Read Fast or Read Smart?

June 26, 2019

by Sarah Dayton

With over 74 million blog posts published every month, in addition to millions of tweets, videos, pins, books, newspapers, magazines, and TV shows, the demands for your attention are overwhelming. How are you supposed to absorb it all?

One of the most popular productivity hacks is to speed read all of this content to either get through it in less time or absorb even more in the same time period. That way, when your boss asks what you thought about the latest trade journal article, you can retain just enough to impress her. There are several different ways to do this:

  • The vision span method where you focus on expanding your horizontal peripheral vision and learn to read in a series of jumps rather than in a straight line.
  • The meta guiding method where you use your finger or a pencil or pen to guide your eyes.
  • The skimming method where you look for headings, main points and other cues.
  • The rapid serial visual representation method where you set-up a screen to digitally display words one at a time and slowly increase the speed.

All this sounds great, but how much are you actually retaining? What sacrifices are you making in comprehension and the opportunity for deeper reflection just to say you read something sooner than someone else?

Let’s consider why you’re reading. Are you relishing a trashy beach novel for entertainment, or a detailed biography to learn more about a person? Are you reading something in anticipation of having to discuss it later at a book club or staff meeting, or are you just trying to stay ahead of the endless list of new articles, books, and magazines published each month?

Reading should be an experience to be enjoyed not conquered. Turning it into a competitive sport in order to get bragging rights for how much you have read simply defeats that purpose. If you need more time to read, sacrifice the time elsewhere (binge watch one less show, for example) so that you can devote the time to fully immerse yourself in what you are reading––not just the words on the page, but the imagery, tempo and pacing of how each sentence is constructed. Now that’s reading smart!

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Soundview Editor-in-Chief Sarah Dayton

Sarah is the Editor-in-Chief at Soundview. When not in the office or at her desk at home, Sarah can be found on area walking trails or patronizing small, local businesses. She is also a board member of the local land trust. Sarah and her husband, Sam, are “empty nesters” and currently share their 1824 Chester County, PA farmhouse with two spoiled basset hounds.