Mark's blog today reminded me of something that I have been wondering about... how to read more effectively - by which I mean taking less time and grasping better information, as well as retaining the knowledge longer.

Mark and Mike: Would you considering doing a podcast on better reading tips ? It will be very empowering to us.

I love to read, but I am a slower reader than I'd like to be, esp. at work (e.g. business plans).

Is Speed Reading Course worth it? Anyone with experience taking it? The Sr.VP. at my company is an extremely fast reader. What amazes me is that he never misses any relevant information in the pages he skimmed. I should ask him for his secret next time.

Mark's picture
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Speed reading is not something we have in the queue.

I'm sure there are good courses, and they are quite effective, but I haven't taken any of them. I never thought of myself as a fast reader, but I CERTAINLY do not scan pages like speed readers. In fact, because I truly love good writing (John D. MacDonald, William F Buckley, Tom Wolfe, DRUCKER), I think I've slowed down over the years.

I am probably wrong, but I just don't think it's a necessity. The issue is making the time, and that means choosing not to do things you're doing now. (TELEVISION). I watched 2 minutes of "Deal or No Deal" a few minutes ago, and nearly gagged. I wasn't sure if this was a paean to schadenfreude, or a pathetic voyeuristic greed fantasy.

The exception might be for those for whom English is a second (or third) language and the title isn't available in the native tongue. But I don't know if that works for speed reading.

Again, I'm uncertain, but just reading more would be my recommendation. Practice is the single most powerful tool in the human behavioral quiver.

Read more.

Thanks for the question,


bflynn's picture

[quote="may"]Is Speed Reading Course worth it? Anyone with experience taking it? The Sr.VP. at my company is an extremely fast reader. What amazes me is that he never misses any relevant information in the pages he skimmed. I should ask him for his secret next time.[/quote]

Is a speed reading course worth it? Thats a hard one. I took one years and years ago in jr high. Yes, I read faster. Yes, I remember what I read very well. No, I don't comprehend things that much faster.

Speed reading is really about reading multiple words at once. You have good retention, but not the same comprehension. I remember what I read, but it doesn't make it click any faster. I can read Harry Potter in two hours. I can also spend two hours reading a Fortune article. When I read a really good book, I find myself reading a page, then stopping to think about what was said...the better the book, the more often I have to stop.

IMO - speed reading isn't a really great skill to develop unless you really have a problem with reading speed. It would be like filling your bathtub with a firehose. Yeah it fills up fast, but there is far more water in the hose than can fit in the bathtub. It still takes time for the information to process and you can't rush that.

Actual mileage may vary....


TimK's picture

[quote="bflynn"]Speed reading is really about reading multiple words at once. You have good retention, but not the same comprehension. I remember what I read, but it doesn't make it click any faster.[/quote]

This has been my experience as well. I have not taken a formal speed-reading course. However, I've been practicing at reading words or groups of words at once. The big key for me was that I tended to hear, as it were, each word in my mind, as if I were speaking it. Instead, I learned to look at a word or phrase and immediately comprehend its meaning, without thinking about the sound it would make if spoken. This comes in really handy when reading some fantasy stories, in which the characters have made-up names that human beings actually cannot pronounce.

But while I can read faster and remember what I read, I can't process the information any faster. So for information-rich content, I need to take frequent breaks or slow down, or else I start to feel like my head is going to explode. Just too much information being stuffed in too fast.

So while speed reading comes in handy for sifting through blog feeds, or even for reading novels, it hasn't increased the speed with which I can digest the material.

On the other hand, I don't have problems finding good material to digest, and I'm able to keep my brain fully occupied during the learning process. This has its own set of tradeoffs.


may's picture

Thank you. That really helps.

I don't think I need a speed reading course then. I can skim through unimportant pretty quickly... and you are right, when reading a good book or a great concept, I had to slow myself down to take it all in.

As for being able to grasp key info quickly from a stack of reports -- that's probably more subject matter experience than speed reading technique?

