Learn to Speed Read in Three Easy Steps

How do you use information to stay competitive?

As professionals, we are inundated daily with information: E-mails, reports, news, blogs, social media…the list goes on and on.  Those who are able to efficiently digest, assimilate and utilize the vast flow of information find themselves ahead of their peers and more competitive no matter what industry or function they work in.  So how do you use information to stay competitive?  You can learn to speed read your way to useful information and a competitive edge.

Here are Three Easy Steps to get started:

STEP ONE – Develop your professional reading plan.

Identify professional areas that interest you or areas you know you are weak in.  For example, you may be interested in leadership topics and know you are weak in Finance.  Research books available on those specific topics and write down your reading list.  Then, put a specific goal in place.  I want to read one book a month, a chapter a night, devote 30 to 60 minutes each day of the week, etc.…  Actively work towards this goal.  Don’t get hung up if you miss a night or two, you can make it up the next day or week.  The important point is to put a plan together and consistently work toward your goal.  Remember, professional reading should become a habit and an important part of your professional development process.

Why is a professional reading plan so critical to your professional development?  It makes you unique – In a world where everyone has an advanced degree, certification, trade skill or extensive network,  your knowledge is what makes you unique and creates the difference between you and your peers.  Unlike many other activities, reading allows you to grow intellectually; the more often you exercise this skill, the more information you retain.  This is critical as you interview, vie for promotions and perform in your job.  By learning new ways of doing things, focusing on areas of weakness and expanding your knowledge base, you set yourself apart from your peers.

STEP TWO – Read more efficiently than your peers.

Become more efficient at reading; sometimes referred to as speed-reading.  This isn’t some magical creation designed to suddenly make you a gifted reader.  It is a set of techniques that allows you to increase the speed at which you process information, without losing your ability to retain useful data.

Speed Reading Tips – Don’t read a business book like a leisure novel, it takes far too much time.  Your goal should not be to read every word cover to cover, rather it should be to extract five or more key points or business tools that you can use and potentially implement in your daily activities. There are many speed reading techniques out there, and we encourage you to explore them in greater depth.  Here are some high level efficiency techniques to get you started:

 Overview Up Front – Read the inside cover, preface and introduction in detail.  A substantial amount of information is housed in these areas and it gives you great context on the information available within the book.

 3-3-30 Rule – Simply put

  • Read the first Three Chapters of the book.  If reading an article, focus on the first three paragraphs.
  • On the inside front cover write a brief summary of three or more specific tools, techniques, ideas or concepts you discovered in the book.  Be sure to include the page number next to each summary.  The idea is that on occasion you can go back to these books and hit the key areas if you ever wanted to refresh.
  • Take only 30 minutes (average ten minutes per chapter) to get the work done.   At a minimum read the first and last sentence of each paragraph to get the key ideas/information.  At first you may feel uncomfortable skipping over so much information, but with practice you will become more efficient.  You can test yourself by trying to capture the concept and then reading the full paragraph to see if you were right or not.  Once you build your confidence you can use this approach throughout your reading.
  • At the conclusion of this 3-3-30 exercise go back and review the concepts that interested you in each chapter and, if needed, read in greater detail.

The Finish – At this point you have extracted a good portion of information and value from the book.  Go to the remaining chapters that you have not read and identify those that you think might be interesting to you or help substantiate some of the tools/information you have taken notes on.  Skim (don’t read word for word) and summarize ideas/tools/concepts on the inside cover with page numbers.

STEP THREE – Eliminate the noise from your information sources.

If you mailbox is flooded with newsletters and updates from sources that you rarely, if ever, have a chance to get to, either unsubscribe or limit the amount of times you receive the information.  Once you have a professional reading plan you may find that some of the items you have been getting no longer fit into it.  Eliminate those items and focus yourself on what you can spend your time on.  You can always go back and pull information from those sources at a later date, or reintroduce them into your reading list.

If you practice these simple techniques you will see a dramatic increase in your assimilation of information and ability to incorporate useful information into your daily work activities.  Ultimately, it will make you more productive and competitive no matter what your field.


Written by Lisa Woods, President Lisa Woods Consulting & Founder of ManagingAmericans.com

Lisa is a dynamic business leader & author located in Western New York with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she partners with business leaders to understand their vision, identify internal and external roadblocks, define a practical strategic path forward and guide a successful transformation. This work includes strategy definition & goal setting, organizational design, facilitating team buy-in, establishing visual metrics, internal and external research studies, business feasibility assessments, and investor insight into organizational strength, weakness & strategic opportunity. She helps business leaders drive growth & increase profits.

Strategic Consulting ǀ Management Consulting: Strategy Realized

      Contact Lisa

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