We all work to tight deadlines and have many things to pack into smaller and smaller periods of time: one way of increasing your effectiveness and making better use of your time is to is to develop the ability to read quickly and effectively so that you get the essence and key content of a document without spending hours reading every line.

Even the most senior managers and academics, leaders and managers who appear to have a very strong grasp of information, practice this skill every day so that they make the most of their available time and attention.

So, what might these skills look like and how can you develop them?

  1. You do not have to read EVERY word: many of the words in a document add nothing to the message and are there to effectively “pad out” the content. Often words are inserted to make the writing grammatically correct and hence can be ignored if you focus upon the message and content.
  2. Reading once is enough: the trick here is to quickly skim-read the document picking up the key points only. Get the main idea only from this approach and pick out the sections that only apply to you, your interest, the task you have been set and the wider context of your responsibility. Good reading will always be selective reading.
  3. Skip passages that are not relevant: it would be great to have enough time to read the entire document but pressure does not allow for this. You should never feel guilty if you have not read the full content but feel pleased that you have selected wisely what you have read!
  4. Force yourself to read faster: the more you practice this, the easier it becomes and the more time you save. It may feel possibly unnatural or difficult at first but keep with it. Senior managers read at a fast pace and quickly absorb what they have read after years of practice.
  5. Make sure that fast reading does not mean less understanding; there is little or no correlation between fast reading and failing to understand and use the content of what you have read. This is all about developing your comprehension skills. Aim to seek out the key pieces of information that you need and learn to spot them amongst the other, background information that you do not need.
  6. Look for key words: “causes”, “effects”, “results” should leap off the page for you.
  7. Look for headings and organisational clues: these will signpost you to key areas of interest and relevance. That way you can ignore the irrelevant content and be ruthless in sticking to this principle.

As with most things in life, practice makes perfect. Begin with your favourite newspaper and see how quickly you can pick up the key messages in articles and editorial and then continue with bigger, more complex documents.

Good Luck!

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