In 3200 BC, the first writing system was created. Since then, people around the world have been recording their thoughts, insights, and ideas into stacks of usually rectangular pages called books. All was fine for centuries. People wrote books, other people spend time reading them. Understanding them. Applying the principles inside. The world progressed. Till one day, a guy in a dorm room invented this thing called social media. Everything changed. It was no longer cool to sit on a couch and read words from a paper, you had to do something more exciting and share it with other people who were trying to do the same thing.
Though a lot of folks blame social media for their inability to focus – including me – social media emerged when I was around 15. By then, I’ve probably read 2-1/2 books. Meaning that I wasn’t reading even before social media was able to corrupt my focus. Why? Well, I was a teenager and I wanted to do more exciting stuff. Things like: going out, playing video games, hanging out with girls. But there was something else preventing me from reading books: ADHD.
Back then I didn’t call it ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). I didn’t know that scientists categorized my inability to focus for more than 10 seconds on something as a medical condition, a disease. I just thought that I’m a lazy, easily-distracted teenager who is simply not into books and wants to do something more interesting.
For years, I thought that I’m the only one. “Probably I’m just not a book lover”. But my mother wasn’t falling for this one.
She was constantly shoving books in my face. Hoping they’ll help me fix my grades.
Well, they didn’t. But it was totally my fault.
Instead of reading books, I became very good at pretending to read them. I was either sleeping behind the cover or playing with something when my mother wasn’t watching.
And this was happening not because the books my mother gave me were bad per se. I was simply unable to concentrate and I was constantly rereading the same sentence, over and over again. It felt like I wasn’t making any progress, that I’m just wasting my time.
That’s why I did the most obvious thing every self-respecting teenager would do: I rebelled. Instead of reading, I spent every second of my free time playing games and watching TV shows.
Things obviously changed since then. I’ve read more than 100 books in the last few years and now I even read around a book per week.1 Not bad for a guy who is still easily distracted, eh?
And while my story is not important. What I want to do with the content I publish on my site is.
I want to help you read more. Even if you, too, lack the attention span to concentrate, have problems focusing, you’re unable to stick to tasks that take time to complete.
Why We Can’t Concentrate and What’s This ADHD?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of how to read more books, let’s add a few words about what it means to live in the present days.
The 21st century comes with a few perks, no doubt. We have state-of-the-art toilet seats. Never-ending Twitter feeds that help us “socialize.” More than enough varieties of yoga pants to choose from. And while there are luxury products that can satisfy even the most sophisticated taste, our emotional well-being is suffering.
We’re in a constant state of distraction. Moving from one thing to the next as quickly as possible. Always rushing and hustling to reach our “full potential.” This constant pressure is just part of our daily lives today.
The job we do requires us to be always online. Always available to respond, to meet, to answer a question. We use various tools to stay up to date because we want to be sure that we’re not missing out on potential business opportunities.
And while there are spare moments to relax, we rarely use them. Instead of resting, we search online for new stimuli to feed our brains.
According to Ryan Holiday, author of several best-selling books, our inability to stay still and enjoy the present moment is not a new problem. We’re simply wired to be like that.
How he come up with this conclusion?
Apparently, a man called Blaise Pascal figured out the same thing more than 300 years ago by saying, “All humanity’s problems stem from a person’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”2
“So it seems our ancestors had the same problem with focusing but managed to survive. Not a big deal, right?”
Well, they did. But now we have also ADHD which creates additional problems with attention, impulse control, and motivation.
Let me explain…
Smart people in science magazines refer to ADHD as “a chronic condition marked by persistent inattention, hyperactivity, and sometimes impulsivity.” Or in simple terms, your mind is wandering when you should be focused on something.
And if you still don’t realize, this is bad for at least several reasons:
- You’re not able to pay close attention to details.
- You make careless mistakes in school or in your job.
- You’re unable to complete your daily tasks on time.
- You have problems staying focused on tasks that are time-consuming, like reading.
While I don’t know how to permanently cure yourself of this thing – I’m not a doctor, you know. I do believe that reading helps.
When you sit on your butt to read books you’re working on your concentration muscles. Every time you’re not playing on your smart device and you’re with a company of a good book, you’re becoming better at focusing.
And focus my internet friend, is the ability you should obtain if you want to make progress in this distracted world where notifications, text messages, and beeping sounds rule our day.
After we cleared out the basics, let’s see what we can do to read more books even if we’re not good at concentrating and unable to remain focused on a single task.
