Reading Efficiently

Now that we covered context, I think it’s important to talk about motivation. It frames the entire issue. What motivates you to read? The answer to this question puts you on entirely different paths.

For example, if you are motivated to read to pass time, thats fine, but much of what I am talking about is useless to you. Yes, you are reading, but you aren’t reading for comprehension, nor are you reading because you want to move on to something else. Flipping through a magazine is like playing Angry Birds or channel surfing. It can be how some of us kill time, but it’s not reading efficiently. It’s fun, but there is no larger goal.

On the other hand, if you are motivated to read because you want to consume information and convert that information into knowledge, then you will want to read efficiently. That’s the kind of reading I’m writing about.

This can mean a number of things to people, and that’s fine. Some people want to read to stay up to date, others want to cover a lot of ground while not spending to much time reading. The idea is that reading efficiently covers the whole spectrum of reading goals.

Efficiency can be thought of as a mathematical formula. How much did you consume, in what amount of time, and what do you have to show for it? If you read a ton quickly, but you can’t recall what you read, then you are wasting your time. If you want to have a high recall, and thus consume a small amount of material slowly, that’s fine, but, as you can see, this is a balancing act. You need to decide what your goal is before you can do anything to optimize for it.

I try to practice a high volume, fast-paced, modest recall method. I read for work, for professional development, and because I enjoy it.

It can be hard to feel as if you aren’t just missing everything. After all, skimming is normally a lossy practice. It can be hard at times balancing skimming with understanding. But this is one area in which a feed reader shines.

One feature that many people ask for when they talk about replacements to Google Reader is de-duplication. A classic example is the announcement of a new service from a large tech company. Every tech blog is going to cover it. The argument is that if you subscribe to all the tech blogs, you should only see one article about the announcement.

But sometimes there are reasons to have many different posts about the same idea. It helps you to understand the main idea better. Each post will have a couple of different points about a new story. Each author understands the idea in a slightly different way. In this manner, by quickly scanning 3 or 4 takes on the same news story, you end up gaining many different perspectives into the announcement.

This helps you to understand what everyone is actually talking about. In this way, you can skim a number of articles, and you aren’t just doing this because you lack concentration. You are doing it because it can help you to understand the whole story.