Mark's picture
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Brian -

Thank you for this post - I learned something fundamental. I had never understood how speed reading worked, as I always mistakenly equated comprehension with memory. NOW I get it. You can remember, but it doesn't help you get it. BRILLIANT. What I want from all reading I do is deep and complete comprehension, so speed reading would probably irritate me.

And, I think I like being a slow reader. Reading faster might cause me to miss the beauty and grace of writing like this:

[i]Twenty seven acres of headstones fill the American military cemetery at Carthage, Tunisia. There are no obelisks, no tombs, no ostentatious monuments, just 2,841 bone-white marble markers, two feet high and arrayed in ranks as straight as gunshots.[/i]

This is from the Prologue of the magnificent Pulitzer Prize winning book, [u]An Army at Dawn[/u], by Rick Atkinson, which tells of the US/Allied campaign in North Africa in WWII.

Len's picture

I just finished "An Army at Dawn"! As soon as I started reading the quote, I knew its origin immediately. It's a great piece of work, without a doubt, and will certainly go down as the seminal work on Torch.

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I completely agree. From the first line, I knew it was going to be stellar. The quality about books that makes them truly a Hall of Fame entrant for me is the writing quality. And Atkinson is brilliant here.

To say nothing of the incredibly rich detail.

Imagine him writing about Italy and France. Wow.


MikeK's picture

Just thought I'd add a few comments on this speed reading. I have done some research and courses on this as well and I think it depends on where you are at and where you want to be at for your reading skills.

I would suggest that you measure your reading speed. Most people read on average about 250 wpm. I used to be a very slow reader around 200 wpm. For that reason, I used to HATE reading. I've now taken courses and brought my reading up to around 400 wpm for intellectual content that needs true absorption and I most say, it has changed a lot of things in my life. I read a LOT now because I can stayed focused, actually get through a book in reasonable time and I learn more from it now than before since I am more focused on the reading, and know how to avoid mind wandering.

Anyway, I would definitely recommend it (for anyone really if you are a slow reader) because it can make a big difference to you!

Now, the level you can take speed reading to is a whole other ballgame, but the skills are good to have as well, as it is VERY easy for the mind to switch between high speed scanning and linear reading in various areas of a book which help you get through it even faster!

MikeK's picture

[quote="mahorstman"]Again, I'm uncertain, but just reading more would be my recommendation. Practice is the single most powerful tool in the human behavioral quiver.Mark[/quote]

OK, while practise is truely the best behavior to work on something, I still must disagree here. I would say if you want to learn to read better, learn from the best readers. Practising something without knowing how to do better is not a great approach. That is why we are all here for manager tools, because practise of the old bad habits wasn't working, so we are now trying to learn from experts in the field (M&M) and it pays off big time.

I believe the same thing for anything you want to improve at, go find the best and learn from them, not on your own, that is simply too much trial and error and too slow to see real gains.

Mark's picture
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As a follow up to this discussion, I found something that might be of interest for everyone. Per Mike's and others' comments, the "Daily How To" on my personalized Google homepage is "How To Learn Speed Reading."

Isn't Google great (and lucky?). :wink:

Oh, and one more thing. I timed myself. I thought I was slow, but I am an exceptionally fast reader. Sorry!



itilimp's picture
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Hi May,

If you're still looking for reading strategies etc., then take a look at the [url=]Mind Tools section on Information Skills[/url]. It's an excellent site with lots of really good material on all sorts of Personal Development issues.

The other site you may find helpful is [url=]Memletics[/url].

I hope you find something that works for you.

may's picture

Thanks both Mark and itilimp for recommending the resources. Will check them out!

kddonath's picture

I've got a growing pile of mag/journal/web articles that is accumulating on my desk. Any tips on how to tackle this? Just grab one off the top and start down the pile? Does anyone have a strategy for organizing the stack?

Any tips on highlighting or writing notes in the margins?

When you’re done with an article and it’s worth keeping – what do you do with it? Do you write up any notes? David Allen says to store in an alphabetized folder system – does anyone do anything different?



Torch's picture

This is somewhat related,

I get the most from an audio-book that was read by the author. Hearing the inflection in the author's voice and how they read the book always tells me as much or more than just reading the text. And I can "read" the book anywhere.

