How Successful People Read Online

how successful people read onlineIn the last year I’ve thought a lot about how people in our society take in information.

We get most of our information from reading. The problem is that we retain almost none of that information due to how shallowly we read, not to mention that there’s a collective lack of follow-up and repetition.

  • Reading a ton of tabs +  shallow skimming of text + no repetition or follow-up = unproductive online reading habits.

In 1958 a guy named George Millner wrote a paper called The Magic Number Seven – Plus or Minus 2. You can read the paper here. The name of the paper refers to how much (little) information our short-term memory can store: only 5-9 bits of data per second.

This means that we can’t keep more than 5-9 things in our heads in the short-term (ca 30 seconds). You can test this yourself here.

What are the Implications?

Since most of us take in a ton of information from many different sources every day, this means that we are wasting time reading online. We think we’re being productive, but we’re really not.

It doesn’t matter if you consume a ton of great information if you can’t remember it and use it to your advantage when you need to.

But fear not friends, all hope is not lost.

Reading online isn’t an inherently useless or inefficient activity, it’s just that the way most of us do it must change.

My Generation has been Ruined by the Internet

I go to university.

I see many people in my generation ignoring the professor during class to scroll for notifications on Facebook, check forums, or skim useless news sites.

They’re disrespecting themselves by not valuing their time.

What’s the point of going to class if you’re not going to pay attention?


It’s a waste of time. And it’s a weak and haphazard way of conducting your life.

You either go to class and take the responsibility of becoming fully engaged, or you spend your time doing something else. Don’t be haphazard about it. Don’t go to class from a sense of moral obligation.

Go there because you’re going to learn, and use that time to the best of your abilities. Ask all the question’s you’d like to. Squeeze as much information as possible out of that class.

But, most people my age don’t understand this, and they’ve got another even bigger problem. They simply cannot handle using the Internet responsibly.

In group work they routinely interrupt their workflow to check social media or watch YouTube videos, completely oblivious to what it does to their concentration.

They’re mindlessly searching for useless information and entertainment, and their cravings never stop.

Their cravings only get worse.

Many of them would be better off smoking crack than having an Internet connection.

So, this is obviously an example of what you don’t want to do.

But what is the right way to go about reading online?

How do successful people read online?

What do they do differently from the masses?

How Do Successful People Read Online?

For starters, they are very selective in what they will and won’t read. There are three things in particular that successful people do:

  • 1. Successful people are very selective in their online reading.  Successful people have trained themselves to filter out useless information to a higher extent than ordinary people. They avoid forums where the signal to noise ratio is low and trustworthy information is tough to find.
  • 2. Successful people preemptively set deadlines for how long they will read online to avoid Parkinson’s Law. They know how easy it is to get swept away and drown in fascinating information if they don’t have a time limit for how long they allow themselves to sit by the computer.
  • 3. Successful people read with the end goal in mind. This stands in opposition to the norm of casually reading or browsing for stimulating news stories. Successful people read to solve problems or fulfill goals. They direct their reading at a purpose. They don’t read for entertainment’s sake or to kill time. They don’t fall for the temptation of reading a compelling headline if it doesn’t seem related to what they’re specifically trying to accomplish.

Everyone knows about number 1.

Some people make use of number 2.

But how many people actually abide by number 3?

What Do Successful People Do Differently from the Masses?

What is it that differs between ordinary and successful people when it comes to reading online?

If we are to believe Nick Carr, author of The Shallows, we easily get distracted by hyperlinks whilst reading online.

Successful people understand and respect this phenomenon. They have strict principles that they abide by when it comes to reading online.

Successful people keep their impulses to click on irrelevant hyperlinks in check by finishing what they started before reading something new.

They do this because they know that if they begin the process it can be very hard to stop – taking them further and further away from the initial problem they set out to solve.

I call this entering hoarding mode.

Successful people avoid entering hoarding mode at all costs.

The Online Behavior of Successful People

You could sum up the online behavior by successful people in one word – responsible.

In addition to having a responsible Internet behavior, successful people consistently do three things to get the most out of what they read:

  • 1. They leave comments to connect with similar-minded people. Successful people know that there is little to lose, but much to gain by commenting on good posts.

You never know what sparking up an initial interaction may lead to. Successful people understand this and don’t fear being the first to comment on interesting posts. Ordinary people are afraid to go first, they need someone to follow.

