Reagan’s 8 Tips for Becoming a Better Reader, and Then Some

by Jacob Abshire on December 13, 2023

Two things I like in life are reading and productivity. This is why I stay tuned to Reagan Rose, creator of Redeeming Productivity, a book, podcast, and blog. He recently published a video providing eight tips for becoming a better reader. I took the bait.

“We want to be wise stewards of both our time and our minds,” says Reagan. To which I say, “Amen!” One of the ways I better steward my reading without burning my mind is to practice what I call contextual reading. Essentially, I can improve my retention by creating reading spaces and conditions that correspond to books.

Similarly, Reagan unpacked some tips to improve your overall reading experience. These tips are generally best when applied to nonfiction since narratives are different beasts. Then again, so are manuals, but who reads those? Here are his eight tips for becoming a better reader. I’ll add some personal commentary and then close with some additional tips to add to your collection.

#1: Read Only Good Books

Even the fastest readers have limitations. Some of us have more capacity than others, but no one can prolong time. For this reason, you want to read qualitatively good books, not only in content, I might add, but in relation to you right now. I’ll say more about this later. For now, surrender your time and mind carefully to books of good substance.

#2: Read Mostly Old Books

This is not a hard rule. But, if you think about it, old books are time-tested. If I can put words in his mouth, Reagan doesn’t mean that you should read books that are dated. Quite the opposite. Books that have shelf lives are time-sensitive and faddish. Books that “provide timeless insights,” as Reagan put it, are real gems. Lean heavy on the old ones.

#3: Skim Before You Start

Of course, the age of the book doesn’t point to its worth. Sometimes, you have to skim before you make the commitment. Read the table of contents, flip to key chapters, and review headings and closing summaries. If you find the book lacking, ditch it. Your time and mind will thank you.

#4: Be Quick to Quit Bad Books

When it comes to bad books, be a quitter. There’s no shame in it. Reagan likened it to smoking. No one ridicules the guy who quits smoking, because smoking is bad for you; so are bad books. Stub them out.

#5: Don’t Speed Read

Reading is more than eye-bouncing on words. It is about learning, and Reagan reminds us that “learning happens during synthesis.” It is not until you contemplate what you read that you have actually learned. We need to chew our food before we swallow.

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”

Mortimer J. Adler

#6: Write in Your Books

If the book belongs to you, vandalize it for your best learning experience. Draw asterisks, make hashtags, connect paragraphs, circle headings, underscore words, highlight sentences, and summarize sections. This will help you digest on the fly as well as yield some easy-to-find references down the road. Reagan also suggests that your notes will be wonderful insights to those who inherit your book.

#7: Summarize Your Thoughts

This tip goes hand-in-hand with the previous. Reagan described Ian Murray’s practice of writing outlines and summaries in the back of books. It’s like your own cliff notes and reference index to save you time later.

#8: Share What You Learn

This should be a proverb. Sharing with others what you are learning right now helps you systematize the information, clarify the principles, and memorize the substance. Someone once told me, that if you can’t teach it, you don’t know it. 

Now, let me raise you a few tips …

#9: Read Based on Interest

The first tip was to read only good books. By this, Reagan was referring to quality content. I would add that we read better when we are reading what matters to us—meaning that the book is good for you right now. Good books take your mind captive. In some seasons of life, we need to be captivated by specific things and sometimes these things act as strong motivations that will keep your attention and improve your retention.

#10: Plan Your Reading

This one is not for everyone, but it is. Most of us have schedules, while others should. By setting aside time with hard starts and stops, we condition our minds for reading. It may look like scheduling 30 minutes each morning or evening. It might be setting deadlines for a number of chapters each week. Designate a book, a place, and a time to read. Here’s how Reagan reads 50 books in a year.

#11: Contextualize Your Reading

Contextual reading is the practice of reading specific books in specific contexts at specific times. Basically, you take advantage of your environment to maximize your retention, particularly when reading multiple books. Here are some tips on getting started.

#12: Read in Community

Create a sense of real accountability by reading a book with others. Form a small group of 2-5 people who share your interest in a book and meet regularly with them to catch up on what you read. This will create pressure and fan interest and boost comprehension. Also, you might glean new insights.

Hopefully, these tips will help you. Give Reagan Rose a watch and subscribe. Then, you can learn more about redeeming productivity—that’s his jam.

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