In any large major metropolitan weekend paper today we receive more material in one weekend than the majority of people living in the 1700’s would have had access to in their entire lifetime (apart from the rich and well-educated). So don’t be surprised that you constantly feel overwhelmed! Although our understanding of the human brain and our ability to live in a world of dramatic and swift change have developed over the centuries, our ways of learning and processing of information haven’t changed that much.
The rate of new information available is doubling faster and faster. In the 1970s it doubled every 10 years; in the early 1980s it doubled every 5.5 years; in the later 1980s it was doubling every 20 months, and by the year 2000 much information was redundant, passé, or out of date within 3-6 months. This is particularly so in any information technology environment, or an industry that is driven by rapidly changing information, such as the financial markets. In the IT world they wryly use the term ‘dog years’ to refer to their environment (one year of a human’s life is equivalent to 7 years of a dog’s life).
For the industries based on rapidly changing information, large chunks of knowledge change sometimes seemingly at the speed of light. If you think teaching is stressful (and it certainly is at times) spare a thought for the people who can never come to work with any certainty that important elements of their business will be the same as when they went home the night before.
It doesn’t mean that all information is redundant within 6 months – that of course would be a nonsense. As teachers you’ll be very aware of many topics that haven’t changed hugely over the years. However, there is much, even in education, that haschanged: new research about the brain, alternative ways to teach, the impact of the internet; computers themselves and the way they impact learning in schools, new curricula, geographical and political information, the structure of the communities you serve – the list goes on.
We may not always like it, but I think you’ll agree we have no power to change this rapid and escalating state of affairs. However, there are things we can do to help ourselves. We do have power over our own behaviour, how we respond, and how we adapt. In some cases we need to modify our behaviour. In other situations we must modify our environment and learn to block out and switch off. And of course the best possible day-to-day information-handling skills will assist, instead of just sinking despairingly under the flood.
So what can you do to keep sane, up to date with what’s relevant, and able to block out that which you don’t need?
Let’s see what we can do to read in a different way. (I wish I’d been taught this at school!)
How much do you read?
The first thing I’d strongly suggest you look at is exactly what you spend your time reading. Do you read as much as you’d like, or as many as you’d like of the books you’re interested in? Have you ever ploughed through a book purely because you felt you should finish it, rather than because you were enjoying it? I was fortunate enough to do a speed reading course recently with Dr John Demartini, a very brilliant man and author of ‘Count your blessings’. He had us do a most awakening exercise, and I’d suggest you try it too. You only need a minute, and it will profoundly affect the way you look at your reading choices.
How many books do you read on average a month?
Multiply that figure by 12.
How many years of life would you like to think you have left?
Multiply the number of years by the number of books you can read in a year.
That figure is the likely number of books you’ll read in the rest of your life, unless you learn to read faster.
How do you feel about that? And faced with that knowledge, are you happy with the selections you’re currently making? The time spent on today’s reading prevents you reading something else. Life is one of choice – make sure your choices take you in the direction you wish to go.
A different way of reading
My biggest recommendation is to attend a rapid reading course (sometimes called speed reading). Over the years I’ve attended three quite different programmes, all good, and my experience is that the most important element is the on-going practice. Each time I’ve become better, but if you don’t practice you’ll quickly drop back to your old habits. You’ve been reading in a certain way for most of your life, and that style isn’t going to shift permanently after a few hours of training. You are the most important ingredient in your success (sorry guys – there isn’t a magic answer and one-stop solution!)
There are many good courses out there. Ask around in your own community. I’ve listed some key points below, and for those who want to go deeper and try a few techniques on your own you’ll find an expanded version on my website, but please don’t consider this the definitive instruction on how to speed-read. It’s only to whet your appetite. You really need to attend a course to be pushed to significantly higher levels of competency, because only an external person can push you past the comfort zone of your eyes, your brain, and your current beliefs about your abilities. (You’ll find the expanded keys in the Articles section atwww.gettingagrip.com)
Some rapid-reading keys
1. Read with purpose.
2. Start with the end in mind.
3. Have an expectation of success.
4. Do an audit on your words, and eliminate any negatives.
5. Sit upright and hold the book at a comfortable position.
6. Have good overhead light, fresh air, plenty of water, and a comfortable temperature.
7. Read from the back of your head (your visual cortex) through your eyes, not from your eyes.
8. Preview and review.
9. Use your finger, or sometimes two fingers, as a visual guide. One of the key elements of rapid reading is to use our finger at a very fast rate, running it down the page. We don’t need to read every word in order to comprehend and retain the information. All we need is chunks of text, and the sense is gathered at lightening speed.
10. Do eye and hand speed training to stretch your eye’s and mind’s abilities.
11. Set yourself a daily target.
12. Practice, practice, practice.
13. Comprehension will come – believe it.
All these points, and more, are expanded on the website.
If other aspects of your desk and paper-handling methods need an audit, get hold of a copy of my book ‘Getting a grip on time’and read Chapter 13