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10 Days to Faster Reading - Abby Marks-Beale

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10 Days to Faster Reading - Abby Marks-Beale


12 May 2010 By Josh Kaufman

This post contains my personal notes about the big ideas in Abby Marks-Beales 10 Days to Faster Reading. My book notes are different than many of the book summaries youll find on the web. Instead of following the structure of the book in question, well isolate and examine the key ideas and themes that make the book useful. Along the way, Ill tell you how I actually apply the ideas. Enjoy! Abby Marks-Beale is the author of the Personal MBA-recommended book 10 Days to Faster Reading, as well as The Complete Idiots Guide to Speed Reading. If you want to fly through your reading pile, RSS reader, and e-mail inbox at breakneck speed while maintaining consistently high levels of reading comprehension, these speed reading books are for you. For more information about Abbys work, check out: Rev It Up Reading Abbys new online reading skills course. The Corporate Educator Abbys business skills website. 10 Days to Faster Reading Personal MBA-recommended guide to improving reading speed and comprehension. Here are ten big ideas from Abby Marks-Beales 10 Days to Faster Reading

#1. Linear Reading is Inefficient You Dont Have to Read Every Word to Extract Value from Non-Fiction Material
The purpose of non-fiction reading is not to read every word on every page its to extract useful

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information from the material. Growing up, most of us learned to read by starting with the first word on the first page, then continuing to read until we get to the last word on the last page. Unless youve learned structured non-fiction reading techniques, you probably still read this way, even though its extremely inefficient. Efficient reading is non-linear a series of quick skims, skipping around, referencing, and note-taking. The purpose is not 100% eye-coverage of the text: its to extract all of the useful information thats relevant to what you want to do. Its easy to get hung up on reading the book as turning pages until there are no more pages to turn. Once you get comfortable with the idea that you dont have work your way through the entire book linearly to benefit from your reading, you can read much faster, and put the book down when youve learned what you need to know.

#2. Pick Your Battles: Ruthlessly Edit Your Reading Pile


Most of us have way too much to read. Between books, newsletters, magazines, e-mail, blog posts, and snail mail, our reading pile overfloweth. Until someone invents a Time-Turner that will allow us to keep up with our reading, choices must be made. Triage helps you read the most critical materials first. In any good hospital Emergency Room, doctors identify which patients need help first everyone else can wait. Heart attacks get first priority; cases of indigestion can wait a while. The same principle applies to reading: you may have a large pile, but some reading material will be more important than others. Having a sense of clarity about what youre trying to do is necessary in order to triage your reading pile effectively. If youve taken the time to clearly define your goals (i.e. what you want), its much easier to figure out if reading certain materials will help you get what you want. When I was in the middle of writing my book, I didnt check my blog reader for over four months. That was okay: reading RSS feeds was not as important as writing chapters, so I made a conscious decision not to read them for a while. When in doubt, throw it out or defer the reading to another time.

#3. Questions Before Content: The Power of Purpose-Setting


Effective non-fiction reading does NOT start with picking up the book. You can multiply your reading effectiveness by taking a few minutes before you start reading to decide why youre bothering to read in the first place. I call this technique Purpose-Setting. Purpose-Setting is the act of deciding what you want to learn by reading this material. By figuring out what information would help you, what questions you want answered, and how you intend to apply the material, youll make it much easier to recognize useful information when you find it. Ive found the best way to purpose-set is to write down 8-10 questions on an index card or in a notebook before opening the book. This effectively programs your brain to look for the information youre trying to find a very important concept called Priming.

#4. Priming: The Benefit of a Quick Preview


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Priming is the act of programming your brain to notice certain things about your environment. If youve ever been interested in a certain type of car, only to find you start seeing them EVERYWHERE you go, you know what priming feels like. The universe hasnt unloaded thousands of new cars all over the highway theyve always been there, but your brain filtered them out as irrelevant. Your interest changed the filters, so you actually notice when they appear. Priming happens unconsciously, but you can control it if you know what youre doing. Purpose-Setting works because it gives you an opportunity to consciously prime your perceptual filters to notice information related to your interests. Thats what allows you to read so quickly when youre sufficiently primed, you can skim through a book quickly until your brain recognizes something as interesting or important. As you skim, you suddenly find your eyes stopping on the part of the text that relates to what youre looking for. It feels like magic, but its just your brain doing its job. Before you start reading, dont skip the two richest sources of priming material in the book: the table of contents and the index. The TOC gives you information about the books structure, content, and order. The index, aside from being a useful reference tool, is essentially a frequency-map of the books key terms. If you find a term you dont know with a large number of citations, chances are its important write it down on a list of key terms before you start reading. Purpose-Setting and Priming only take a few minutes. Once youre done, youre ready to fly through the book.

