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Are distractions a problem when speed reading?

16 Aug 2019
Are distractions a problem when speed reading?

The short answer is yes, absolutely!

Speed reading requires focus. If you are to be effective you need to avoid multitasking, eliminate distractions and spend a short time, no more than about three quarters of an hour at a time, truly engaged with the reading material. Reading should be seen as a priority, not something you fit in around other jobs. Try to read when you are most alert. If you’re a lark then first thing in the morning, or if you’re a night owl in the evening, but almost certainly not straight after lunch! Billionaire Warren Buffett credits much of his success in business to his voracious reading habit. He estimates he spends as much as 80 percent of his day reading. He said,“Read 500 pages every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”

Distractions fall into two categories, firstly those which you create yourself and secondly those caused by other people. Let me explain. If you don’t enjoy reading, you can be tremendously creative in finding excuses and reasons to avoid knuckling down to read a book. Maybe you need to tidy your desk before you start. Perhaps you need to fix yourself a snack in case you get hungry. There are countless ways to procrastinate, all of which distract you from the task at hand.
Even once you’ve started reading you can still distract yourself. If you come across an unfamiliar word, then stop reading to Google it, you will break your rhythm and possibly get side-tracked into checking your messages while you’ve got your phone out. If you do find unfamiliar words or terminology, it is far better to continue reading as it will probably make sense as you gain more context. If you get to the end of a chapter or section and feel you didn’t understand what you read, only then look up the meaning of new words (and make a point of learning them using memory techniques).
Don’t allow technology to distract you. If you can bear it without creating separation anxiety, switch off your phone, iPad or computer. At the very least set your phone to silent and change settings to stop your computer making a noise every time you receive an email. It is very rare that anything will be so urgent it can’t wait half an hour or 45 minutes while you devote yourself to reading.
If you work in an open plan office it is very likely someone will interrupt you when you are trying to read. Find somewhere secluded like an empty meeting room where you can focus without being disturbed. If you’re expected to be at your desk, and people will think you’re skiving if you’re not, have a visual signal that shows people you don’t want to be disturbed. This could be a sign placed on your desk or, as a colleague of mine once did, literally wearing a thinking cap. Woe betide anyone who spoke to her while she had her hat on. If you want to take this to extremes you could even buy a pair of industrial ear defenders (often used by competitors in memory competitions).
If you’re lucky enough to have a private office where you can shut yourself away, you are more likely to be able to read in peace. Even then it’s worth hanging a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.
However you do it, make time to read and be strict with yourself and others that distractions can’t be tolerated!

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