Speed Reading and Speed ListeningOver the years I have experienced great benefits from what is commonly known as Speed Reading and to a lesser extent what I have dubbed Speed Listening. I use both techniques frequently to boost my productivity and ever since I started doing GTD, I have incorporated these techniques into my GTD system to Get More Things Done.

This is not an in-depth article about Speed Reading and Speed Listening, but I will try to provide some practical information to get you started with these techniques. Remember, practice and discipline are required to make the most of them (just like GTD!).

Really applying the techniques described below, you will easily double your reading speed. For example, I can easily read David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done” in only a couple of hours. I was able to read the Da Vinci Code in less than 8 hours. And yes, I could even tell afterwards what is was about! ;)

Read on for an introduction to Speed Reading and Speed Listening!

Speed Reading

I have always been a great fan of books, covering a wide area of interest, ranging from fantasy to science fiction, from psychology to philosophy, from computer science to… well, you get the picture! ;)
The dilemma has always been: how to read as many books as possible in the finite amount of time given?

I read and heard about speed reading before but it wasn’t until a specific course I attended a couple of years ago that I really had a chance to learn from an experienced speed reader. I learned and practiced many things during that course, but a few practical points really stuck in my mind:

  • Take a few minutes to “get to know” the book
    Basically what this means is that you should already really know what the book is about before you even read the first sentence! Take a good look at the front and back cover, read the summary and table of contents, flip through the pages scanning for pictures, sections, chapters and so on.
  • Decide which parts of the book you are going to read
    Depending on the topic and structure of the book, it is rarely necessary to use classic reading, i.e. linear reading from start to end, every sentence in every chapter. You know why you want to read a specific book (you do, don’t you!?) and after the first step you can make the match with what the book actually offers. Decide for yourself which parts of which chapters are going to give you, say, 80% of the information you need. Start with the most important part of the book (which is seldom the first sentence of the first chapter). Skip fillers and unwanted information. Determine your own reading order.
  • Sit up straight in a suitable environment
    I hope you realize that you get the best results from speed reading if you choose a suitable environment. This usually means a well lit and quiet place. Don’t lie down on the couch in front of the television, expecting to do much speed reading. It should even be easy to turn the page quickly enough!

  • Keep moving your eyes no matter what!
    There are various techniques for actually reading the information contained in a book. Experts talk about skimming, chunking and so on. Some recommend using your hand, finger or pen to trace the “line of reading”. I have tried most of them. However, in my opinion and experience you need to remember one simple thing to at the least double your reading speed. You need to keep moving your eyes no matter what! Usually while reading you tend to jump from word to word. Sometimes your eyes trace back (part of) a sentence because you missed something. Try it now. This takes up a fair amount of unnecessary time. Now try this. Read some text forcing yourself to keep your eyes moving over the sentence from left to right, smoothly and without stopping at every single word and without ever tracing back. Take no more than one second (or less) for each line on the page. Your visual system is powerful enough to absorb the information. If you miss a word your brain will “fill in the blanks”. This is the part that really takes practice and discpline!
  • Don’t mutter under your breath or in your mind
    Experts call this subvocalization. Some people have more problems with this than others. If you silently pronounce every word you read or even subvocalize each word in your mind, your reading speed will definitely decrease. Force yourself to stay “silent” while speed reading. You will soon discover that you understand sentences without “dwelling” on each word.
  • Stay focused and monitor your comprehension
    How many times did your mind wander while reading this article? My guess would be several times. This is a major pitfall while (speed) reading. You cannot expect to really understand what you are reading when you let your mind wander. Especially while speed reading, you need to monitor your level of comprehension. Otherwise, you may finish a book very quickly but you cannot really recall what is was about. Talk about wasting your time! Again, force yourself to stay focused on the text you are reading. Take a small break if you feel the need to think about something else.

It goes without saying that these points apply to all the reading you do: articles, books, reports, websites, et cetera. One final point I would like to make. Don’t speed read that classic novel you have been wanting to read for years. You don’t need to speed read everything; just knowing that you can whenever appropriate or necessary is good enough!

Speed Listening

This is a minor technique I use frequently to get through more audiobooks in less time. Sometimes I even apply it to certain movies or documentaries I want to quickly watch. All you need is a good audio/video player on your computer. For instance, I use CorePlayer on my Windows Mobile PDA.

Speed listening is nothing more than adjusting the playback speed of your audiobook or video to a maximum of 150%. I have worked through many audiobooks this way in only 66% of the time usually required to listen to the entire audiobook. Of course, it helps if you can tolerate the funny voices that are a consequence of rapid playback! ;)

By the way, audiobooks are great if you spend a lot of time on the road. This effectively turns the usually inproductive time in your car into highly productive time, especially when applying speed listening. Good luck!

What is your opinion about Speed Reading and Speed Listening? Do you have additional hints and tips that we could all benefit from?