I am especially passionate about reading. The biggest problem I have in relation to reading is the vast material that is available. There is so much I must read (emails, for instance) and even more that I want to read. I stay up with several blogs online, and I am usually reading at least one book at any given time (often, more than one), and that doesn’t count the Bible and other spiritual reading that occupies the singular level of MITs (Most Important Things) that I try to prioritize every day.
The vast amount of reading material available combined with my hunger for knowledge makes for a recipe of frustration because of my inability to partake of more books. I have only so much time, and I can read only so fast. Or can I? What about speed reading? I see these prodigies in the movies that can speed read a book in a matter of minutes, and I am flush with envy (even though I’m not sure what they do is really possible). So, it’s no surprise that I came across this headline on the web last week and immediately devoured it: How and Why You Should Learn Speed Reading. This article preaches the ease with which anyone can increase their reading speed by 2, 3, even 4 times as fast! I’m in! What do I need to buy?
As it turns out, I only needed to invest $0.99 in an app called Rapid Reading. I took the plunge, and I have already done my first drill. There’s an upgraded, pricier version available, as well ($4.99), and who knows? I may invest in that one, too. First, I’ll thoroughly test the cheap version.
Regardless of any claims, speed reading is not a trick that you learn, it is a skill that you—are you ready?—practice. Just like any other skill, reading faster requires practice. How, exactly, do you practice reading faster? Following are a couple of suggestions from The Productivity Handbook by Donald E. Wetmore:
- Use your index finger as a pacer. In other words, as you read, use your finger to “underline” the line you are reading. Your eyes will be inclined to follow the finger, and so will help you focus better, as you are fixated on the printed page. The claim is that this one tactic will raise your rate almost immediately.
- Practice “reading pushup drills.” Just like trotting around in ankle weights for a few minutes would give you a sense of being light on your feet after removing them and, thus, make you run faster (at least momentarily), so is the effect of “reading pushups.” To do this, Wetmore suggests setting a timer for a couple of minutes and read at a comfortable pace with the goal of good comprehension (use your finger as a pacer as you read). That’s the warm-up. Next, set the timer for five minutes, and using your finger as a pacer, read at twice the speed as before. Don’t go so fast that the words are a blur, but do read fast enough to create an overload of words coming at you. After five minutes, take a short break, then return to the material again and do another two-minute reading. Did you get any faster? Probably. By stretching yourself in the middle drill, you increased your capacity. Do this often enough, and you should increase your overall reading rate.
I have begun using my finger as a pacer in all my reading, especially in reading that I don’t particularly enjoy—that is, in a book that looked good, but turns out to be a real dud. The duds are particularly good for practicing “speed reading” because I am not so concerned about comprehension. And I find that even in the duds, I still find a little nugget or two.
There is another school of thought on ingesting lots of reading material. The one already mentioned is about reading more words per minute. That is the typical meaning of speed reading. I only came across the second school of thought this week in the book, Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours by Robert C. Pozen. Mr. Pozen’s ideas are quite a different approach to taking in a lot of reading material. He says, “Don’t try to read more words per minute; increase your speed by reading fewer words—the ones most relevant to your goals.” He illustrates by sharing his morning reading routine, which includes reading four newspapers before leaving for work. When I read that (his morning reading routine), I was awestruck—and hopeless. I’ll never be able to do that, I thought. But then he shared the details.
As he said, you have to know why you’re reading whatever you’re reading, know how it is relevant to your goals. And he is very clear about his goals (he writes about professional goals earlier in the book). He reads the Wall Street Journal because, overall, it is pertinent to his work. He reads the Boston Globe to keep current on Massachusetts politics and to follow the Boston sports teams. He reads the New York Times to learn about national politics. And he reads the London Financial Times for its coverage of international issues.
With those purposes clearly defined:
- He reads ONLY the front pages of the Boston Globe and the first page of the Metro section. He briefly reviews the sports section. Check! One down, three to go.
- He looks at the front pages of the New York Times, skims through the rest of section A for stories that might be interest to him, and he reads the editorial page. Check!
- Then he moves on to the Wall Street Journal. He reads the summary blurbs on the front page and then the whole articles of the subjects of interest. He also reads the editorial page. Check!
- Finally, moving on to the Financial Times, he reads the editorial page for its diverse perspective on international topics. Check! And Done!
Granted, that’s still a lot of reading, but it’s nothing like I envisioned when I first read the statement about him reading four newspapers before leaving for work. This philosophy is doable. The issue I immediately identify, as far as I am concerned, is that it would take a lot of restraint for me to read that way. That is, I would inevitably get sidetracked by interesting headlines, gossipy celebrity news, and other such inconsequential stories that will add no value to my life. So even though this is a doable philosophy, it is not without its challenges. But the main thing is that it does present another way of taking in a lot of written material—or better put, a way to read a diverse amount of material, to increase your knowledge base without being swallowed up in a mountain of papers and books. Instead of “speed reading,” I would call this “selective reading.”
Mr. Pozen has an entire chapter in his book on reading efficiently (fast) and effectively (comprehension). Bear in mind, that his tips are targeted towards business and/or educational reading. Stipulating to that fact, let me pass on some of his tips.
- First, get an idea of the structure of the book/article. Know how it begins and ends. Read the Table of contents. In articles, glance at the headings throughout the piece.
- In one study, subjects that read the text with headings were able to read faster and were able to retain more than those who skipped over the headings. According to Pozen, headings are critical for understanding a document.
- Read the introduction and the conclusion first. Why? Because then you know where the writer is going, and it is easier to follow him/her. This idea (reading the conclusion first) was the most enlightening point for me. Since I have totally bought in to the concept of “beginning with the end in mind,” this makes perfect sense to me.
- Skim the tops of the paragraphs. Skimming allows you to zero in on what’s most important to you and skip the rest.
- To actively skim the body of an article or chapter, you should read the top of each paragraph. Then decide if it is worth your time to read the rest of the paragraph.
So you can see that Pozen’s idea of reading a lot is really about reading less, being more selective in your reading, whereas the author of the first article I referenced is all about reading more words per minute.
Which Method Is Best?
I’m going to put both methods into practice. As stated, I have already begun using my finger as a pacer when I read. I can tell that my speed has increased, though I cannot say how much, because I did not measure my reading speed before I started practicing this tactic. For your own information, you might want to take a quick test online to determine your reading rate. Just type “speed reading test” in your browser’s search engine; there will be lots of returns. And just so you know, the average reading rate is about 250 words per minute.
As for Pozen’s selective reading style, I have started using that method, as well. Just this week, I received a trade magazine in the mail. I have a bad habit of setting these aside for “later.” Needless to say, I have a stack that has never been read—nor touched since the day it was added to the stack. Encouraged by Pozen’s suggestions, I flipped through the magazine, read a couple of brief articles, even typed one suggestion that I read into the appropriate Evernote file for easy retrieval, and then trashed the magazine. Quite an accomplishment for a repetitive stacker!
If you are serious about improving your reading speed and comprehension, you will also benefit from this article that I came across when doing some research for this article: How To Learn Speed Reading.
Just curious… Which method of reading appeals most to you: speed reading or selective reading? Do you love to read, or is it just a necessity? As always, I love reading your comments!