Optimize your life #8 – Read faster

Well, that’s an interesting title for an article.  While I’m at it, I’ll advise you to eat less.  And make more money too.

Actually, odds are that if you are reading this blog post you probably read pretty quickly already.  But there are some people who don’t…and for them, I’d imagine the information here can make a huge difference.

Reading is probably the fastest way we have to take in large amounts of information.  The words in a book may not resonate with you in the same way that a presentation or speech might, but if you are prepared to make sense of what you are reading, it is undoubtedly the most effective way to learn….faster than listening or sitting in a lecture, for sure.

One thing you’ll also notice in the biographies of really successful people is that they read.  A lot.  Incessantly, in fact.  Just a good data point to have, I think.

First of all, why not try taking a reading speed test and see how you do?  You might find the results interesting.  In case the pressure affects your reading style, you might try timing yourself as you read a book or have someone time you.  A good long chapter in a book will generally give you time to zone out and not worry about being timed.

Now that you’ve done that, let’s talk about the “right” and “wrong” ways to read.

Ineffective reading generally consists of the reader saying each word to himself as he reads. This is called subvocalization, and if you are hung up in this pattern of behavior, you have a maximum reading speed of around 100-150 words per minute. The ineffective reader also tends to focus on each single word in a single line as he proceeds across and down the page.  The reader is focused more on the mechanical process of reading than treating it as an invisible step between himself and the ideas on the page.

Effective readers use a different approach.  They don’t see words on the page; they see phrases and paragraphs.  Their field of vision is taking in about 10 lines at any moment in time.  They are not hearing the words in their head completely in their head or reading them back to themselves.  Rather, they are actually rapidly visualizing the concepts of the text as they proceed down the page.  On average, these folks are reading anywhere from 250-500 words per minute.

Effective readers can also skim information extremely rapidly.  When one tries to find a piece of relevant information, it often is not necessary to read everything in detail.  In such cases, your words per minute can easily rise into the thousands if you are able to scan quickly and pick relevant phrases out of the page as you scan.

Now, I’m not sure I can offer much better advice on this topic than what’s out there on the Internet.  The reason I point this whole topic of reading out is that if you happen to recognize your own style of reading as being in the former camp, this post should be helping you realize that you might be able to learn how to read more effectively, starting with some of the points above.  And if you recognize yourself in the latter camp…well, at least you know more definitively where you stand. Nice to know when you’re doing something right, isn’t it?  =)

It is very difficult to overstate the relative benefit that a person gains when he is able to take information in more quickly.  It’s something that will, like interest, multiply its effects upon you for the rest of your life.  So I’ll leave you with the following link, and a suggestion to use Google to read up on the topic a bit more when you finish with that. =)

Wikibooks article on speed reading

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