I put off reading things sometimes, because it’s just too hard. I procrastinate. I remember through school being forced to sit in a circle and read the school based Readers Digest. Then through High School English Literature being forced to read A Tale of Two Cities (My mind still sees/hears “A Tale of Two Titties”). I guess it’s put me off reading in detail, of analysing the prose, digesting it, contemplating it.
But in a busy world, we need to process information quickly; we need to assess the importance of information as quick as we can, to decide whether we want to digest it further. (Goodness it sounds like I’m going to eat it doesn’t it?)
But this skill can be used to assess email priorities, newsletters, meeting agenda etc. Now I’m not saying it replaces the actual digestion but it enables you to prioritise your reading time.
Some Simple Steps
Learn the art of scanning.
Our mind mature mind has the amazing ability to fill in the gaps. Just take those clever, crazy number plates or texting abbreviations that everyone likes to use. If you can teach your eye to float over sentences looking for key words, you’ll get the general gist or context of the information. Take a look at this text:
He knew the moment he walked into the singles bar it was a bad idea. If you’ve been to one singles bar, you’ve been to them all. Yet, it was the flaming red hair of the woman in the corner that caught his eye and only then did he realise how big his mistake was. Surely that wasn’t his brand new boss?
By just taking in the key words, you are allowing your brain to fill in the gaps. In fact, your eye can take in about 3 or 4cm so you don’t need to focus on each word at time, you are probably more likely to be able to take in up to 5 words. It’s really a way of engaging your peripheral vision more, it’s a soft eye technique (not to be confused with a lazy eye).
Read the first Line.
This is not my favourite technique but it is another good one. You can read the first few words of a paragraph and the last words or sentence. You can scan read headings of a document or email newsletter, it will give you the general idea.
Tell your internal voice to “Zip it!”
My primary years must be haunting me but I can remember having to read aloud, word for word, the contents of my book; a painful and embarrassing experience for some. Or I remember sitting in class, the teacher, beautifully and with such expression, reading the story with expression and poetic pause. And so, we become used to hearing the words, so much so, that reading to ourselves we have the voice dramatise the words on the page. Stop it, turn off the voice, hear it in a monotone or sequence of brief words, skip and jump across that page! You can do it! You can actually understand the words QUICKER than you can say them. If you want to luxuriate over the lusciousness of your prose, by all means, take your time but otherwise, silence that voice and jump on through it.
Follow the bouncing ball.
It’s not exactly a speed reading technique but it is a way of ensuring the reading process doesn’t slow down. If you find that you are reading something complex and it takes you a few times to read a sentence over and over, follow your reading with a pencil, book mark or ruler. It helps your eyes to focus on the words and not accidently read a line more than once. This is a good technique when you are required to study, understand or learn from the reading. I guess, one good kick back from those primary school reading years is the technique of reading with the ruler under the text.
I’m sorry, what? What did I just read? – Get rid of those distractions!
I once asked one of the most organised CEO’s that I knew, what were his techniques for staying on top of his work? One of the great tips he shared was that he would dedicate a whole day to reading. No phone calls, no meetings, no interruptions. He would use this time to read industry documents, meeting minutes etc. It was an economical use of his time but most importantly he eliminated the distractions. Don’t try and read something while watching TV! Just don’t.
So why am I here? Key word searches.
If you’re looking for a key point of information and you are reading in a digital format, then for the love of god, use the search function. A blog on a website, a pdf, they all enable you to search key words. Alternatively, allow your brain to be the search function and seek out key phrases, terms, words or terminology to help you pull out the key information rather than reading the whole document word for word.
Obviously these speed reading techniques are not something you should rest on rely on all the time, however it can give you the opportunity to quickly assess information to be able to prioritise your reading workload, or it can give you the opportunity to decide if the document you are about to read has some value or worth for you to read properly in full.
If you’ve found a good technique for speed reading, please share in the comments below.
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About the Author:
Barbara Clifford (The Time Tamer) is a Time Management Expert and Stress Management Practitioner based in Alice Springs, Australia. She has spent over 20 years working in stressful, time precious industries such as film, hospitality and marketing. She has always had a burning passion for making sense of things. She seeks knowledge around systems, processes, gadgets, apps and stationary for whatever will organise the working world. Barbara is sought after like a beacon in a sea of chaos to provide professional clarity. Barbara’s professional experience has included contracts with small business, Not For Profits, Aboriginal Organisations, Media, Marketing, Aged Care and Health Services. For more information visit www.timetamer.com.au or follow Barbara on twitter @barbclifford.