Feature Article: "How to Read More Productively (Better Known as, Help, I've Been Swallowed By My Reading Pile!)" 

Workers have unlimited information available right at their fingertips, thanks to the Internet. If you tried to read every web page, reports, magazine article, business book, or email that came across your desk, you could spend your entire career reading. If you simply have too much to read and too little time, you can benefit from new reading techniques to boost your productivity. Getting through your reading tasks more quickly will free up time for other priorities. 

I've chatted with a few people who have attended traditional speed-reading classes, curious about the result. Most people tell me they never really got any good at it, or that the technique itself was stressful. The old method of speed-reading is basically regular reading on steroids. Traditional speed-reading requires intense, conscious focus with few interruptions, something hard to come by in today's workplaces. Studies have also shown that retention decreases as speed increases. If you try to read too quickly, you end up rereading the same paragraph over again, hardly an improvement. 

Just as you wouldn't give an important presentation without ample preparation, don't just pick up a magazine and start reading without the slightest thought. You need to prepare for the reading activity. Apply this five-step process to help you be a more productive reader: 

Step one: Prepare your materials. Try to batch your reading and put larger documents aside to read during a single sitting. Schedule an appointment with yourself to get through them (I like to use the time on airplanes to get through my reading pile). When you reach the appointed time, gather your documents. Grab a pen, a highlighter, and some sticky notes. 

Step two: Prepare your mind. If you can, retreat to an empty office or conference room so that you are interrupted as little as possible. Make the mental decision that you are going to attentively read your materials. Don't think how terrible it's going to be or groan inwardly. Think positively and set goals around what you plan to accomplish or learn by the end of your reading session. 

Step three: Situate your body. Sit down with a straight spine and your feet comfortably on the floor. Don't hunch your shoulders, and take a few deep breaths to get oxygen to your brain. Try to relax your facial muscles, even turning up the corners of your mouth to match your positive attitude. Rest your book and your hands on the table, or prop it up on a reading stand. Hold your reading square in front of your eyes at a 45-60 degree angle. 

Step four: Scan. When you begin, preview the text quickly to get a basic understanding of how the material is laid out and the main points are organized. For magazine articles, I like to read the title, headings, sidebars, and the first and last paragraphs. By noticing the writing pattern and sections, you'll help your brain quickly organize the material. 

Step five: Read. My favorite reading technique is called rhythmic perusal, developed by J. Michael Bennett, a reading expert and professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. You glide your eyes over the upper half of the letters; read each line in a single, smooth movement. The technique enhances your concentration and, with practice, allows you to increase speed and focus. Mark key passages and make notes in the margins as you go. If you don't, you will forget the important pieces and actions the next time you look at the item. 

If you apply these five simple reading techniques, you will greatly improve your concentration, speed, and retention. You will also have the upper hand from staying on top of important information in today's highly competitive work environment. 

Make it a productive day! 

(C) Copyright 2004 Laura Stack, MBA, CSP. All rights reserved. Portions of this newsletter may be reprinted in your organization or association newsletter, provided the following credit line is present: 

"Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is "The Productivity PRO," (R) helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or [email protected]."