  • 2. They write down key points and summaries. Successful people know about the weakness of their short-term memory and therefore don’t trust their brains to store all the useful information that they take in. As a result they have formed the habit of jotting down the key takeaways. Perhaps in their commonplace book.
  • 3. They implement and practice the key points. Successful people know that despite having already written down the key points, they might still not remember it. So they seek to put the information to practice as soon as possible and measure its efficiency.  This is a really fundamental difference between successful people and ordinary people because it prevents the former group from reaching a state of information overload and experiencing decision anxiety.

These three things have one thing in common:

They raise the degree of mental investment put into learning the new information.

This has the effect of making the information more memorable, and it also gets perceived as more important.

It’s simple really, the more time, effort, and emotion we invest in something the more important it will be perceived to be by the brain.

This is why depth is the way to go about online reading. Not breadth.

Key Takeaways

Stop consuming unnecessary information.

What isn’t put to practice is waste.

Drop your online hoarding habits

Develop a responsible Internet behavior by not keeping too many tabs up at once and avoiding the temptation of clicking all the compelling hyperlinks.

Don’t read more than you can use, or you will start suffering from information overload.

Begin with the end in mind and conduct your online reading to solve a problem or fulfill a goal. Don’t aimlessly browse social networks or blogs to kill time, because it quickly becomes a negative habit.

Don’t trust your short-term memory. Write down the key takeaways and implement it in your life as soon as you can. invest in a whiteboard and write down the key takeaways so that you’re reminded to act on it ASAP.

Over to you

I leave you with the wisdom of Uncle Ben from Spiderman:

With great power comes great responsibility.

The question is whether people can act responsibly or not…

What are your online reading habits like?


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  1. I think whether is it right in this sentence or not? ‘Successful people have trained themselves to filter out useless information to a higher extent than ordinary people. They avoid forums where the signal to noise ratio is high and trustworthy information is tough to find.’
    High signal to noise should be better than lower.
    Would be that right? Thanks for your fantastic share.

  2. Thomas Enstrom says

    Gee, I hope I remember all this stuff along with the framework for learning stuff. These exhaustive articles can really be exhausting, especially at 2:30 in the morning. (-o-)

  3. “Many of them would be better off smoking crack than having an Internet connection.”

    Great line.

  4. This post inspired me to comment. I never comment on blog or anywhere else for that matter.
    I’m a long time lurker on internet and I think it’s about time to start contributing to forums and blog posts, since all I ever did was take value and not giving anything in return. Thank you Ludvig.

  5. Hi Ludvig,
    I found your site through Bold & Determined, and this post is solid gold.
    I always thought I understood the power of taking notes, and then taking action on those learnings but is really sums it up perfectly.
    In fact, I have taken a page of notes based on your post and I’m going to put this into action right away.
    So that’s enough reading for today; going to put down the iPad and do something productive.
    – Luke

  6. Thank you a great article, exploring very useful ideas. You motivated and inspired me a lot, made me trust my opinions and thoughts cause that is also my personal beliefs you are exploring here.

  7. This with other posts on your Blog ( like the ones about common placing) have changed how I browse the internet once I implemented them.. I retain a lot more since I now block off 3-4 hours once a week to read and take notes (Thanks Feedly and Pocket) which I act upon more (Implementation with a purpose). when I’ve applied this to all my reading habits I find I’m executing more and reading less low-quality books,websites. Thanks Ludvig!!!

  8. Stephanie Somers says

    Amazing insight. I am much shamed by this because online and off I am a braggart about my terrific breadth of reading. I always have at least eight tabs open and I am a hyperlink-following fool. I recognize, upon reading this article (I followed the hyperlink from the Reading effectively article) that I am doing myself a disservice with my online reading habits. Thank you for this post and I look forward to being much improved by the reading and application of your writings. Keep up the good work!

  9. Walt @ Found Success says

    You make a valid point, but I don’t think you should always read only “key takeaways” or “skim to the important parts”. Sometimes the additional content helps amplify the actual message what the author is trying to push on.

    PS! You’re the only other active blogger who has put Streamline into a good use, kudos! I was debating for quite a time between OJ/Blue/Green and green would’ve had been perfect if it just wouldn’t be so ..bland – but you put it to perfect use.


    • Thanks Walt. I noticed you are also using Streamline, but pretty much how it comes originally.

      I am somewhat happy with how the blog looks right now. (I will fix a few things when it becomes a good investment of time.)