The problem with audio-books for me is when the author did not read it. I always feel like I wasted my money when I buy one.


Mark's picture
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Holy moly! I JUST wrote that very thing in an email to a fellow blogger who had sent kudos about my post.

Author reading is excellent. Abridged SCARES me.



Mark's picture
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Throw them all away.

There's no sense in making that pile into a to-do that weighs on you. I'm serious - just chuck them, and start processing pubs differently as you get more.

(There's a related theme here about a clean desk. EVERYONE who walks up to their desk that is cluttered has a negative reaction to it... that's a lot of negative reactions during our day.)

We have a cast coming up on how to get the most from your reading, but it only briefly mentions publications versus books.

When you get a magazine, I recommend you skim it in about 3 minutes and tear out the 2-3 articles you want to read. See the headlines, maybe the first paragraph, and choose. There are very few magazine articles that are hugely powerful. If the idea is a keeper, there will be multiple articles in the stuff you're reading.

THROW THE REST OF THE MAGAZINE AWAY. If they're short, read them there, and then file per David Allen. If they're longer, put them in a read file, which you have time scheduled to get to, and then once you read them, file them as appropriate.

I mark mine up, and ask questions in the margins... and my ACTION on it is simply to READ it. I trust my mind to keep track of this stuff, and make connections that I couldn't do with some sort of ideation process, and that I don't want to make the time for.

I think in many cases, we beat ourselves up that any article carries with it a task, a deliverable, a requirement. I now see that the task is simply to read, to allow the ideas to become clear to me, and to allow my mind to help me see the applicability.

Great question!


kddonath's picture


Throw them all away.


Did it. Actually I took an hour and skimmed through them. Threw out most, and filed the rest. That was the key: file the article per David Allen and add the article to task list - that's what I was missing.



Mark's picture
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Well done you! Stick to it until you fall behind, and then let yourself off the hook, throw stuff away, and start again. There isn't a "Percentage Magazines Read On Time" test at the end of one's life.


Mark's picture
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I got a kick out of this WSJ CareerJournal article about speed reading in light of our recent discusions...



rthibode's picture

For a given individual, speed comes at the cost of comprehension and/or retention (memory). Sometimes this is a good choice, sometimes it isn't. To get more out of your reading, it is important to read with a purpose in mind, and to adjust your approach depending on that purpose.

For example, imagine you are reading something that you need to understand and then implement in your workplace. Slow down. Take notes in the margins (or elsewhere) to summarize key points. Write some thoughts on how the main points apply to your workplace. The point of the notes is not (only) to serve as a record of what you read. The point is that by deciding which points are key and how they apply to your situation, you are processing the material more deeply. Deeper processing leads to more understanding and recall.

If you are reading to get the "big picture," you can speed up. Scan any headings, and read just the first sentence of paragraphs. Resist the urge to give close attention to a text that is not as important or deserving of your time.

If you are reading for pleasure, relax and enjoy. I'm like Mark on this, I love language for its own sake and hate to skip things. Others find skimming the "boring" parts adds to their pleasure. Do what you enjoy!

(For the record, I did take a speed reading course to see what people were talking about. Not impressed.)

rlinares's picture

Any thoughts on the relative comprehension level with audio book vs physical book? Just started my first audiobook (world is flat). It seems well paced I can careful process the incoming info without falling behind. Have to hit the rewind once in a while, usually for a number (statistic).

dewelch's picture

I know for myself, I often have to listen to an audiobook 3-4 times before I feel I have absorbed all the material. If you listen while driving, walking or doing any other activity, your attention is bound to wander and there will be points you only truly comprehend after multiple listens.

Note, YMMV!


rsprim's picture

After listening to the podcast about how many books Mark reads and realizing how slow of a reader I am I began to wonder how I might be able to digest books more quickly. I then thought of a book summary concept. I did some research and found a couple sites that summarize books. While they don't seem to have many of the books summarized that Mark recommends I'm wondering what the community thinks of these services? The two I found are:


juliahhavener's picture
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I think a lot gets lost in summaries that I wouldn't (personally) want to miss out on. Summaries often do our thinking for us, leaving out the key bits that would allow you to make a different decision about the information or the presentation of it.

