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Day by day, as a busy schedule consumes more and more of your time, a pile of reading material steadily mounts up. This growing pile may contain, for example:
- internal and external reports,
- newspaper and magazine articles,
- technical update material,
- emails to be answered.
You may feel increasingly guilty because these remain unread, and that may not be keeping up to date or doing your job properly. Yet even if you could find time to cope, you know that you could not absorb it all.
Reading effectively is an essential skill, and this skill is not simply a question of reading faster. It is important to understand what you decide to read.
Effective reading means assimilating written information quickly yet comprehending the essence of the printed word. It takes a lot of practice, but it reaps its own rewards.
Studies of fast and slow readers have isolated the faults which limit the reading speed of millions of people to 200 words per minute. Some of these factors that contribute to slower reading are:
- Bad reading habits
- Poor eye sight
- Bad lighting
- Author's style
- Complexity of material
- Hard-to-read typeface
- Poor layout and presentation
- Unfamiliar words and expressions
Some of these factors may be out of our control, but bad habits is one area where slow readers could profitably change out of bottom gear - if only they knew how.
Adopt a positive attitude - you must feel that you want to do better and feel that you can. Don't seek overnight improvement, but do practise regularly.
Above all, accept that you cannot read everything. Constantly remind yourself to be ruthlessly selective. This may mean not being technically up to date in all areas of your business. Ask yourself regularly where it is essential to stay up to date.
Categorising reading matter
Try to sort your daily reading as it arrives: decide what your priorities are and then read. Take notes if necessary and digest the information and ideas. Don't give up - the longer you persevere, the more you benefit.
You should never allow reading material to accumulate but deal with each piece as it arrives. Focus on what you need to know and then ask: is it important or urgent, or can it be dealt with later?
Important material demands that you find time to give it proper attention. Urgent but unimportant material needs to be dealt with quickly but do not spend a lot of time or energy.
Whatever the material, you must select what is essential and skim what is not; know what to look for: concentrate in bursts and save your energy for more important material.
Improving your reading
Once you have decided what you are going to read:
Read the headings or index and get an idea of the essence.
Skim the whole before reading any particular piece first.
Review the conclusions or summary before starting on the detail.
Read the introduction carefully: it may indicate which parts of the detail to avoid.
Use a visual guide (i.e. a pencil, piece of paper or cursor).
Annotate or make notes as you go. Do not wait for a second detailed reading - you may well forget what your first thoughts were.
Avoid the following bad habits:
Reading aloud to yourself - don't vocalise the words, let the words talk to you.
Even if you are not reading out loud, try not to sub-vocalise (pronouncing each word in your mind).
Lack of anticipation - don't rely on every word to give you the sense of what is being said: anticipate as much as possible. Remember that the meaning of a sentence often comes at the end of the sentence.
Reading the same sentence or paragraph over and over --- you may legitimately discard any piece that holds no interest for You. But if there is something in the words you want to understand or absorb, by all means dwell on it.
Reading word for word -- don't fix your eyes on one word at a time - let your sight move along the words at a constant rate, and take in several words at a glance.
Let's prove that you can take a wider view and see several words at once. For example if you can read the word...
in a single glance, then you can easily read the three words...
NEVER THE LESS, in a single glance.
If you can read the following twelve letters in one quick look:
then you can certainly read the following nine letters just as quickly:
THAT IS WHY Now try the following:
Effective Reading depends upon you having the confidence and courage to explore your own capabilities.
Forget about reading slowly and carefully. You can double your speed by reading two words at a time.
Try not to be worried when at first you fail to grasp the sense of what you read. Carry on to the end of the sentence and refuse...
Practise using a wider eye-span as much as possible. After a while you will be able to fix your eyes in the centre of a column of news print and read straight down the column instead of across it.
In addition to this general approach there are a number of other useful things that you can do to help you with your general reading:
Before any reading do a quick 'dash' over the page. This will both briefly accustom your eyes to the higher speeds, and will ensure that they are 'warmed up' for the reading task ahead.
For absorbing what you are reading it is probably better to have a slightly cool rather than a slightly warm temperature. 18°C (65°F) is ideal.
Make sure that your surroundings are pleasant -- but not too comfortable! Your work area should be preferably free of anything that could distract you while you are reading.
During extended reading periods, make sure that you regularly look up and focus on distant objects. This relaxes and rests your eye muscles, enabling you to carry on reading without unnecessary fatigue.
Occasionally stop, close your eyes, and try to reproduce, in your mind's eye, a page of print, a photograph or graph that you have just looked at. Apart from providing a useful rest, this will significantly help to increase you recall, while providing useful training for your imagination .
Your posture should be reasonably upright, with the distance between your eyes your reading material should be between 45 and 60 centimetres (15 and 24 inches).
Ask questions as you read and answer them yourself - for example:
- What is my purpose in reading this?
- What am I looking for?
- What is it about?
- What is the detail saying?
- What are the main ideas?
- How significant is it to me?
- How can I use what I am absorbing to do my job better?
At first, it will be difficult to read and question at the same time but, with practice, the dual activity will become a habit. Keep a positive attitude and have a flexible approach - information and ideas are not readily communicated to a negative or fixed mind.
Effective reading is only one side of good communications. Effective writing is the other. Complex style, poor layout and unfamiliar jargon all conspire to ensure that communications will be poorly received.
And, remember, no matter how effective the reading, the recipient needs to be persuaded to the time and desire to read what has been written
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