How to Read a 291-Page Book in Two Hours

If you’re like me, you like to read.

And you like to read a lot.

Some people might call you obsessed. [I get that all the time. No surprise since I try to read 100 books a year–and make it a challenge. My wife loves me for that.]

But it can be frustrating. Demands. Lack of time. Big books.

If that’s you, you’re not alone.

Like most determined and driven writers, professionals or students, you have a list of books the length of your arm. A list you want to finish by the end of the year.

Ambitious, but naive.

However, there’s a way to read more books in less time–and even catch up with the classics you’ve missed.

But I’m not talking about speed reading here. I’m talking about something different.

The Steps: Read Any Average-Sized Book in 2 Hours

Imagine you want to read Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick. Let’s also pretend you only have 2 hours.

Follow these steps to read this 291-page book in that time:

1. Determine your reading goal.Superficial? Inspectional? Analytical? All you really want to learn are the principles behind making ideas stick.

2. Skim the table of contents. The first 6 chapters of the bookcover the principles. You’ve also got an Epilogue, Acknowledgments, Notes and the Index.

3. Determine what you have to read. According to your goal, all you really have to read are the first 6 chapters.

4. Break the chapters down into time blocks.Since you only have 2 hours, spend only 20 minutes per chapter.

It’s a lot like runners who pace themselves during a race. They know to finish a ten mile race in 2 hours they need to run one mile every 12 minutes. The same principle can apply to reading.

Let me tell you why using this method is important.

Why Chapter Pacing Is Important

I like to call the method I just described “chapter pacing.” But why read this way?

If you don’t chapter pace, then you’ll end up spending 1 hour and 45 minutes on the first three chapters–but blazing through the rest.

The result: an imbalanced understanding of the book.

And frustration.

Chapter pacing eliminates the problem of imbalance and frustration. Why? It allows you to give the essential topics equal study.

More importantly, when you spend less time on scannable books, you have more time to crawl through the heavier ones.

When Not to Read This Way

This method wouldn’t work on James MacGregor Burn’s Leadership or Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Some books demand slow, careful reading–not skimming.

Nor would you read this way if you were trying to memorize something.

That’s obvious.

However, most contemporary business books like Made to Stick are heavy on ideas but light on content. They’re prime for the two faster styles of reading: superficial and skimming. As are any of the five usability books every web writer must read, except for Morville and Rosenfeld’s obviously.

What about an 84-page discourse on mortification of sin by a 17th Century theologian? Slow down. Absorb it.


Whenever you approach a book, determine your reading goals. Then plan your reading accordingly.

This way you can comprehend more in less time. And stockpile in your brain only the essential and important ideas.

So tell me, what do you think of chapter pacing? And share any tips or ideas or links you might have for speed reading.

Subscribe to CopyBot. Then follow me on Twitter.


  1. MCL says

    Wow! This really works! I applied your principles to this blog post and read the whole thing in 3.25 seconds. Awesome! Thank you so much!

  2. says

    Wow, I’ve never thought about reading this way. I don’t know if it’s for me, but I do believe it would help with having “an imbalanced understanding of the book,” something I noticed I experienced while reading fiction, but that I never…thought out and pinpointed as you did.

    And I *do* actually have a link to help people read faster. It’s a speed reading exercise by Eyercize.

  3. says

    You know Demian, I’ve been doing this already, I just didn’t know it or call it that. At present, I have a bit of a commute. So I like to stop by the bookstore on the way home and pick up something to read. I write while I’m there and drink coffee. But I love reading something new and fresh. I”ll grab a handful of books and just sit and read.

    Sometimes I cheat and don’t get through the whole book (it’s either not what I expected or I feel like I already know what’s being discussed). But for the ones I do like and want to get through, I find a way to pace myself through the chapters :-)

  4. says

    This is an awesome way to learn to read smarter, especially for slower readers (like me :D). But as a writer trying to better herself, do you think this is a good way to help improve language usage and improve writing in general? Or would sticking to the slow and steady pace be better in this case?

    Thanks for awesome content – loving your site:)

  5. Esther says

    I just came upon this blog and am very interested in trying out this method. I am curious as to how you apply this with chapters of differing lengths. Some chapters may be, say, 10 pages, while others may be 20 pages. How do you calculate time to spend on each and still obtain a balanced understanding of the book?

    • says

      Great question. I was struggling with this very issue this weekend on a book that had several short chapters and then a REALLY long chapter. And the problem was that long chapter was very important. So I basically had to slow way down to absorb that chapter.

      In your case I would try to pace per number of pages in the entire book. For example, if the book is 200 pages broken down into 7 chapters of varying length, then break the book down into 10 sections of 20 pages each. Does that make sense?