How to read a book in ten minutes a day

Posted by Heather Villa, CMA, MBA, MSM on May 24, 2010 in: Time Management Strategies, Tools & Resources

We’re all busy. Life moves at a rapid pace and we do our best to keep up. Reading becomes one of those things that gets put on the shelf (pun intended) because other things become a priority. And yet, when we do get to read, we enrich our lives and our businesses.

I know a lot of people who say that they’d like to learn to speed read, but very few of them actually do it. The perception is that it will take some time to learn. Actually, it’s very easy and even if it does take a bit of time, it can reap huge rewards of saved time in years to come.

I learned to speed read in high school and the reward for that small effort has been tremendous. It really doesn’t take much time; it actually takes more discipline than time. In fact, you’ll be speed reading by the time we’re done this issue and since this issue will take less than 10 minutes to read, you’ll learn to speed read in 10 minutes!

Even though I speed read, I still can’t read a book in ten minutes using speed reading alone (I’ll tell you why at the end). I combine speed reading with another technique, which I call “Focused Preview”. Together, these two techniques enable me to read a book in 10 minutes, and get valuable insight out of what I read.

Technique # 1: Focused Preview

The first technique is focused preview. At first it seems like skimming (which some of us did in school when we realized that we hadn’t read the textbook for a quiz that day). There is a skimming element but what I’m recommending is far more intentional. I should also point out that this technique really only works on business books. Fiction books – which you might read for pleasure – won’t require this step. But if you do want to speed read a novel, just skip down to technique #2.

Step 1. Start with a goal in mind. Decide what you want to get out of the book. Write down a list of questions or goals. For example, let’s say that I’m reading Jim Collins’ book Good To Great. I might write down questions like:

  • What is considered a “good” company?
  • What is considered a “great” company?
  • What are the steps Collins recommends?
  • What are 3 things for me to consider in my business?

You might have more questions but I’ve found that 3 to 5 questions is sufficient. If you have fewer than 3 questions, be careful that the questions aren’t too broad. You can usually figure out what questions you want to ask by looking at the title, the back jacket, and the inside jacket. That should be enough. Duration: 1-2 minutes.

Step 2. When you have your questions, open to the table of contents and read it. Between what you’ve read on the jackets, and what you’ve just read in the table of contents, you’ll have a good idea of the scope of the book. You’ll start to see where your questions are likely to be answered. Duration: 30 seconds.

Step 3. Start flipping through the book. Most business books have subtitles and they might have illustrations/chart/graphs, etc. Quickly turn the pages and read every title, subtitle, and every illustration. No this isn’t cheating. This is like building a foundation or like drawing a map by quickly running the route you intend to take. Once you start speed reading, in the next section, this preview will prove to be invaluable. Duration: 2-3 minutes.

At this point, you might not be able to answer each question adequately, but you should have enough of a foundation to have a feel for the book. Try it a couple of times. You might not feel confident on the first book, but you’ll build up your experience and you’ll soon get the hang of it.

Technique #2: Speed reading

Speed reading is not skimming. In some ways it might accurately be called “scanning” but that is often misunderstood. Speed reading is difficult to describe but much easier to instruct someone in how to do it.

First, be aware that when you read something, your brain “speaks” the words in your mind. That’s because we learn to read this way in school. Our teachers taught us to read “See Jane run” as three individual words and whether we read it out loud or say it in our minds we read it as 3 words. A huge part of speed reading – and the part that takes the most discipline – is to stop doing this. You don’t need to say those words in your head. You just need to look at the words and move on. Your brain still registers their meaning. In fact, you will not only read faster but you’ll also read with greater understanding when you read larger sets of words at once. That’s because you don’t see “see Jane run” as three separate words but as a single concept. The closest thing I can compare this to is when you watch a movie at the theatre and sometimes you see the numbers counting down on the reel before the film actually starts. It’s so fast that your mind doesn’t have a chance to say “4”, “3”, “2”, “1” but you saw them and you understood their significance. In the next paragraph, don’t say the words in your head. I’ll bet that you can still read it. (And, I’ll bet that you forget by the end of the paragraph and catch yourself reading each word again – that’s the constant battle for all speed readers).