Honestly, we get better at things that we practice. No one reads quickly, comprehensively or efficiently in the first grade. My advice would be: pick up a book, set aside about 20 minutes a day in which you only read, make it habit; I think you will find that your skill will increase at a satisfactory pace. You might not read as much as I do in a given week, or as much as Mark does, but I think you'll get more value out of it in the end.

rsprim's picture

Thanks Julia for the insight on the book reading concept. Your right. The only way my reading skill will improve is by exercising it. I decided to start reading more books and picked up a copy of The Effective Executive. I'm enjoying it so far. Thanks again for the advice.


juliahhavener's picture
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Glad you found value in it -- and the Effective Executive is a great place to start. I think you'll also like The World is Flat. It's very engaging and relevant to today's world, making it easy to read. I also find it's one of those rare books you can read in pieces; I read a chunk of it, get distracted in another book, come back and pick up where I left off without feeling like I've missed something.

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I love reading, so I don't use them, but I have looked through many Executive Summaries, and find them EXCELLENT.

For about 150 bucks a year, you get 12 issues summarizing 2 or 3 books each, covering them in nice detail. Their focus is business books, and they cover all the ones that are being talked about, and some that are not.
I think you can get CD summaries too, for not much more.

I highly recommend them to those who don't relish my Amazon bills.

A GREAT choice.


(And secretly, I say, but what would I do without that stack of books calling lovingly to me? Someone once asked me why I didn't have a television in my office, since it was my office near my home. I said, "because I can't read by the light of the television." One of my brothers once zinged me pretty hard for saying I didn't see many of the commercials (nor a good bit of the game) during the super bowl. I was reading. ;-) )

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You mention one your favorite authors is William F. Buckley. I am thinking about picking up one of his books as a change of pace from, the world is flat, china inc, etc... Could you, or anyone else, please give me some suggestions?

Also, I heard good things about his son Chris...



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Yes, I do love WFB. He is a superb writer - perhaps one of the best ever columnists in modern American political and social history.

That said, he is decidedly conservative, and therefore galling to many tastes.

He write two kinds of books - fiction, many of which feature his self-inspired character Blackford Oakes of the Cold War CIA days - and political commentary.

His son Chris is quite funny, though satire, his style, is not to my taste. he is famous lately for writing the book "Thank You For Smoking", which was made into a movie. He also once wrote that a bay in the Caribbean he was in had "gin clear water", and that makes him very skilled in my pantheon of writers.


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I recommend Tony Buzan's 'Speed Reading'. He suggests we look at reading not as a linear process (start at the top and read through to the bottom), but as a more participative process where we read the text several times, engaging with it in different ways and at different levels each time. He sets out some great ways to prepare your mind for what you're reading and how to read for retention.

I've found the book invaluable - it's easily doubled my reading speed while increasing comprehension. Over the years I've read several books on speed reading. This is the only one I've found useful.


Tekhne's picture


...Again, I'm uncertain, but just reading more would be my recommendation. Practice is the single most powerful tool in the human behavioral quiver.

Something that I think is important to remember when practicing a new skill -- especially when you're trying to move that skill from conscious competence into unconscious competence -- is that practice makes /permanent/, not perfect. Only /perfect/ practice makes perfect. So, slow down and meticulously practice reading in the /right/ way. What's /right/ will, of course, depend on your course of study.

Someone once told me that the difference between an amateur and a professional is that the amateur does something until they get it right, and the professional does something until they can't get it wrong. So, when I say slow down, I mean only do something at a speed at which you can do it perfectly -- which may be excruciatingly slow. Only when you can't get it wrong anymore should you go faster.

My $0.02,

cpowell's picture
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Isn't Google great (and lucky?). :wink: [/quote]

After reading the article I poked around the website until I came across the following:

Now, I may be a MT newbie, but I'm pretty sure this qualifies as blasphemy from the darkest depths of feedback hell. :shock: