When the Personal MBA manifesto came out back in 2005 (see The Personal MBA: Mastering Business Without Spending a Fortune for the original), I read through the list, jotted down a couple book ideas, but mostly just left it at that. Lately, however, I’ve been reading more business books, and I thought I’d give the list another look.
The idea of a Personal MBA has grown momentum, and the list of books has been kept fresh. This time around, I pulled out maybe half-a-dozen that sounded interesting; But before diving in, I took the recommendation to brush up on my reading techniques using “10 Days to Faster Reading.”
Before starting the book (and perhaps still now), I would have described my reading style as slow, steady, and thorough. I read to comprehend, debate, understand, and work the material into my world view. That’s also a fancy way of saying that I’m not the quickest reader, but that I pay attention. That said, I’m always interested in learning something new and boosting my productivity.
My mindset going into “10 Days to Faster Reading” was open, interested, willing to learn, but somewhat skeptical that it would work for me. My assumption about speed reading was that it focused more on skimming then on deep engagement. Fortunately, the book changed my view a bit.
One of the biggest takeaways for me, was the idea that when we’re young, and learning how to read, we’re taught to slowly go through each word at a time because we’re still building our vocabularies and teaching our eyes how to parse written text. Unfortunately, as we get older, our education systems tend not to re-visit reading skills in a manner more suited to our growing ability to process words. This is why adults can boost their reading speed — they have the ability to process text at a rate faster then we normally use, if you can teach your eyes how to do it.
Each chapter in the book contains lessons and timed reading exercises. With stopwatch in hand, I tracked my progress. Here’s my results: (Note that each chapter often had you applying a different technique, so progress wasn’t meant to be linear)
|Words per Minute||Comprehension||Notes|
|265||100%||The first test, meant to be a baseline measurement before learning new reading techniques.|
|600||100%||Familiar subject matter|
My times definitely improved, though comprehension suffered as the pace increased. Interestingly though, two things came out of this:
- If 70% comprehension is good enough (ie., if all I need is to get the gist of something), it’s possible to really crank the speed up.
- Familiarity with the subject matter makes a huge difference. (Which is why previewing and skimming before reading can make a big difference.)
I still need more practice, but at least now I know what to work on, and I have a handful of techniques to experiment with. So far, I’ve found the best application to be with Newspaper and magazine articles, along with online news where I just need the general story.
Overall, I’d say that the potential boost in reading productivity was worth the $9 book price and the time it took to read it.