5 Steps To Read More Books If You Easily Get Distracted
Step 1: Change Your Attitude Towards Reading
This first tip may sound a bit preachy and not really practical but it’s of great importance.
If you don’t categorize yourself as a reader. If you believe that reading is only for glass-wearing nerds with strange haircuts who collect stamps and never go out; Then guess what, you’re never going to start a book, not to mention finish one.
If you’re already reading this article you’re probably convinced that reading books can change your life but it’s important to mention it nonetheless.
Reading books is like hitting the pause button on the internet-crazed world. You put the noise on hold. You feel calmer and more relaxed. Besides, you get to learn new things, improve your memory and your analytical thinking skills. The benefits are countless. Scientists also say that reading may even help fight Alzheimer’s disease.3
Apart from the above things, there are a lot of folks who are smarter than you and I who read like crazy – Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey. And they don’t do it because they have nothing else to do, they have businesses to run, families to take care of, and people to talk to. They read like it’s the end of the world because reading makes them smarter.
That, I believe, is enough reason to reconsider your relationship with books.
So, just read more books, will ya?
Step 2: Make Reading Interesting by Picking Up The Right Book
Even if you adore the idea of reading, you’re a bookworm, you really want to read, there’s still a good chance you might end up playing a game on your smartphone and leaving your book to dust somewhere in your house.
This usually happens for the following reasons:
- We either don’t have enough time (will be discussed in step 3).
- We don’t know why we’re reading.
Yes, that’s right, you need to figure out why you want to read before buying a bunch of books and stacking them on your wall.
What do you want to gain? Do you simply want to be entertained or do you want to learn something? Do you want to read a love story where people kiss and do some inappropriate things for me to mention here, like in the 50 Shares of Grey, or you want to learn how Elon Musk started SpaceX?
There are so many different kinds of books to like: classics, fantasy, historical, adventure, action, poetry, romance, narrative, biographies, self-help books, even textbooks.
To read more, you need to go through this step first. Pick the right genre depending on your personality before going to the library. That’s the best way to start your reading adventure.
The main reason I wasn’t able to concentrate while I was reading in the past was because I was reading the books we had in our house. Books my mother and father adored, not me. Books I had to read for school, not the ones I really wanted. That’s why, I viewed reading more as an obligation than an opportunity to learn something. Quite normally, I grow up hating reading. That’s why I rebelled.
But now I have a system. I perform extensive research before purchasing books. I do it because a) I’ll most probably finish the book I bought and b) because this will inspire me to read more in the future.
Here’s what I do:
- I think about what I want to learn.
- I make a research online for the best book on the subject.
- I read the reviews.
- I even read summaries.
- I pick the best book on the subject.
I do all of the above to ensure that the book I’ll end up reading will be a good one. A book that I will actually want to read. This increases the likelihood of me finishing it.
Step 3: Allocate Time For Reading
Some people don’t read because they haven’t found the right book. Others, because they don’t have time. “I don’t have time to read,” a lot of people say.
And I do get them.
Even if we love reading, we easily get caught up in our work, and in all other things screaming for our attention. Reading is usually the first thing we sacrifice when other demands are placed upon us, unfortunately.
But there is a solution. You can find more time to read even if you’re a mother of a newborn trying to run a small business on the side.
Here’s what you can do:
- Bring a book with you wherever you go: What are you doing while you’re standing in line for your frappuccino in Starbucks? During a train commute? Or when you’re riding the elevator? Checking your phone, right? Well, you can replace this nasty habit with reading. Simply open the book before sliding your phone.
- Consider ebooks: Ebooks are a great way to bring a whole library of books with you. Since we carry our phones everywhere, we can easily get access to literally thousands of books from our devices. No more excuses that you forgot to bring the book with you. You can simply buy the ebook version and read it when you have a spare moment. You don’t even have to bring your Kindle. There is a lot of ebook-reading apps for smartphones.
- Consider audiobooks: Personally, I don’t like audiobooks. Since I take notes while I read, listening to the book doesn’t make sense to me because I have to constantly rewind when I want to write something down. But this doesn’t mean that audiobooks aren’t great. If reading the actual words of a page seems tedious, you can easily outsource the reading part and just listen. Also, audiobooks are great when you’re traveling.
Obviously, there are ways to fill your brain with literature. You just need to make it part of your life.
This brings us to the next step:
Step 4: Make Reading a Habit
The best way to make reading a habit is by doing it every single day.
“Yeah, but how?”
There are a lot of resources online for this particular step. Major publications are flooding the net with tips and how-to guides that will potentially help you master the art of reading and make this exercise a part of your life.
