Speed reading: a legend explained

By johannatime On June 10, 2015 Under Productivity vs Procrastination

Many professionals struggle with quite a reading backlog. Reading tasks often aren’t emergencies, so the article or report gets stacked on a pile on the desk, or worse, on the floor. What about you? Do you ever get to reading all you should? Consider speed reading as a new skill to learn to increase your productivity. If you need to read a lot, this is a great time saver. And if you need to read a lot, you get to practice and get better every day!


Many folks think that speed reading is like browsing. Like quickly scanning through the pages and picking up some key words in order to know what it is about. You read the intro and the conclusion and your done. True, that is a way to do it. But I’d call it browsing or scanning. Speed reading is different. If done correctly, speed reading increases your understanding of the text compared to (slow) reading.

The secret of speed reading

Reading happens at talking speed, a relatively slow pace of 250 words per minute or so. While you read, your brain will wander off doing its own thing at a much higher speed. Between two words in your text, your mind can make up an entire story. These random and associative thoughts will distract you from reading the text, and will distort your understanding of it. So if you’d manage to approach thinking speed with your reading, your mind gets less time to escape from your task, and your understanding of the text wil increase.

Just understanding

The trick is to get the time wasters out of your reading and minimise the activity to just understanding the text. At school, you learned to read aloud, and when you read to yourself, you still read as if reading aloud. That is why don’t go faster than talking speed. However in order to understand the text, you don’t need pronunciation, and you don’t need correct grammar. So for speed reading, skip pronunciation and grammar. Basically, the words go only one way: from the paper through your eyes into your brain.

Time savers

Here are a few techniques that will all increase the speed of your reading. Try and master them all:

  • Set a goal: Read the intro and the conclusion like you would anyway, and have some questions ready that you’d like to have anwered after reading the text.
  • Go one way: In order to check and double check, your eye will jump back and forth in the text. Instead, use a pen or your finger and move along the lines from left to right like an old matrix printer. Your eyes will follow.
  • Keep a pace: read each line at the same speed, no matter if it is difficult or half empty. This way, you create a consistent rhythm. Try 60 lines per minute. The same pace as your heartbeat when you are relaxed.
  • Broaden your focus: Instead of reading one word at a time, absorb an area of about 3 cm wide. This means you can start reading 1,5 from the beginning, and finish 1,5 cm from the end of a line.
  • Take microbreaks: a blank line is a break for your eyes and your brain. Don’t skip them, include them in your pace and your rhythm. They’re there for a reason.

Within an hour you will increase your reading speed and your understanding of the text. Please share your progress and your comments below:

Johanna Jansen

Credits: all the above I have learned years ago from Jan-Willem van den Brandhof, a ‘brain’ trainer in The Netherlands. Check out their website!

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