#5. The Thought is Faster Than the Word


The biggest barrier to faster reading is subvocalization: sounding-out words verbally instead of thinking them. Subvocalization is a useful tool in learning to read, but its a major speed barrier once our skills have developed. Our minds are capable of taking in written words as thoughts much faster than our ability to vocalize them. The first step in eliminating subvocalization is realizing that youre doing it. Pick up a piece of reading material and notice whats happening in your mind as you read it. If youre saying the words to yourself as you read, youre subvocalizing. To stop, simply start reading faster: at a certain point, youll be going faster than you can subvocalize, and youll be amazed at how much youre still able to comprehend and retain. Realizing that you can comprehend written material without subvocalizing is a major milestone that will increase your reading speed dramatically.

#6. Your Eyes Can Absorb More Information Than You Think
Your eyes can easily take in more than one word at a time. Instead of fixating on every word, taking in groups of 3-5 words at a time can increase your reading speed without harming your comprehension. Learning to read more than one word at a time is mostly a matter of training Marks-Beale includes many exercises that can help you learn this skill. New speed readers tend to gravitate to eye fixation techniques because theyre concrete, but theyre not the most important part of reading speed. In my experience, Purpose-Setting and Priming are far more important if youre trying to get the 80/20, start there. Eye fixation naturally develops with practice and experience.

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10 Days to Faster Reading - Abby Marks-Beale

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(Note: a useful tool you can use to train your abilities to read without subvocalizing and taking in more than one word at a time is Spreeder.)

#7. Take Notes for Better Comprehension and Retention


Reading is not a passive activity its not like television, where your job is to simply absorb stimuli. Reading is an active mental process that can result in all sorts of unexpected insights and connections, so it pays to be ready to capture them before you forget. Dont hesitate to write as you read. Taking notes does two useful things: it creates an archive of your thoughts for later reference, and it helps reinforce what you learn. Personally, I find the latter most important if I read something and then write it down, it almost always sticks in long-term memory. The idea capture / archival process is useful for application you can spark many new ideas by reading older notes. Note-taking can take many forms. Some people prefer to write notes in the margins of the book itself, some prefer notebooks, and some prefer capturing notes via a computer or other device. Personally, I prefer a physical notebook its easy to carry and easy to reference. Regardless of what you choose, always take notes.

#8. Eliminate Distractions for Best Results


Reading quickly requires intense mental concentration and effort. Done well, it engages your total attention, challenges your skills, and requires focus. If the phone is ringing, e-mail alerts are buzzing, and co-workers are constantly interrupting you, its best to find a quiet, pleasant environment where you can focus for longer periods of time. (Side note: dont ever let a co-worker give you a hard time for reading at work. Reading is real work, and is often one of the most effective things you can do with your productive time.)

#9. Challenge the Author Capture Your Questions and Objections


Once of the differences in reading for school and reading for your own self-education is being able to reach out to authors you respect or disagree with and get answers. Since most of us grew up reading school textbooks and assigned material in an effort to pass tests, we often forget that authors are real people who are happy to engage with their readers. Capturing your thoughts as you read is a major opportunity to discuss and engage with the author and other interested readers. Once youve sketched your own thoughts regarding a book, youre in a much better position to have interesting and useful discussions about the book with others. I often read material twice: the first pass is non-critical, keeping a completely open mind and trying to understand the authors key points and position. The second pass is critical: are there elements that are confusing or contradictory? Are there positions I dont agree with? If so, I write my thoughts down for later reference and discussion.

#10. Reading is Not Enough Focus on Applying What You Read

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10 Days to Faster Reading - Abby Marks-Beale

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The purpose of reading non-fiction is not to simply read the book its to learn something useful. While reading is fun (and gets even more fun as you learn these skills), it doesnt become profitable until you start translating things youve read into real-world results. After reading a good book, you should always be able to add at least 3 tasks to your active to-do or projects list. Capture these actions while youre reading, and review the list when youre done. Ideally, these actions should be directly related to accomplishing one of the goals you had in the purpose-setting step.

Effective Non-Fiction Reading is a Skill The Dividends are Huge


Effective non-fiction reading is a skill. It takes some time and practice to learn, but once you get the hang of it, youll experience enormous gains in your productivity. Once I learned the material in 10 Days to Faster Reading, I easily quadrupled my reading speed. Now, I can easily sit down with a book for 10-15 minutes and extract most of the valuable information from the text a task that would previously take me at least an hour. Heres an experiment I highly recommend trying for yourself: go to your local bookstore or library, grab 6 books and a timer, and spend no more than 10 minutes trying these techniques on each book. At the end of the 10 minutes, go back and write down in a notebook all of the things you learned. Youll amaze yourself guaranteed. This summary was created by Josh Kaufman, a business advisor and author of The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business. To receive Joshs notes on the best business books available and other Personal MBA blog updates, be sure to sign up for the Personal MBA newsletter its absolutely free. Like this post? Join over 35,000 readers and subscribe to the Personal MBA email update for reading list updates, book summaries, & business training. It's free!

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