I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
- Douglas Adams
Yesterday was June 17. The self-imposed deadline for getting my speed reading skills up to 500 words per minute, both for English and Dutch. And even self-imposed deadlines need to be honored, so yesterday was the day that I had to check whether I met my goals.
I underestimated the time and energy involved in learning how to speed read. My assumption was that it was mainly another way of reading, that results in a higher speed. And in a way it is, however as with most skills it takes some time to learn, and (this is what I underestimated) it uses some underlying skills that weren’t really strong in my case.
Experiences of last month
Most of all, I was surprised by the tremendous work my eyes had to do. The muscles in my eyes weren’t trained to get up to higher speeds. Speed reading for only 15 or 20 minutes made my eyes very tired, and they needed some time to recover. Since I just had my eyes measured and have the appropriate glasses for my eyes, that couldn’t be the problem. Later on in the training the stamina of my eye-muscles improved, and at
the same time the need to move my eyes so fast reduced, as I picked up on the skill to absorb more words in one look.
Not surprisingly, having a quiet and distraction-free environment is essential during training and during speed reading itself, and when you want to get to the really high speeds. Then again, such an environment is quite essential for most high-productivity activities.
Exercises are boring
I used Tony Buzan’s book, and did the exercises from his book. The exercises are big lists of numbers, that you have to cover, uncover for a flash and write down. Now in themselves the exercises are good and provide good training. However at the time Buzan wrote the book, he had to rely on paper to get the exercises across.
Now picture yourself awkwardly behind the book, with a sheet of paper to cover numbers, a pencil in the other hand, and often a stopwatch in front of you to time the exercise. Now cover the numbers, uncover them for a very brief moment, write down the numbers. It’s awkward, it’s tiring on both hands, the book moves around all the time and you get frustrated. Well I did anyway!
The exercises do not encourage you to do over and over again, and that’s a real shame, as
repeated exercise deepens the skills. But the thought of fumbling around with books, pencils, paper and stopwatches is not really appealing. I looked around on the web, but couldn’t find a good free solution. I found spreeder.com, but as you can read here, I use that more as a productivity tool, than as a training tool.
And the results?
In the end I did meet my goals. My speed and comprehension for Dutch are around 560 wpm and around 85%. For English I did not have a real good test, but I use spreeder to read the bigger blog posts (e.g. Steve Pavlina‘s posts). My speedsetting is 500 wpm, and the comprehension is good enough for me there, although I can’t really test it.
My normal reading speed has picked up through training, but isn’t quite on speed reading speeds. I have to say that I use speed reading as a tool, I choose to speed read something. That can either be because there are time-constraints (that happens at work), or information overflow (scanning/reading my blogreader). When I need real good comprehension, I read at normal speeds. 85% is simply not enough then.
Onward from here
I plan to keep up the skill, and improve it gradually. Without goals this time. I still think the exercises are important, yet I’m not doing them on paper anymore. I still haven’t found them on the internet, but I have some ideas that I’m discussing with Reman Child of Spreeder. Maybe there will be exercises available on the net soon. I’ll keep you posted.