Everybody reads – students read academic books, musicians read sheet music, accountants read financial reports and bibliophiles read books for pleasure. Though reading is a great habit to build, it requires avid attention which most people find challenging to master.
In this guide, we go through why you may be losing concentration, tips on focusing while reading, and exercises to improve attention.
Why is it So Hard to Focus While Reading?
Did you know an average human’s attention span is less than a goldfish’s? It’s reported to be just 8.25 seconds. It’s okay if you’re losing focus while reading, but if it happens regularly there may be an underlying cause.
Here is an explanation of a few reasons you may be losing concentration:
Attention and concentration are most affected by irregular or lack of sleep. It’s not just how much you sleep but how well you sleep. If your sleep patterns are disturbed by night terrors, physical distractors, or stress, you may be too tired to attend to a book the next morning.
We live in a world of distractions. Reading a post on social media is mediated by a hoard of comments, the cable is available at the press of a button, and advertisements are everywhere from tablets to billboards. An over-stimulated brain cannot read to relax.
Contrary to popular belief, your posture while reading can affect how focused your reading is. Slouching, lying down, or even putting your feet up can result in reduced concentration while reading – especially with a sore back.
Humans are particularly bad at multitasking. Only 2.5% of the world is capable of multitasking. Focusing on two or more tasks at one time jogs the mind at an irregular pace and depletes the brain’s energy sooner. Reading a book while watching the news isn’t recommended.
Keep a check on your mental and physical health. Lack of sleep can cause fatigue and lead to frustration and anxiety. Feeling anxious can cause the brain to halt all attention switches. Health conditions like anemia, ADHD, and diabetes can also be a reason why you may be losing focus while reading.
Tips on How to Focus While Reading Books for Enjoyment
It’s easy to run into distractions while reading, even if you have all the time in the world. Whether you’re on a summer break or in the mood to tackle your new year’s resolution of reading, here are some tips on how you can concentrate better while reading.
Take Breaks Often
The number one way to improve focus is to designate a chunk of time for reading and an interval for breaks. The Pomodoro Technique is one way you can do this. It includes 25 minutes of interrupted reading time followed by a five-minute break to stretch or hydrate. Then, continue reading for 25 minutes and when the time is up, take a 15 to 30-minute break.
Cut Down the Distractions
To relax your mind, it is best to cut down the distractions. Mute all text messaging apps, install social media blockers, and turn off the TV while reading. This helps maintain the momentum, fix the focus, and cultivate concentration while reading.
Choose Your Comfort
Every reader has a TBR (to be read) list and sometimes it can feel restricting if you’re in the mood to pick up an old favorite or a new trend. To improve focus while reading, it is recommended to pick what you are in the mood to read even if that requires bookmarking your current book.
Know When to Quit
Yes, it is controversial, but DNFing (did not finish) books is a healthy way to improve focus while reading. Not every book is going to wow you so it’s okay to let it go, donate to a library, and pick up one that you’d like to read.
Create a Book Club
Having a buddy to read with improves focus while reading and raises the accountability level. You can challenge each other to small reading games or review books with similar themes to enhance constructive thinking and build reading habits.
How to Focus While Reading Academic and Professional Books?
Reading books for school or work can be quite boring, especially for people who do not like to read. If you’re trying to go through the reading list for school and losing focus, here are some tips you can follow to improve attention and concentrate better on reading.
Regulate Your Sleep Habits
Work-life imbalances can affect the quantity and quality of your sleep. Make sure to sleep at least eight hours, wind down for the night, and relax. Health is wealth – feeling fatigued can increase loss in concentration so read when you have the energy, not when you have the time.
Understand Your Learning Style
Everyone has a different way of processing information. Maybe reading through a physical book is not your strong suit. If you learn best by hearing words aloud, try audiobooks. For people who prefer moving around while reading, try going through a few pages as a passenger on a car ride. If you’re a visual learner, you can try highlighting important notes or dividing the content into charts.
Divide the Time
Peter Drucker, an influential business management guru, provided a time management structure in his book, The Effective Executive. He emphasizes the fact that a 50-minute chunk of time set out for a single task is ideal for students and professionals. It should be uninterrupted and then followed by a 10-minute break to stretch.
Recall the Reading
Do you often find yourself reading a page from a book over and over again and it still seems like you haven’t read a word? Well, one way to tackle the lack of concentration is to recall what you’ve read previously. Go through the previous page, continue forward then relax and recall the concept. Make notes if needed.
Focus on One Task
Multitasking is not advised unless you’re listening to ambient music while reading. Complete all your schoolwork and send out all the emails after work then pick up the assigned book to read. This is more likely to engage your brain and retrain it to relax.
Hand On the Book
Also known as meta-guiding, running your finger on the book with your eyes is one of the most recommended ways to improve focus and speed while reading. This is mainly why it’s taught to preschoolers too.
Exercises to Improve Focus While Reading
In addition to the above tips, there are general guidelines to follow while reading books. Most of them are exercises as it helps jog the mind which ultimately improves concentration, attention, and focus. Some of them are described below:
Following time management methods like the Pomodoro Technique and Peter Drucker’s structure is important. Equally essential is what you do during your break. Practice deep breathing to ease stress, meditate to clear your mind, and declutter the fatigue by massaging your neck and hand.
Just like frowning uses more muscles than a smile, slouching takes more energy than sitting with your shoulders back. Always sit on a seat with back support and place your feet flat on the floor so the knees aren’t higher than your hips. For better posture, you can get a seat with a padded back.
One way to ensure you have a good night’s sleep is to power off (or at least stop using) your mobile phone and TV an hour before going to bed. The blue light emitted from the screen is designed to keep you alert.
The other nighttime habit for better concentration is to cut out caffeine before bed – even if you’ve scheduled a time to read. The extra boost of energy may mess up your natural sleep cycle.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I stop myself from getting distracted while reading?
The easiest and fastest way to hone your concentration while reading is to put in noise-canceling earplugs. Also, if you do work out, try picking up the book right after exercising.
How many hours can a human brain study?
Various studies over time on a human brain’s attention span, studying time, and academic regulations have reached an average consensus that a human brain can focus on a book for no longer than 90 minutes. It should be followed by a 10-minute break to reduce the risk of mental fatigue.
A human is a creature of habit. Everyone wants to do the right thing, but to do the thing right is how you can efficiently build better habits, especially ones that help you to focus while reading. Take breaks to breathe, and read to relax.