  10. Jeremy Truvillion says


    Good post. I agree with most of the points you made here.

  11. Well I’ve really pondered over what successful people read and after research, I’ve shared it in my blog. Thanks for your comment, there, by the way. But… I have also thought like how they read? How successful people gather information? And this of your post tells the details of how the readings goes on in a successful mind. Thanks so much for meaningful words.

    After reading this post, I’m committed:

    1) Not to read any unncessary information

    2) To stay updated with the world’s must-know events

    3) To record what’s worth-getting-back at. [I do it through book-marking though]

    4) To increase connecting with like-minded people (like you)

    Thanks so much for lessons again :)

    Looking more from you

    • Abdul,
      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad what you took away from the post were the most important things!

      As for “the world’s must-know events”, that seems to me like a highly arbitrary/individual concept, but for sure you know what it means to you better than I do.

      • Yeah, Ludvig, the world’s must-knowe events is highly personalized. It’s totally upto someone’s own mind and aptitude. Thanks for your comments.

  12. Wow,the most beneficial article i’ve read in days,it’s time to let go of bad internet use habits…thanks ;-)

  13. You make some great points. It seems like being a more active reader would make your online experience better. You can’t just passively read things that don’t add much value to your life. I know that there have been times I’ve clicked on a link through Facebook and realized half way through the article that I really wasn’t getting much out of it – it was just a way to waste time. It bugs me when that happens. I’d rather take an active approach to my online reading and make all that effort worthwhile.

    I guess that goes with what you said about having an end goal in mind. That’s probably a good idea overall online and not just with reading. I know too many people who spend hours watching cat videos or playing casual games like Candy Crush. Those can suck up so much time. I’d rather not start with them since I know I have so many other things to do.

    • Steve,
      I share your opinion on just about everything you said.

      When it comes to Facebook and social media the best solution I’ve found is to ask myself “Ok, Ludvig… What will you accomplish on Facebook? Who will you send a message?” Then I go in and I do that and get out as quickly as I can — before I get sucked into looking at people’s photos and such..

  14. Great post, Ludvig!
    I have been browsing a lot of blogs of this sort lately, but with no real plan for incorporating the new information into my life.
    I now take notes to summarize the main points of every post I read. In addition to coming up with concrete ideas of how to implement what I have learned, it will also force me to be more selective with what I choose to read because of the increased effort I must put into each article.
    Good job man, best wishes.

    • Darien,
      That’s exactly what it’s all about. Like you say, you’ll use it better when you commit/invest into it.

      You’ll read a lot more selectively and find that you don’t waste time as much as before. No longer reading for the sake of reading/boredom because you now hold yourself to a higher standard.

  15. Awesome post Ludvig!

  16. This is something that has crossed my mind as well. For my upcoming ebook – it’s about productivty in spite of lack of motivation – that I’m writing as much for myself as anyone else, I decided to make my first chapter “Don’t Kill Time” because the implication made is that time is something invaluable, something to be wasted, while it is your most valuable – and can even be argued to be the only real – currency. One thing you always nail is guiding people to using it for growing, instead of just letting it waste away.

    I’ve been focusing on reading about and watching talks about philosophy and psychology as a substitute for my previous wasteful TV Watching, and I’m even finding myself more entertained and engaged, instead of less.

    Then there’s my reading of personal development and other kinds of blogs. I have gotten better at narrowing down what I read, but I definitely need to start setting deadlines for how long I should read(or watch).

    Another thing I will start doing is to repeat and summarize for retention, and outlining what can be done to harness the knowledge in my own life.

    I already comment, and I spend time interpreting the material in the post or article so that I can formulate relevant ideas, or questions. Something that probably helps with retention, although sometimes it can go a bit overboard in time expenditure department.

    My end goals are, expanding my knowledge about the human psyche as part of developing myself as a writer and marketer. With philosophy and personal development it’s about developing on a personal level, getting a broader perspective and learning how to deal with emotions and situations better.

    • Ragnar,
      Way to go buddy. And as far as commenting goes, you are the man, and I could learn a thing of two from you.

      As for time…Time is precious, and it serves us right when we forget it. We have no one but ourselves to blame when we become disconnected from what truly matters in life. And that’s tough to face for some people.

  17. “Many of them would be better off smoking crack than having an Internet connection.”

    I really hope you get famous so one day this can be one of your quotes.

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