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It’s THE most important BUSINESS SKILL. Here’s how to improve it…

Whether it’s books, articles, journals or blogs, online or off-line, reading remains a core skill It doesn’t matter what field of human activity you’re engaged in, if you want to become better at it you’ll need to do some reading.  And business is no exception.

We’re taught to read when we’re very young.  For most of us that means at our first school. If we’ve got keen parents, we’re taught to read even earlier than that. But once we’ve mastered the basics we’re generally left to get on with it. The education system just assumes we’ll improve with practice. There is some sense in this. As a general rule, the more you do anything, the better you get, but given how important reading is to our development as human beings it’s pretty amazing how little attention we pay to developing our reading skills.

In this article, I’m going to talk a bit about the process of reading generally and give you three tips you can use to help you increase your reading speed.

It’s Counter-Intuitive
The brain loves speed. There’s nothing more boring than a football match where neither side takes risks and the final score is a 0-0 draw. We love to watch films that keep us on the edge of our seats. We’ve had to install a complex system of speed bumps and cameras across our roads to force us to drive slowly because our natural instinct is to go faster. But when it comes to reading we’ve somehow formed the view that slower is easier. Well, the good news is that it isn’t. Faster is easier.

I remember the last time I bought a new laptop. The demands of the latest software meant that my old laptop was grinding to a halt and my productivity had taken a nosedive, not just because tasks were taking longer, but because I was becoming distracted whilst my computer thought about what it was going to do next. When the new laptop arrived my productivity went back up again. The new machine was able to keep up with me and I was now totally focused on the task in hand. I’m sure many of us can relate to this experience.

The ridiculous thing is that the way most of us read is like my old laptop. By forcing the brain to move at walking pace we’re inviting it to run off down the alleyways at the side of the road…

How to measure your Reading Speed
Reading speed is measured in words per minute. To measure your reading speed take a book you haven’t read before and count the number of words in any 3 full lines. Divide this number by 3 to give you the average number of words per line.

Then time yourself reading for 1 minute using the timer on your mobile phone and count the number of lines you’ve read. Multiply this by the average number of words per line and you’ve got your reading speed in words per minute. If you are used to reading with your internal voice (see below) your reading speed is likely to be about 200 to 250 words a minute.

Tip 1 – How to Silence your Internal Voice
When we first learn to read we are taught to say each word out loud. Then once we’ve reached basic proficiency, the teacher asks us to stop reading out loud and just say the words inside our heads. Most of us continue to read like this even when we become adults. We’re reading at the speed we talk. This limits the speed at which we read. So if we can turn off our internal voice we can increase our reading speed.

The obvious way to turn off our internal voice is just force ourselves to read faster. But that is sometimes easier said than done. Another technique is to use a metronome and pointer.

There are several metronomes available from the App Store. Any pencil or pen will do as a pointer. Using the following table set the metronome to 300 words per minute ie just faster than the average person reads with their internal voice.

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Then take your pointer and run it along one line for each tac of the metronome. Do this for 2 or 3 minutes or until you get comfortable. Then increase the speed to 400 words per minute, again using the table to get the metronome setting. Then increase to 500.

Practice reading using this technique for 10 to 15 minutes a day and you will soon silence your internal voice.

Tip 2 – Stop going back so often
Often when we’re reading we get the impression that our brain has disengaged from the text and we feel the need to go back over what we’ve just read and re-read it. On average, most of us tend to go back over what we’ve just read about 30% of the time.

The main reason we get distracted like this is that the brain loves speed and reading at the speed of our internal voice isn’t fast enough for it. So it loses the thread and looks for something more interesting. But by going back over what we’ve just read we’re actually making things worse. In fact, all books contain a lot of repetition and detail which aren’t essential to grasping the overall picture, so we may not have missed much.

Just by taking a decision to stop going back so often we can increase our reading speed by up to 30%.

Tip 3 – Read phrases rather than words
Another limiting factor is how quickly we move our eyes when reading. It’s difficult to increase the speed at which we move our eyes, so in order to increase our reading speed we need to look at phrases rather than words. Again, practising this technique will help us silence our internal voice. Once we’ve got the hang of it, reading becomes much easier because we’re feeding our brains with information faster, so it’s let less likely to become bored and distracted.

There are more advanced techniques you can employ to increase your reading speed still further, but just by using these simple techniques it’s quite easy to improve your reading speed by anything up to 100% – without any loss of comprehension.

You’ll also find yourself enjoying reading more because it will be less like trudging across a ploughed field and more like your favourite movie. And as you cover more ground, more quickly you’ll be able to link up ideas from different sources. Which will enable you to generate new, creative ideas of your own.

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