Monday, January 01, 2007

To happy and successful reading

Regardless of whether we like reading or not, in this information age, we are all expected to absorb or more importantly synthesize enormous amount of data. Doesn't make sense to become more effective at that so that it serves different purposes at the same time? First, if you like to read and read more, by becoming effective at reading, you can read more. Second, if you do not like to read much but want to spend your time on other equally or more interesting activities, it helps to finish off (effectively) your reading obligations and indulge in your other activities without feeling the stress or guilt that often accompanies when we do not complete our readings.

Here are some things that have worked wonders for me in the recent past. Thought of sharing them. Look forward to other techniques from you as well as these are not, by any means, even close to all there is to effective reading and information synthesis.

1) Purpose driven reading (akin to Purpose Driven Life - a famous worth reading book) - Understand what we are trying to accomplish by reading something. Is this for pleasure or work or knowledge? This helps how much attention we have to put into reading.

2) Speed reading is NOT a gimmick. Speed reading, IMO, has gotten a lot of bad rap, I think, mainly because of TV advertisements that appear at odd hours and in between many 'get rich quick' schemes. Speed reading is certainly valuable. Not all the techniques can be easily mastered. But, let that not malign the core concepts of this valuable skill. If not for this, federal government would not have spent tonnes of money in making it as a course at sometime not in the very distant past. Get one or two speed reading books or courses and decide for yourself. I am sure you would pick up at least a few good techniques. I think her name was Evelyn Wood who devises the first and foremost speed reading course.

3) Always use an active pointer to lead you through what you are reading. Good old fingers or a pen or a pencil is a great guiding device. There is a scientific explanation for this. Eyes start darting to everywhere other than the line you want to read after some time especially when the book or the subject matter is not that interesting. That wastes tremendous amount of time and of course what you absorb is also adversely affected. How often than not you have come back again and again after having been lost in day dreaming?

4) If you read a lot of knowledge, keep at least 4 books going parallel. Sometimes it does not work very well when you borrow books from library as keeping 4 books will take much longer than a typical book is allowed. But, many times books that we want to read are the ones we have to buy ourselves. In that case, it makes to buy books together. It may also get you some discount.

5) Limit 4 pages at a time. This works best. 4 pages means 2 sheets printed on both sides. However the complex material may be, it does not take more than 15-20 minutes to read 4 pages without adequate absorption. Anything more works for a while but effectiveness wanes in no time.

6) Follow 25 minutes reading and 5 minutes of absolutely nothing. Even if you do not get back to reading after 25 minutes, it is okay. Ideally, it helps to get back to some other book after that but exceeding 25 minutes does no good to absorbing the core material.

7) Skimming is not cheating. Many times effective skimming does far more good than half read book. First get a good handle on the table of contents. Read the first 1-2 paragraphs of each chapter in the beginning and 1-2 paragraphs at the end. Try this over a book especially on a subject which you know something or on a book that you have read before. Amount of revision and amount of refreshing you get is amazing.

8) Allocate reading time. If you do not get any other time, devote bed time. Purposefully slow reading is also a great tool in inducing sleep. Scientific reason - brain processes the information at far higher speed than eyes can read. Taking your sweet time to read will force you to sleep naturally. Philosophy or spiritual reading is best done this way for many good reason. Spiritual ideas with which you slip into sleep will do a lot of good to your soul while you rest and relax.

9) It is much more effective to read in print than on a computer screen. Yes, it will take more paper and hence trees but as long as you recycle the paper diligently, your conscience will remain clear and clean. although mouse pointer can be used as the indicator with some success, it helps to read in print.

10) One of the best advice my mentor gave to me which I have followed with some seriousness is 'Read at least one book a month.' This advice is worth in gold when done using smart reading skills and when the reading is focused on your personal/professional development. Can you imagine how much more valuable you will become as a professional if you end up reading 12 or more books related to your work? The time you spend is paid off in no time in better job opportunities or general branding of you as a 'smart' person.

11) Take time to go back to those dreaded 'text' books that you studies in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral studies. If you have retained them well and good, if not most of them are easily available in libraries. After years of experience, the new insights you gain by going thru fundamentals is simply great. Try reading one of those books on algorithms or compilers. First of all you will enjoy the reading (with a bit of funny feeling) and you will start appreciating those fundamental. Eventually you have to share your knowledge with someone or the other and what a great way to keep on top of the most fundamental of the fundamentals?

12) Reports, documents etc. that you waste time reading at work are better if taken as printouts and read at home or at a time allocated for them. That way you can make best use of your time at work whatever it may be.

13) Way to use markers. Markers are to be used to mark 'important concepts' and not entire lines. The whole idea behind marking is to draw your attention so that you can easily recap the whole around the core. If you mark an entire paragraph or even a sentence then where is the core and where is the non-core. Highlight important words, phrases and be able to construct the whole picture based on your understanding. It automatically happens when you train yourself this way.

14) If a document that is important is not formatted for readability, you have many tools at your disposal to make it more readable. Simple act of changing to double spacing from single spacing can work wonders and it is simple to do that using word processors. Same with bulleting. Word has even an obscure feature to summarize. Try that. Many smart writers write their documents to lend the document to make use of that feature and turning on that feature is a big time saves when you have to read a long document.

15) Make notes where needed in the margin. Making notes should follow similar guidelines as highlighting to be effective.

If you ignore everything,follow one advice that I got from my mentor - Read one book a month and if possible more. It pays back in platinum.


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