11 June 2020
Speed Reading- unlocking your productivity
At the beginning of this year I set myself a target. My goal was to read 20 books in 2020. Sounds easy…right? (And it makes a good hashtag… #20booksin2020). I started off well and when lock-down kicked in, I found myself with a lot more time on my hands.
It was April and I was 200 pages into my sixth book of the year. Not bad going I thought. But this was a particularly long book with around 500 pages. It was called ‘Awaken the Giant Within’ by Tony Robbins and it seemed to be taking me an absolute AGE to finish. The font was small and it had a lot of words per page.
Out of interest I decided to time myself on how long it took me to read a single page. From this I could and estimate how long I had been reading this book for. To my surprise I found that it was taking me about 4 minutes 30 seconds to read a SINGLE page. So, by my calculations it had taken me 15 HOURS to read and I wasn’t even half way through yet!!
This prompted me to do a quick google search and I typed in ‘speed reading’. It was something I had heard of before but now I wanted to learn more about it. I found a YouTube video by Tim Ferris. He is famous for writing a book called the ‘4 hour work week’.
Tim mentions that on average a person reads between 200-250 words per minute. With some simple tips, he believes that most people can increase significantly their words per minute. So, I was instantly interested.
First of all you need to establish your current reading speed. This is your baseline. You will need to count and record how many words are on a line on the book that you will be reading. Count up the number of words on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd lines. Add them together and divide by 3 to get your average.
Once you have this number you can begin the test. Set your timer for a minute and read at your normal speed. Ensure that you are still understanding what you are reading…no cheating!. When the timer sounds, stop reading and work out how many lines you have read, and from that you can estimate the number of words. Record this number for later.
This was interesting and something I haven’t done since I was a child. Tim and other speed-reading experts suggest putting your finger under each word. There are 2 reasons for this. The first is that when your eyes are moving across a page they don’t move in a completely horizontal manner. Eye movement will tend to be jerky and will deviate from the line. By putting your finger underneath the words as you read, your eyes will be guided more effortlessly across the page.
The second reason is that this technique tends to stop you from back tracking. A lot of people will find that they will need to go back and RE-READ a line because they missed a word. This is often unnecessary as your brain will be able to make sense of the sentence even if you missed a word. Your finger keeps you moving forward at all times.
What does this mean?? This refers to the inner voice that we have whilst reading. It is very limiting to our speed. It means that our reading speed is effectively limited to the speed at which we can talk.
Why do we have this inner voice? This stems back to when you are being taught to read at school. You are told to read ‘out loud’ and this habit continues into adult life. As you begin to speed-read you are able to trace your finger underneath the words, with your eyes scanning, and your brain absorbing the information without sub-vocalizing.
As you become better at speed reading, the goal is to use your full visual range. If you can use your peripheral vision effectively, your eyes will no longer have to focus on each word. Eventually, it could be possible to move your eyes between JUST two spots on the line, but still be able to read the entire line (I am not at this stage yet).
To begin practicing this you can draw two margins on the left and right of the page. These margins will be drawn about one or two words in. The idea is to focus on the line but still be able to read the one or two words without looking directly at them. As you get better you can bring the margins further in to the paragraph.
Read with intent
Read for longer but take regular breaks
Practice, practice, practice.
Once you have gained some experience with these techniques, don’t forget to re-test yourself. I am still on my journey with speed reading but with these simple techniques I have been able to improve to 380 words per minute from my baseline of 200.
It is still important for me to enjoy my reading. That’s the whole point of it after all. It’s important to be able to relax but still absorb the information. I still enjoy reading and if I can read more books in less time… GREAT!!