Today I want to share with you some key traits to dramatically save your time and become a better you. Think about it; what do you spend a majority of time doing? Wouldn’t you say writing and reading are two major components of life as we know it? Let’s even use a tiny estimate: say, you could shave off one hour each day by being able to write and read faster. That’s 365 hours a day. 365 hours you potentially could spend on something else that matters to you; hours you could excel at work, precious hours you could spend with family and friends, hours you could do whatever.
This is the first of a two-part series in becoming a more efficient reader and writer — two components that comprise substantial parts of our lives. Here I will cover essential tricks to become a more efficient reader.
Why Read Faster
Bill Gates has shared that if he had one superpower, it would be the ability to read faster. And Warren Buffet has claimed that he has “wasted ten years reading slowly”. Time is the utmost vital and limited commodity that we have, and learning how to read faster and more effective can save you dozens of hours per year, even hundreds.
Approximately one-third of a human life is spent working; that’s about 25–30 years! (I hope however that you fall in the lower section of this average, because do remember that one of the main regrets people express as they approach the end is that they wished they worked less). Anyways, so let’s say 25 years spent working. 25 years. That’s 9,125 days; 219,000 hours; 788,400,000 seconds. Being able to increase efficiency by 10% would equal a whopping 912 days! Obviously you don’t read the whole day at work, but you get my point. And you would likely read quite a bit on your spare time as well.
Importantly, this 10% increase would not mean that you would have to increase your effort by 10%, but simply that you gain the right techniques and habits to read faster. As easy as that.
A Personal Note Regarding Speed Reading
You might feel pessimistic about the merits of speed reading at first. I get you, and I felt the same way at first, especially as there’s a lot of bogus artciles online with ubsustantiated claims. Anyways, let me tell you how I approached it and learned to read faster.
Back in the army, about 7 years ago, I did an extracurricular course called “Learn how to Learn”. There we were taught interesting and somewhat unconventional reading and writing strategies that has had an immense impact on my life ever since. And some of these are what I want to share with you today.
In fact, one of the main reasons why I was successful at university while having numerous big responsibilities in various committees, charities, organizations and more, was because of my reading strategies. And the same is true for my current startup endeavours.
Behold that what I’m proposing here is not going be to some kind of magic that will immediately turn you into a reading machine. However, it will definitely increase your speed. But, as with everything else in life we want to improve upon, it takes practice.
Start By Understanding Your Current Speed
To start off you begin by grasping your current speed. According to a speed reading test sponsored by Staples, the average reading speed of an adult is 300 words per minute. To figure out what your reading speed is, take their official test. Remember to be honest to yourself and read at your normal pace.
Where to Learn
It’s very likely that you’re not some kind of savant with photo identic memory who can breeze through an encyclopedia in matter of minutes and memorize it all. In fact, studies have show that for many, 500 words per minute is the peak where retention starts to slip heavily due to the difficulty of processing the visual information given the mechanical process of moving our eyes (using a pointer might help with this though, which I talk about later in this article).
Anyways, just remember that if your normal pace is 300 wpm and you increase it to 330, then that’s already the 10% increase I talked about earlier!
You can take a free speed reading courses online, or you can use technology such as Spritz to increase your speed. I personally use Spreeder occassionally. What I do there is copying in content and then reading it through their speedreading software, which works like a charm for an easily-distracted soul like myself.
However, at first I would recommend you simply try to increase your speed slightly and follow the tips in the subsequent paragraphs. Deal with the software and apps at a later stage.
The Subvocalization Bullsh*t
I remember having read long time ago about getting rid of my own subvocalization — the inner voice in your head that speaks the words out loud in your mind when you’re reading. I practised removing it for ages and it did help with the speed of reading, however, it came at the cost of losing comprehension. The fact is that even professional speed readers do subvocalize — they just do it faster. So don’t waste your time spending hours upon hours trying to do this, like I did.
Type of Content & Setting Dictates Speed
No matter what you do, know that the type of content you are reading also dictates the speed you should use. Reading a dense academic paper? Better sacrifice some speed in order to comprehend more. Reading a casual blog? Then speed it up!
At first have your own sessions for speed reading. I mean, don’t go about and try speed reading just because you have an exam tomorrow and you have procrastinated for way too long. That’s bound to fail. Because when you’re speed reading, you’re stretching your normal reading speed and inevitably at first your mind might wander — thinking about how well you’re reading, whether it’s fast enough. As such, you’re comprehension is bound to take a big hit.
What you instead have to do is to build up a habit over time of reading faster. Because the thing is, you’re capable of reading much faster than what you do today. It’s just that you — and most of us — have gotten the habit of reading at the same speed as we would if we had talked the words out loud.
Know What You Want
There are many other useful techniques for reading that you can use while maintaining the comprehension of what you’re reading. To know what you want out of a text before you read it helps prime your brain to pay attention to specific words or phrases. This also ensures you slow down at parts of the text that requires your full focus.
Related to knowing what you want out of the text is skimming. Skimming is where we selectively pick up parts of information and quickly move over non-essential content. This technique can be very powerful, and studies have shown that selective skimming before reading a text improves comprehension substantially.
Use a Pointer
As our eyes are constantly moving as we read, having a finger or pen to stabilize those quivers will help you stay focused and on track; especially at higher speeds because your eyes struggle without having anything to help guide them.
This might feel uncomfortable or annoying at first, but it is bound to bear fruits in the end. You just need to give yourself some time to adjust. Then, as you improve, you can begin moving your pointer faster and faster.
Expand Your Peripheral Vision
Tim Ferriss, has stated that an average reader who reads from the very first word to the last word of each and every line only use 50% or less of their peripheral vision. Let me explain this better through a short exercise:
- Find some content to read, use your pointer to track and follow a relatively fast pace. Start with the second word and end at the second last word on each line. Do this for a few minutes.
- Now, repeat the process but begin 3 words in and end at the third last word on each line.
- From thereon challenge yourself to increase the pace, and challenge yourself to begin at the 4th word.
Don’t worry if you comprehend little now. That’s why at first you should separate speed reading practice and your normal reading. But you should notice relatively quickly that you really are not using all of your peripheral vision.
Enjoy What You Read
Even the savviest readers will face difficulties if what they read truly bores them. However, try to become more optimistic about the topic at hand. Think about the positive results it can have in your life in the future, and know that whatever you’re reading it is likely to benefit you in some way or another.
Overall, you can start improving your reading speed and start absorbing information faster. And do remember, improving your reading speed comes with great benefits, including saving time, being more productive, and becoming a faster learner in all aspects of your life. Who wouldn’t want that?
So that concludes today’s post. Have you tried these tips to improve your reading speed before? Which one of them worked for you, and which one didn’t? And do you have any other tips on reading faster but maintain comprehension?
Stay tuned for the second part of this two-part series, that deals with writing more efficiently. Also, in some future blog posts I will cover various other reading techniques, such as the SQ3R and more. So be sure to hang around or subscribe to get updated on the latest.