For many people, dealing with a stack of unread books, newspapers, magazines, journals, and correspondence is synonymous with dealing with stress. In this Information Age, it is no small wonder that those who make promises such as "Read 10,000 words per minute or more!" have a sizable market segment and will not suffer from a shortage of customers anytime soon.
Opinions on the veracity of claims made by speed-readers vary. On the one hand, supporters of the claims like to point out that two former American presidents, John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter, were both active proponents of speed reading. On the other hand, one well-known skeptic offers the following words of advice: "Those desiring to increase the speed of their reading would do better to enroll in a community college course devoted to building study skills, vocabulary, and reading comprehension. It would cost them less, and they would not end up wasting their time trying to read 10 lines at a time, backward and forward."
Of course, it would be awfully remiss of an article on speed reading to leave out the quip attributed to the wonderful Woody Allen: "I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia."
No matter your stance on the credibility of speed-reading claims, having any kind of strategy for devouring your reading material is surely better than having none. We will cover a few of the common speed-reading techniques and discuss some ideas for taking your reading more seriously. If you are a rather average reader, using these techniques and ideas should enable you to at least double your reading speed over time. Even the modest goal of going from 200 words per minute to 400 words per minute would certainly be better than nothing and would halve the time of your reading, a considerable improvement to your
Let us start with arranging your reading material. There is a saying about how eating a live frog at the start of the day would make the remaining worries of the day seem trivial in comparison. When it comes to reading, it helps a lot to start with the most tedious or monotonous material first. Get that out of the way so that your reading becomes progressively easier and less taxing on your mental faculties. Non-fiction is usually always going to come before fiction, unless you are pulling a Woody Allen with Tolstoy and such.
When reading books, you can often get a sense of the bigger picture by reading the table of contents, the first and last paragraphs of all chapters, the headings and subheadings, and the diagram captions. Chunking up in this way allows your mind to structure the material into a logical and coherent whole. This makes it easier to assimilate the finer points as you move along. It also gives you an early warning for books that are going to waste your time -- how many times have you read the first five or six chapters of a book, only to find the author going all over the place from the seventh?
Now for a few speed-reading techniques. We will mention several ones that you can use immediately. First, you may or may not find that using a ruler, pen, or finger to carry your eyes along the page increases reading speed. Second, eliminate regression or back-reading: try to develop the habit of continuous movement forward, without going back over words you have just read. Finally, eliminate sub-vocalization: some courses state that silencing the inner reading voice allows for higher reading speeds.
If you have a problem seeing books through to completion, with the final result being a stack of unfinished books, one effective idea is to limit yourself to a small selection of books at any one time. You then cycle through this small selection and do not begin another book until you have a slot in your selection space. Imposing a limit on yourself in this way strikes a balance between the freedom of parallel reading and the discipline of focused reading.
It would be to your benefit to investigate the possibility of obtaining audio versions of the books you have to read. That way, you can catch up on your material while you are waiting in congested traffic, walking the dog, or dozing off to sleep. Listening to those pleasant narrator voices can be a soothing form of stress relief in itself.