How to Read Books When You Have ADHD.

book-1760993_640“I have a lot of books on my bookcase, the problem is I stop halfway through and never finish them”

Does this sound familiar?

Don’t worry, it is not just you!  I have been hearing those words every week for the last 12 years since I became an ADHD coach.

ADHDers have an enthusiasm for learning, which gives you a passion for life, makes you fascinating company and one of the reasons why you seem much younger than your biological years.

There are many ways to gather information including,watching TV, attending lectures, listening to podcasts and surfing websites. However, there is something compelling about books. They are affordable, allow you to do dive deep into any topic and learn from the greatest minds in the world today and throughout history.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  Dr. Seuss

Not everyone with ADHD enjoys reading, and that is totally ok. This article isn’t trying to convince you to start reading.  Instead, this is for ADHDers who genuinely love reading books but feel guilty when they keep starting books and not finishing them.

Reading can be logistically hard when you have ADHD. Some people stop to daydream and others find their eyes moving from word to word but haven’t understood what they have read. Yet even with these challenges you find ways around this and are compelled to read books.

Like many things with ADHD, your reading style might not be consistent.

You might be able devour some books at a record breaking speed.

Yet rather than celebrate finishing those books, it makes you feel worse because you wonder why you can’t always do that.

There was probably something innately interesting to you about those books that captured your attention. Whether it was Harry Potter, War and Peace (one of my clients recently read this 587,287 word novel) or Keith Richard’s autobiography ‘Life,’ it was able to grab and maintain your interest.

That type of interest is different to the logical interest of ‘I have ADHD and so it would make sense for me to read this book about it.’

Your interest level will vary from book to book.

The Traditional Way to Read a Book

The traditional way to read a book is to pick it up and read it from start to finish. Then, when you reach the end, start a new one.

For ADHD readers this method doesn’t work and ends up making your feel bad about yourself. You might think to yourself, ‘Just something else I have started but couldn’t finish.’

Your mind doesn’t work in a linear, methodical way.

Some people’s minds do, and that is why they can read books cover to cover and can also follow instruction manuals  step by step.

ADHDers’ strength is gathering information from lots of different sources (books) and linking the information up in unique and novel ways.

Neither way is right or wrong. It’s just very different. It’s our differences that make the world interesting.

Game Changer!

You don’t have to read books cover to cover!

An ADHD Way to Approach Reading Books

There is a profound little book called ‘The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results’ by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The concept is if you focus on ONE thing and take action on it,  rather than scattering your focus and attention, you will experience  exceptional results.

The ONE thing can be applied to all concepts, big and small.  From your life’s mission, to what action to take at work this week. Throughout the day you can ask yourself ‘what is my one thing?’ For example, what is the ONE thing I am going to take action on after attending the meeting?

We are going to use the ONE thing principle and apply it to reading books.

For each book you started to read (you don’t need to finish it), ask yourself “What is the ONE thing I learned and am going to take action on?’

Implementation is how lives are changed. It is much more powerful to read part of book and apply a change in your life, than read the whole book and carry on with life as usual.

My guess is, when you lose interest in a book, it’s because you have discovered your ONE thing. You got the information that inspired you to pick up the book and now are moving on to your next thing.

Recently I started to read “Deep Work. Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” by Cal Newport. After reading 28% of the book I changed my morning routine. Rather than checking my email at 6am (while still in bed), I get up, drink my glass of water (see below!) and start writing. Since I have been doing this, I have become much more productive.  I am sure the other 72% of the book is fascinating; however, I don’t feel bad for not reading it.  I have my one life changing thing.

Back in January 2014, I bought Cameron Diaz’s book ‘The Body Book’. It is a beautiful hardback book full of inspiration and solid facts. Cameron describes how she starts her morning with a liter of water. That sounded like a good idea, so I began to start my mornings like that too. Fast forward to today, nearly 3 years later, it is hardwired in my morning routine.

This habit started before I discovered The ONE thing concept.  I did feel guilty for not implementing more of her suggestions. Now that guilt has been removed! I am happy that as a result of reading that book, I have one new healthy habit.

Systematize your ONE Thing

There is a certain satisfaction that comes from finishing a book. When you started reading a new book, you have subconsciously set yourself a goal… to finish it. Even though you are using the ONE thing method, you might feel a little incomplete.

This is why systematizing your ONE thing is important.

This idea came from Megan, a guest on Hal Elrod’s podcast. Megan explained she keeps track of all the books she reads in a spreadsheet. Each time she finishes a book she adds it to her spreadsheet, along with the ONE thing she is going to implement. With each new entry she reviews the list. If she isn’t implementing her ONE thing, she goes back and rereads the book.

What an awesome idea!

Let’s tweak Megan’s system to make it ADHD friendly.

  1. Create a Word or Google document to track your books if spreadsheets fill you with fear.
  2. You don’t need to read the whole book. Write down your ONE thing from the part of the book you did read.
  3. Review the document weekly, to keep the ideas fresh in your mind.
  4. If you find that you stopped implementing your ONE thing, go back to the book and either continue reading where you had left off or  reread the part that you already read.

Volia! 

You have a whole new way to approach reading. It is very liberating.

Are you going to try the ONE thing approach to reading? Let me know in the comments below.

p.s. If you would like to listen to Megan Lyons on Hal’s podcast, here is the link

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Comments

  1. Hi, I have adult AD/HD mostly HD. I was diagnosed when I was 18 years old. I read Christian books and I really enjoy them but can’t seem to finish them. I still buy many books and consider them as reference books. What about reading a novel? Wouldn’t mind reading Agatha Christie mysteries but they are like 200 plus pages. Tips on novels?

  2. This was very helpful. Thank you for the tips! I am a book junkie and finish very few of them. I love learning the new information but get overwhelmed very fast trying adopt and apply everything I have read. I love this approach and need to start breaking things down into chunks.

  3. Rob says:

    I thought your post was excellent.

    In my case during the work day I have a tremendous amount of reading to do in my field of healthcare research. Needless to say it is often and endurance test in terms of maintaining focus.

    Your systematic approach to applying the ‘One Thing’ is very helpful. Intuitively I use the ‘Pareto principle’ in managing my work and this is a great tool I can use.

    Thank you

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