Second, use your peripheral vision. When you read, your eyes go all the way to the edge of the line and then back again to the start. But they don’t need to because humans have a wide range of vision. When reading a book, imagine a barrier about 1 inch from the end of each line. Your eyes will stop there and you’ll still be able to see beyond it. In fact, some speed readers imagine every line in a book divided into quarters. Then they simply look at the connection point between the first and the second quarter (allowing their peripheral vision to take in the first half of the line) and then they look at the point between the third and fourth quarter (allowing their peripheral vision to take in the second half of the line). And they just bounce their eyes back and forth between each of these two points all the way down the page. If you notice that speed readers run their hands down the page of a book, this is one of the reasons. They are setting up boundaries for their eyes.

Third, trust yourself! We don’t notice it when we’re reading but we go back and re-read a lot. A LOT! It’s unintentional and totally unconscious and speed readers work hard to break themselves of the habit. Just push forward. This is the other reason that speed readers run their hands down the page of a book – in order to force themselves forward. When I learned to speed read, one of the instructions I received was to cut a long, thin hole out of an index card and use that so that I could only see one line at a time and then simply move it down the page. Of course I don’t use that card anymore but it was good practice in the early months.

These are the basics of speed reading. Just reading them sounds simple. Implementing them is challenging… and maintaining consistency is really hard!

Now that you know how to speed read, it’s time to turn your attention back to the process I was describing earlier to get through a book in ten minutes.

So you’ve spent the first 3-5 minutes doing a focused preview of the book. Now it’s time to spend the remaining time speed reading the book. There’s a good chance that you won’t need to read the whole book to answer your questions. And, because you already scoped the book and read all the titles and subtitles, you’ll know where quite a bit of the information is and how it is organized. This will allow you to go to the area you want to read, speed read it to answer your question, and then move on.

Reactions

When I tell people about this technique, a common response is that you’re not actually reading. However, I am confident that by doing both of these techniques – and STARTING with asking some focusing questions – you will actually get more out of the book than someone who picked it up at a bookstore and read the whole thing cover-to-cover and put it on their shelf.

This is not cheating. We’re not in school and you’re a busy person. This is a focused use of your time to get the best content that is the most applicable to you. And believe me, when you go toe-to-toe against someone who read the book from front to back, your business will always be the bigger beneficiary.

Alternatives

An alternative to this method is to subscribe to a book summary service like www.summary.com. These do have some value but, in my opinion, they just encapsulate the teachings of the book into a smaller version. On the other hand, the 2-technqiue process I’ve described above makes you the master over your reading and helps you to approach each book with the intention to pull high value business answers out of it.

Going beyond

If you practice technique #2 and are able to speed read consistently, you may find that you want to speed read all your books front-to-back, including business books and novels. Although I have dropped off in the past couple of years, I used to read at 1500 words per minute so a 100,000 word novel would take about an hour. I may not have been able to read a book in ten minutes but it’s a far cry from the time it takes most people to read because the average reading rate is about 200 to 250 words per minute

About this article: This article is an archived edition of Heather Villa’s Tips in 10 email series, and is no longer included in the existing email series. To read similar articles to this one, please subscribe to Tips in 10 at http://www.tipsin10.com

About the author: Heather Villa, MBA CMA MSM, is a Business Coach and Entrepreneur. She helps business owners achieve success in operations, productivity, project management, and social media. Read her other articles at http://hireheathervilla.com/resources/articles/ and visit http://heathervilla.com for more information.

Disclaimer: © 2009 Heather Villa. Permission is granted to repost this article. Article must be published in its entirety, including author bio, and all links must remain intact.

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