How to Boost Your Reading Speed with the Deadline Technique
How Deadlines Help You Read Faster
Let’s rewind the clock and think back to when we were in school when you had to write an eight-page paper. When did you write that eight-page paper? What if it was due in three weeks? Did you start writing it at the day you were assigned? Probably not, I think most of us when we remember that we had to write our papers, we probably did them the day or the night before.
I remember when there was this one paper that I had to do when I was in college. It had to be emailed to the professor by midnight and I remembered about it at the last moment, around 9:45pm. I didn’t get started on it until 10 pm. I had two hours to write this eight-page paper. Somehow, that paper was completed.
Procrastination isn’t a good thing. But what happens when you only have two hours to complete something that must be done in time? For most of us, if there is a time limit on something, we find a way to make it happen. Sometimes, just having a deadline can improve our focus. I want you to think about how the speed at which I did that paper was actually improved because I only had two hours to do it. The funny thing is, I actually scored pretty well on that paper. But it wasn’t because I procrastinated. It was because I was able to focus all of my attention on a single task. The deadline made it possible for me to sharpen my focus and write that paper faster than I normally would have.
How would this apply to reading? Simple. Start setting deadlines on the amount of time it should take you to read a page in your book.
Speed Reading Exercise: The Deadline Technique
Here’s an exercise you can try out for yourself. Take a book that you are currently reading. All you need is a book you are currently reading and a timer. For most books (fiction & non-fiction), you will have anywhere from 300 to 500 words per page. Let’s assume your book has about 400 words per page. Your goal in this exercise should be to at least read one page per minute. This would be double the average person’s reading speed (the average is 200 words per minute).
If you do not have exactly 400 words per page you can still do the exercise. You can adjust the time or the amount of pages you try to read to achieve a rate of 400 wpm. For example, if your book has 800 words per page, try reading one page in two minutes (this would still be a rate of 400 wpm). Or if you only have 200 words per page, you might want to try and read two pages in one minute (still 400 wpm). Although it doesn’t have to be exactly a rate of 400 wpm, I recommend you try to get as close to this rate as possible, or faster if you feel comfortable going faster. Think of the exercise as a form of practice. You are practicing to see if you can read through a certain amount of material in a certain amount of time.
Having this deadline will help you get faster. I recommend you try this kind of exercise for 15 minutes a day, for two weeks. As you practice this, you’ll notice that it gets easier and easier to go faster. You’ll also notice that by having a deadline, you can improve your focus while reading.
Keep Track of Your Progress
I recommend that you keep track of your progress with a spreadsheet or you can make a little grid on a separate sheet of paper. To keep track of your progress, create 15 rows and label them 1 through 15. Each row will represent an attempt in the exercise.
You’ll also need a few columns. Label the first column “Yes or No?”. This will signify whether or not you made it to your deadline. For example, if you time yourself to read one page in one minute, just put a yes or not if you made it though the material in the amount of time you set. In the next column create a label with the word comprehension. After each attempt, you are going to do a self-assessment of your comprehension. Think of it as more of an estimate than a real comprehension score. On a scale from zero to a hundred percent, you are going to estimate what your comprehension level was during the time you spent reading.
If you are trying to read at 400 wpm, it may initially be a challenge. You may not make it through the entire page in time. Or you might make it, but your comprehension felt terrible. That’s alright initially. But if you keep practicing, you’ll notice that it will become easier to make to read at that speed with better comprehension. Having a deadline will force you to focus specifically on the material you are reading.
Later, you can modify the exercise. For example, instead of just doing one minute per page, you may want to do two pages in two minutes. You can even try increasing your reading rate if 400 wpm is too easy for you.
Paul is the founder of Iris Reading, the largest provider of speed-reading and memory courses. His workshops have been taught to thousands of students and professionals worldwide at institutions that include: NASA, Google, HSBC and many Fortune 500 companies.