The world is filled with words: books, memos, e-mails, contracts, newspapers, websites, magazines, newsletters, and catalogs are only a few places with words to be read. Unfortunately, most people only have time to read a fraction of the words demanding their attention. There are six techniques, however, to help you make the most of your time by increasing your reading speed, efficiency, and comprehension.
Don’t Read If You Don’t Have To
Much of your reading may be unnecessary and can be eliminated by prioritizing what you read. By forgoing joke e-mails, catalogs you don’t purchase from, meeting minutes that don’t influence your job, and optional newsletters you don’t really need, you greatly reduce your reading pile. This leaves more time to devote to necessary articles, messages, and other reading tasks. While your reading speed may not be increased overall, you will get through the pile faster because you’ve automatically made it smaller.
Create A Reading Environment
Just as you wouldn’t install a flat-screen television or video game system in the office because they are distractions, you should create a reading space free from distractions. Computer games, e-mail messages, television shows, and household chores all detract from reading time and slow your progress. To reduce these distractions, read in a quiet space away from the computer and entertainment center, and delegate other family members to help with chores. Use technology to your advantage by letting voice mail or the answering machine catch incoming calls, and hang a do-not-disturb sign on the door to minimize interruptions. Your reading environment should also be comfortable because if you are too warm or too cold you will be unable to focus on your reading.
Internal distractions slow your reading speed even further. Many people’s minds wander while reading, especially if the material doesn’t grab their interest immediately. Keep the noise level low while reading to prevent your mind from focusing on other sounds that can override your internal reading dialogue. A notepad is a necessary tool to have nearby while reading because you can jot down any reminders that pop into your head without hunting for paper or endlessly repeating them to yourself so you don’t forget.
Understand Why You Need To Read
Before you begin reading, you should know why you’re choosing to read each piece of material. Do you need a quick summary of the selection? Is there one question you need to answer? Will you have to relay this information to others? If you know what to look for when you read, you will also know when you’ve found it and can stop reading as soon as you’ve accomplished your purpose. When determining why you need to read something, you may discover that you don’t need to read it at all!
Skimming is a valuable technique for faster reading. If you do not need detailed information, you can quickly read key words, bold type, or headings in search of the main idea or specific answer to your question. This allows you to skip irrelevant parts of the text and finish reading the material faster. Skimming is also valuable if you need a summary without discussing the finer nuances of the piece, because when you skim you read the most important phrases without fretting over the details.
Read Before You Read
Previewing material may seem to add time to your reading instead of increasing your speed, but it will actually help you prepare for reading the piece by becoming familiar with the topic, format, and main idea before you delve into the details. To preview, read through the piece quickly, focusing on headings, lists, captions, tables, pulled quotes, first and last sentences of paragraphs, and any bold or italicized text. These are typically the most important items, and just reading these may provide enough of a general idea that you can skim or even skip reading the rest of the material. When previewing, don’t be afraid to pull out a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words this will keep you from interrupting in-depth reading later.
Pace Your Reading
By pacing your reading, you control how quickly your brain processes the information. For lighter reading such as magazines or when you are only interested in a summary, you can read faster than if you are required to present a detailed explanation to a meeting, and you should be able to pace yourself accordingly. To use a physical pacer such as a notecard, pen, or finger, position the pacer above the line you are currently reading, blocking lines you’ve already finished. This keeps your eyes from involuntarily rereading material.
You should not only pace your reading but your breaks as well. A short break each hour helps your mind refocus on the task and gives it the opportunity to subconsciously digest the material you have already read. When taking a break, try to get a breath of fresh air or do a few stretches to help your blood circulate and alleviate any kinks or aches from staying in one position. You will return to your reading refreshed and ready to read even more quickly.
Read Whenever You Can
Because most people have a large stockpile of necessary reading, they never realize how much reading they can do in tiny increments throughout the day. While waiting for a doctor’s appointment or the start of a meeting, you can easily read recent memos or a short magazine article you’ve been meaning to get to. While carpooling, you can catch up on meeting minutes or project summaries that prepare you for your day at work or help you wrap up afterwards. Those few minutes add up to a lot of excess reading time, helping decrease your overall reading workload.
When you begin to use faster reading techniques, start with easier, familiar material to learn which techniques work best for you. Experiment with different reading environments, pacing tools, and previewing techniques to discover what makes you comfortable. Above all, practice the techniques on all your reading to help hone the skills that will eventually help you empty your reading pile altogether.
By approaching reading with the knowledge of why you’re reading and what you’re looking for, as well as previewing material before you begin, you greatly increase your reading speed. Properly pacing your reading increases your reading efficiency. Combined, these techniques increase your reading comprehension, and with practice, you will soon be reading many more of the words waiting to be read.