Wish you could read stuff faster? Don’t get angry. Get listening.
Reading Time: 3 minutes
If you’re a human being, currently breathing and have eyeballs, you’ve probably encountered the phenomenon of having too much stuff to read, not enough time to read it all.
100 years ago we were lucky to read 50 books in a lifetime. Now we get 174 newspapers worth of information biffed at us per day.
So what’s the solution?
Tried speed listening?
Is that even a thing?
Well, let’s just start with listening first.
We all know audiobooks are gold. While science says we comprehend speech at about the rate of reading, listening gives big productivity gains via concurrent activity.
You can listen while you drive, walk, run.
Retired General Stanley McCrystal, commander Joint Special Operations Command, ISAF, USFOR-A and all that, swears by audiobooks while running as an efficiency multiplier. And who’s gonna argue with him?
So can you get someone to read those boring work memos and SOPs to you? Hmmm.
Probably not Stanley. Pretty sure he’s busy.
But a good a text-to-speech app will do just that.
Convert your document or email into a pdf or epub and a pretty natural sounding voice will read it to you (yep, no more Stephen-Hawking-giving-a-physics-lecture robot voices).
My process is:
- Convert the document to pdf using “The File Converter” app by SmoothMobile;
- Open new file in Voice Dream Reader and listen (Voice Dream Reader is probably the best on the market at the mo. It’s a little expensive (NZD$22) but worth every penny).
Ok, so that’s the listening bit. Speed listening then?
The concept is straightforward.
- Take the speed you’re currently comfortable listening at (e.g. 250 wpm);
- Increase the speed by 50 words per minute (i.e. 300 wpm);
- Listen for 5-10 mins (focus hard, no distractions, this is practice);
- Slow back down 250 wpm for a 30sec (sound a little slow now?);
- Increase the speed by around 20-30 wpm and resume listening for a few days at this new speed; then
- Repeat from step 2) through 5).
Is there any science to this? Sure.
Did you find things sounded much slower when you resume original playback speed at step 4) than when you first listened at that speed?
It’s called the “adaptation effect” – the brain’s judgement of “normal” speed is unconsciously influenced by the exposure to the faster speed.
the so-called ‘adaptation effect’ is down to a person’s own perceived ‘norms’ about how fast something would usually move being altered by relatively short periods of exposure to different speeds.
The brain then goes through “velocity renormalisation” – the process of re-adapting to the slower speed.
Only we don’t let it. We resume listening at a slightly higher speed (which now feels relatively comfortable) and re-set our norm there.
And then repeat.
Adapting or stretching the ear like this is a technique I first came across while at jazz school. We used it to make fast tempo songs feel slow and give us more ‘space’ when improvising.
It’s also a method used by experts to build skill in any domain.
Research by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson, a professor of psychology at Florida State University and coeditor of The Cambridge Handbook of Expertise and Expert Performance, shows that the best way past a plateau is to jostle yourself beyond it; to change your practice method so you disrupt your autopilot and rebuild a faster, better circuit. One way to do this is to speed things up—to force yourself to do the task faster than you normally would.
You should be able to get your ear to around 400 – 450 wpm for mass market non-fiction.
That’s a book every few days on a 30 min each-way commute. Or a lot of work reading.
Sure, you’ll probably lose some comprehension at faster speeds. But hey, doing some exercise plus not having to actually read work stuff? I can live with that.
So that’s it. Now there’s no excuses.
You can have all those super-exciting work white papers read to you while you drive, walk, run, ride, swim (waterproof bluetooth headphones anyone?), eat, sleep, have sex, spend time with your family, and all those other less important things in life.