Do you love reading and learning new things? Or do you have to read many documents for work? We live in a fast-paced world: information is the centerpiece of most of our lives. In our personal life, there are so many things we want to learn. And if you are a knowledge worker, chances are you have to read emails, rapports, and other documents on a daily basis. Multitasking hurts our productivity. And there is so much to read, but so little time, right? That isn’t necessarily true. Speed reading is something that has had a lot of attention in recent years. People are always looking for ways to get things done more efficiently. By learning to speed read you significantly process more information and get things done more quickly. However, with most speed reading techniques, you are required to adapt your natural reading style.
A Google search for ‘speed reading’ yields multiple methods. Most of them revolve eye coordination, reading between lines, skipping words, or visualizing while you are reading. In the past few years, I’ve tried different techniques. I found that it was useful and productive at first, but after 1 or 2 days, I would fall back in my old patterns. For example: moving my eyes super fast didn’t feel natural. Similar to the ‘visualizing technique’: this requires you to visualize every word you read. While I am not questioning the effectiveness of these (proven) methods, I do think that they are not for everybody. The problem is that we are creatures of habit—changing how we read is something extremely difficult because it is something we’ve learned as children. I’ve found five strategies that you can apply, without changing the way you read. These strategies are not focusing on the actual reading technique. But rather on strategies that will improve the time you can finish a book or document. It is not necessarily about words per minute. It is finishing something in less time than before—but still capturing all information.
5 ways to read faster
The biggest obstacle that stands in most of our’s way is the misconceptions we have about reading. We believe that we have to read every single word in a book, article, or document to understand it. We simply do not have the time to read every single word—it doesn’t matter how fast you read. We believe that we have to memorize everything because of pressure from school—we had to remember everything because we had exams. Trying to remember everything you read is a waste of time—we forget the material that our brain stores in it’s short-term memory after a couple of days. So it is time to get rid of a few misconceptions and hack your reading methods.
1. Learn the ‘art’ of skipping
Our brain can understand concepts without having to read a full book or article. By knowing ‘what’ to skip, you can read a book faster while obtaining the essential information. Once you’ve read a few non-fiction books, you know the structure. Understanding the outline will help you to skip non-essential parts. For example, start by preview the whole book (you can also do this for rapports, blogposts, et cetera). Read the first few introductory paragraphs to grasp the message of the book. Next, read the subheading, titles, and subtitles. Then, read the first and last sentence of each paragraph. This method will help you to comprehend the text faster. This strategy will give you 40 percent of the vital information.
2. Direct your thoughts
One bad habit is daydreaming—we think about the weirdest things when we are reading. Our mind wanders off on a tangent. Daydreaming is something that everybody does—there is no point in stopping it. Instead: turn it into something that helps you with comprehension. Next time you catch your mind wander, direct your thoughts towards the subject you are reading about. Connect the words you are reading with real life experiences. For instance, when you are reading about ways to deal with stress, think of a period when you had a lot of stress. In this way, you allow your brain to create connections, which will make it easier to remember.
3. Stop subvocalizing while you read
When we read, we mouth along to the words. At this rate, you read 150 words per minute, which is the same as your talking speed. Research shows that your brain can process up to 400 words per minute. By stopping the habit of mouthing the words, you can increase the number of words you process by 200%! One easy trick to stop subvocalizing is to focus on keywords and to skip the rest. Try to put this in practice and catch yourself when you are mouthing the words you are reading.
4. Set a goal
Set a goal for what kind of information you want to walk away with after reading something. Ask yourself: Why am I reading this? Why do I need this information? How can I use it? If you are in college and you have an exam on a subject: focus on the parts that the lectures covered. When you are reading a book on exercising, and you want to walk away with a fitness routine: read the parts that include the different fitness routines. You don’t have to discard the rest, but at least you can prioritize your reading. Also, if you do not know exactly why you are reading something, DON’T!
5. Capture the most important information
It is true that we don’t have to remember everything, but at the same time, we want to remember the important matters. That’s why we need a retrieval system that will help us to retrieve the information when we need it. See it as a backup of your brain. Setting up a retrieval system is very personal—some people prefer writing down knowledge in their notebook, others prefer taking pictures. Do whatever works best for you. For example, I prefer Evernote because it works similar to how our brain works. When I read a book or article, I highlight the most important things. When I finish a book, I go back to my highlights and take pictures with Evernote. When I need to retrieve the information I can use Evernote’s search function, which also recognizes text from images. Having a retrieval system also takes away the pressure of memorizing information.
Most people don’t think of reading as fun. However, gaining knowledge is essential for your growth. It is true that you can learn in different ways, and you should focus on ‘how’ you learn best (video, audio, text). But the truth is that we cannot completely avoid reading. So make it easier for yourself to learn things faster. Finally, take a break every 30 minutes. Research shows that the human brain can only focus on one task for a short amount of time. Give yourself a break from reading and try to read every day. If you keep it up, you’ll be substantially smarter within no time.