But among the long list of tips, there are only 3 that stood out and actually important for making reading a habit.
Let’s look at them one by one:
- Schedule time to read and do it daily: You won’t read a single page if you don’t block time to read. Some people read when they get up, others before going to bed. It doesn’t matter when you’re going to read. You simply need to schedule time for this activity in your life.
- Start ridiculously small: In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests using the Two-Minute Rule if you struggle with instilling good habits in your life. In essence, this rule means that a new habit should take less than two minutes to do. In our case will mean reading one page. Or if you’re just starting: read only one sentence. You need to set the bar really low. The idea here is that when you read one sentence you’ll usually read one more. Then one more. Until you realize what’s happening, you may have read a few pages.
- Block all distractions: You don’t have to be diagnosed with ADHD to get easily distracted. Your phone beeping can easily derail you and sabotage your good intentions. You need to find a quiet and comfy place to consume books. This means stopping all of your notifications, turning off the TV, and putting your children to sleep. If you still can’t concentrate because the neighbors decided to throw an afternoon party, you can do what I did: buy noise-canceling headphones. My best purchase, ever!
There’s nothing complicated when it comes to reading. You don’t have to buy a fancy Kindle or to join a reading club online to get motivated. Yes, these two things might help, but they are not that important.
Reading is a simple task. You just sit and you read words out of a page. I mean, it’s not rocket science. You just need to find time and do it regularly.
Step 5: Quit Most of The Books You Read.
Author and habit expert James Clear said it best, “Start more books. Quit most of them. Read the great ones twice.”4
The traditional way to read a book is to pick it up and read it from cover to cover. Once you’re done, to pick another book and to repeat the same exercise. However, this strategy rarely works if you easily get distracted. Or worse, if you suffer from ADHD.
If you’re like me in the past, you’ll probably get a book, skim through a couple of pages, fall asleep a few times, and eventually ditch reading as a whole. “Books are boring. This thing is not for me. I like doing stuff. I need something else to do,” you proudly state on your social media account.
But don’t beat yourself too hard if you can’t finish a book. Probably this specific book sucks. Go find another one. Life is too short to spend time on bad books.
We thought that we should always finish what we started. The school system and our parents are partly to blame. “There won’t be any supper for you until you’re ready with your homework,” my mother used to say.
But that should be the case when it comes down to reading.
Even if the book you need to read is related to a school assignment, you don’t have to read it cover to cover. You can simply go through the main chapters and write a short summary (or consider reading a summary of the book). This will help you understand the basic ideas in the book and move on to the next read.
I was really paranoid before when I didn’t finish a particular book. I felt like a quitter. “I’m such a lazy-pants. I can’t even finish a 300-page book. I’m a dumb ass,” I thought.
But after reading 1 book per week for the last couple of months I noticed that not everything is important, especially when you’re reading a nonfiction book. You can skim through a couple of pages and still understand the main idea. It’s a bit different when you read fiction because you don’t want to miss what the main character did but it’s still not a big deal. If the book is good, you’ll surely understand the plot. If you find yourself constantly skipping sentences and you’re not able to concentrate, then, it’s time to find your next read.
So, again, as James Clear said, “Start more books. Quit most of them. Read the great ones twice.”
Some Closing Thoughts
Above all, to read more, you should want to read more. (You can consider checking my post on why you should read more books if you need extra motivation.)
Yeah, I know, that’s a dump and not really practical advice but it’s something you need to realize before even considering going to the library.
Don’t waste your money buying books if you don’t believe in their power first. Or if you do somehow end up with a bunch of books that are only collecting dust, donate them.
I’m a big believer that reading can change your life. A good book can inspire you to take control of your health, start a business, better self-regulate, learn a new language, learn a new skill, and help you raise your kids so they can grow up to be highly successful adults.
If you’re still not sure how to proceed or if you lack the attention span to read books, you can check my book summary collection.
These short reads are designed to help you understand the key ideas from big nonfiction books and prompt you to take action.
Do yourself a favor:
Join The Study Newsletter: A laid back newsletter about very serious ideas from even more serious books – and not only. Great for lifelong learners, creators, & wanderers alike.
- My goal is to record all of the books I read. To summarize them and to present the key ideas into easily-digestible lessons.
- Who’s Blaise Pascal? He was a French mathematician, physicist, and religious philosopher, who laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities. One of the things he’s really famous for is inventing a wheel calculator with movable dials.
- Reading stimulates your brain and this lowers the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. You can read more in this article, here.
- I recommend checking the post where he mentioned this: 7 Ways to Retain More of Every Book You Read.