You’re Done
Before you celebrate reaching your target at the end of the session, look over your notes. This is a good way to see whether you did focus well.
Ideally, write a short summary of the key points. At the very least, practice having to quickly explain the content out loud.
Make sure you found answers to any questions you had. Ask yourself whether the purpose of the reading was addressed.
You should be able to recall and explain the key points from the information or story.
This should be painless and easy — which means we’ve succeeded.
Final Note: It Takes Practice
Every piece of advice I’ve given will help. But there’s one thing you can’t avoid:
Focusing on reading takes practice. Even if you’re good, you can get better.
In my experience, the more you read, the easier it will be.
Try to read every day, even if it’s just a little for fun. Eventually, you’ll develop a reading habit.
Be patient, and consistent.
It’s Time To Start Reading
Alright, that’s everything you need.
Get prepared to focus on reading by exercising, meditating, and eating well. Set up a space that’s free of distractions, and suits your preferences.
Focus on your motivation for reading, and make sure you know what you need to get out of it. Review the whole text first, so you know where you are up to, and try to summarize as you go.
Take breaks, reward yourself, and try to enjoy it.
When you put all of this together, you will start to notice improvement pretty fast.
Happy reading, and good luck.
How to Focus on Reading: Field Notes
Follow these steps to improve your focus when reading:
- Practice meditation to build focus and clear your mind.
- Exercise before reading for a boost to concentration and memory.
- Eat more protein and less sugar for better focus.
- Create a quiet space for reading, without distractions. Use music or sounds that help you concentrate.
- Focus on your motivation for reading.
- Understand the purpose or reason for reading a text. Find out what you need to learn from it.
- Set small reading targets to get you started.
- Use interval reading timers to build up your focus stamina.
- Use rewards and incentives to keep you focused.
- Take regular breaks.
- Use a pen or your finger as a pointer for your eyes to follow.
- Review the structure of the text before you start reading.
- Look for clues that show which parts are important.
- Make notes and outlines while you read.
- Always review and summarize when you’re done.
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Originally published at http://dansilvestre.com on April 30, 2020.