This One Simple Trick Helps Me Read Faster as a Ph.D. Student

Reading a Book
Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash

Reading is the closest thing that human beings have to a superpower. We can learn, from other minds, from other times, just by looking at symbols on a screen or a page.

But, I mean, come on. Who has enough time to read? I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a stack of books a mile high that I’d like to work my way through.

Now, there’s a bunch of good advice out there about finding more time to read (see this post from Farnam Street and this post from The Art of Manliness). In fact, finding more time to read is one of the main reasons why you should learn the basics of personal productivity and time management (see my posts about productivity and time management).

However, even if you manage to find more time to read, it can be very helpful to improve your reading speed.

As a Ph.D. student, this is something that I’ve tried to get better at in recent months. I’d like to share my top tip/trick. Here it is:

Use a Pen/Pencil/Finger as a Pacer When You Read

That’s right. Whenever I read these days, I’m using something as a pacer, tracing under each line of text as I read it. (I’m usually also standing and pacing around to avoid falling asleep!)

It might seem stupidly simple tip, but it’s crazy how much using something – whether a pen, pencil, or just your finger – as a pacer can help you read faster. It cuts down on the number of times your eye bounces around on the page, and it enables you to read exactly as quickly as you’d like to – you can slow down or speed up at will.

I first considered using a pacer while reading after reading Tim Ferriss’s wildly popular blog post, “Scientific Speed Reading: How to Read 300% Faster in 20 Minutes”. I encourage you to give that post a read if you’re interested.

Or, if you’d rather watch a video of Tim teaching his technique, check this one out:

Anyways, I hope this simple tip helps you to read faster when you want to! Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Got any reading tips you’d like to share? Post them in the comments below!

By joshuapsteele

The Rev. Dev. I solve problems with a pastor's heart for people and a programmer's eye for detail. Learn more at

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