No Excuses

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“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers." - Harry S. Truman

How are you doing on your January reading list ? Me? I’m done. Want to know how I read six books (1,100+ pp.) in nine days? I have a few tricks up my sleeve.

  • Short Sleeper: I’m a chronic short sleeper. I typically go to bed after 1:00 AM (sadly, sometimes much later), and I get up around 6:30 AM every morning. You don’t need as much sleep as you think you do.
  • Caffeine: I know, I know... Coffee, Tea, and Red Bull are my vices.
  • No TV (kind of): I watch about 3 hours of TV a week. Pick up a book instead!
  • Uninterrupted Reading: I am a huge fan of the pomodoro productivity technique. I read in undisrupted blocks of 25-30 minutes. I use a cheap cube timer I found on amazon as my drill sergeant; I am pretty militant about it.

Lastly, I am able to speed read.

Speed Reading: I was registered for 17 credit hours of classes when we had our first child. I had to make a choice. I could: a.) lie and said I read everything, or b.) neglect my family completely by reading for 3+ hours EVERY NIGHT! Then I had an epiphany: if I could learn to speed read, I could cut my reading time in half, and therefore be a faithful student and a faithful father.

By utilizing just two techniques I was able to increase my reading speed range from about 184 wpm to 320-ish wpm. Allow me to myth-bust for a second, you don’t have “a” reading speed because you will find that you read varying types of literature at differing levels of vehemence. Example, you wouldn’t (shouldn’t!) speed read your Bible, an instruction manual, or your medical prescriptions. But you could speed through Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (652 pp.) in about 7 hrs.

To put this in perspective, I read Chesterton’s Heretics (140 pg.) at about 200 wpm, whereas I was able to read Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird (336 pg.) at approximately 400+ wpm.

So, what are these techniques? Lifehacker recently commissioned a decent post on three essential techniques of speed reading, but the instructions were a little lacking. I have taken the liberty of combining their advice, mixed with other things I have read, and personal experience into one, relatively short, instruction manual on how to speed read.

1. Subvocalization: the habit most of us have where we "hear" words in our minds as we read them. We were trained to read aloud (to correct our diction). Naturally, when we were old enough we were asked to, “read silently at our desk.” While our mouths might not have been moving (some people still read aloud but in an almost murmur), we were still enunciating in our heads.

Here is the problem, you can read almost twice as fast as you can speak.

Lifehacker suggests:

All you need to do is disengage the speech mechanism in your brain, which means chewing gum, humming, or even eating while you're reading. Another method is to repeat ”A-E-I-O-U” as you read to teach yourself to stop reading with your mouth.

To be clear, the goal is to stop saying the words in your head. Breaking this nasty routine can dramatically increase reading speed; realistically, I would guess by about thirty percent. However, for me at least, this was by far the hardest hurdle to overcome. I found that counting through a repeating pattern of five (1-2-3-4-5-1...) in rhythmic timing not only helped me break the habit of subvocalization but also gave me a cadence to pace my reading.

2. Avoid Pit Stops by Pointing at the Text: While reading our eyes tend to backtrack/bounce. Most of us will grab a book with one hand and stare at the current line in an undisciplined manner. Because of this, we tend to lose our place quite frequently. If you’re not careful you’ll find that you’ve read the same line twice. Other times, you’ll have read a sentence and realize that it didn’t make sense. Reason being, you may have combined the current line with the next line and taken two spliced sentences and made them one. This not only slows us down, but it is terribly discouraging to realize that you’ve been reading the same page for three minutes. The easiest way to break this idiosyncrasy is to point at the text! 

This will accomplish two things:

    1. First, it will help you stay on point. By pointing at a line you are disallowing your sight to be scattered all over the page. Utilize the sagacious words of Mel Gibson from The Patriot, “aim small, miss small.” No wasted time reading, rereading, and re-rereading the same line.
    2. Secondly, by pointing at the text you are giving your brain a reading direction. I would strongly encourage you to drag your finger at a faster pace than you feel comfortable with. Trust me, your brain will catch up! This technique is also known as “meta guiding.” Growing up, we watched the sing-along videos with the white bouncing dot; our eyes are accustomed to following the bouncing dot, or in this case, your finger, they just need something to set the pace.

That’s it! Sound too simple? It is and it isn’t. It takes a lot of discipline and practice to learn this new skill, but I promise you IT IS WORTH IT! By utilizing the listed techniques, I was able to read over 40 books and almost 11,000 pp. last year, and if you commit to these disciplines you can too!