Speed reading might seem intimidating, but it’s actually a simple technique that can help you get more done at work. An expert explains how to get started with it.
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Most of us probably don’t realise just how much we read day-to-day. Whether it’s working or studying, many tasks require us to consume large chunks of information regularly, which is why getting stuck into a novel at the end of the day can often feel like the last thing we want to do.
Reading for pleasure should be an enjoyable experience that you can take at your own pace. But the same can’t be said for reading endless work emails and documents. Getting through the reading you have to do at work mire quickly could not only make you more efficient and productive but it could help you enjoy reading in your spare time more pleasurable too, by separating the two experiences.
This is where speed reading comes in. You have probably heard of speed reading before, but perhaps never really explored what it means. Everyone reads at different paces naturally (remember when we were given different ‘reading ages’ in school?) but speed reading techniques are something everyone can use to make their reading experiences more efficient, particularly in a professional capacity.
“Speed reading is really useful for picking up key facts and it’s used in many important jobs, like that of MPs and civil servants,” says Dr Nilufar Ahmed, a psychologist who specialises in behaviour and clinical communication skills. Dr Ahmed explains that speed readers can read roughly 300 words per minute, compared to the average reader who reads 200 words per minute.
Dr Ahmed uses speed reading in her own practices, as well as teaching it to students. Here, she shares her guide for learning to speed read as a beginner.
How to get started with speed reading
Dr Ahmed recommends starting with reading material related to your work when you’re starting out with speed reading. “It will be a lot easier if the subject matter is familiar to you as it uses language you understand,” she says.
To begin, print out an article that is around 1,000-2,000 words and go through it, highlighting any key words that stick out to you without reading it completely through. Then, summarise the article to yourself, maybe writing down the key points you took from it. Go back and read the article again at your normal pace and ask yourself if your summarised version matches the full version.
“The chances are, the versions will be very similar as our peripheral vision picks up on details even if our conscious brain doesn’t,” Dr Ahmed explains. Our peripheral vision picks up on things just outside of your normal vision, according to Dr Ahmed.
How to make speed reading a regular part of your life
Once you have practised highlighting key words and summarising a few times, you can begin to start speed reading without making notes. “Use a pen or your finger and move it along the lines quickly and try to take in as much as you can,” Dr Ahmed says. She adds that you have to trust yourself that you have taken everything you need in, as second guessing yourself will only waste time.
“You can also time yourself to see how long it takes you to read 500 words and try and improve on that time,” Dr Ahmed suggests, although she warns against doing this too frequently as there is such a thing as reading too quickly and not taking enough information in.
“As you progress, you will be able to speed read things that use more technical language about subject matters you know nothing about, but it will take some practice to get to this point,” Dr Ahmed adds.
How to ensure speed reading is productive for you
Speed reading does not mean rushing through work or reading material. In fact, it requires more concentration than regular reading does so if you come away from a speed reading session and you don’t feel like you’ve taken in what you’ve read, it hasn’t been very effective.
“You might miss key details that you need to know if you don’t concentrate,” Dr Ahmed says. “Be mindful of distractions. Speed reading only makes you more productive because your brain is working faster than usual which requires a greater level of concentration.”
It’s important that you can still enjoy reading for pleasure, if this is something you choose to do, after learning to speed read. Dr Ahmed says that you should prioritise reading for pleasure regularly alongside speed reading, perhaps challenging yourself to read shorter amounts of your non-work books to take the pressure off yourself.
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Dr Nilufar Ahmed, psychologist
Dr Nilufar Ahmed is a psychologist and lecturer in social sciences at the University of Bristol. She specialises in behaviour and identity and teaches clinical communication skills.
Images: Getty, Dr Nilufar Ahmed