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Back to Basics: Processing

Back to Basics: Processing

Your Inbox

    In my first installment of “Back to Basics”, I discussed the importance of your inbox – a single place for collecting all of your inputs for processing. In this installment, we’ll discuss the processing itself – how to turn inputs into action.

    In principle, processing is simple. All it means is making a decision about what to do with every piece of information that enters your life. In practice, it’s actually very hard, mostly because with a few exceptions, we aren’t usually ready to make those decisions – or to make the commitment to act that decision-making implies.

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    There are really only a handful of decisions you can make about an input:

    • you can delete it. It’s unimportant – junk mail, information you already have, reminders of tasks already completed, etc.
    • You can redirect it. If there is another person the task or information would be better suited for, forward it to them.
    • You can archive it. Anything you don’t need now but will likely need in the future – a business card or address, a vendor’s brochure, an article from a magazine – can be filed away for future reference.
    • You can record it. Information you might need again but don’t need in it’s original form can be extracted and entered into a note-taking program, your contact manager, a notebook, etc. and the original deleted/thrown away.
    • You can do it. Some inputs require immediate action and can be done at once.
    • You can schedule it. Some inputs require action but not immediately – block out a suitable length of time in your calendar to do them.
    • You can defer it. When an input requires action but you are unable to take that action, you have to defer it to later.

    Given the limited number of possible choices, it should be a relatively easy thing to power through your inbox, extract the information you need, file things away, add a few items to your todo list or your calendar, drop a few things into your outbox, and get on with things.

    But it’s not. We get hung up on things, mostly because of those pesky “defer” inputs – things we know we should do something about but can’t, for several reasons:

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    • Lack of information: You don’t know enough to figure out what to do with something.
    • Lack of resources: You know what you should do, but you don’t have everything you need to do it – money, time, equipment, manpower, etc.
    • Lack of urgency: You know what to do and could do it, but it’s not important to do it right now so you put it off.
    • Lack of authority: You are ready, willing, and able to make a decision, but don’t feel empowered to act on that decision.

    The typical pattern where any of these barriers apply is to pick something up out of your inbox, look at it, recognize that you lack something important – information, resources, urgency, or authority – to act on it, and then: you drop it back into our inbox!

    Don’t do that.

    If you’re ever going to keep on top of everything and keep your inputs from overwhelming you, it’s important to break that habit. Which means you need to change the way you think about processing and about the decisions and actions processing entails.

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    When an item hits your inbox that you’re not able to deal with immediately, it becomes a project – an outcome that will take several steps to accomplish. And the first step in that project is to solve the problem, to fill the lack that’s preventing you from completing the task.

    In order to avoid putting things back into your inbox, you need a place to keep pending projects. This could be an accordion file on your desk, or a filing cabinet drawer for live files. You also need a way to keep track of things – a project list with pointers to the pending file.

    And you need to add whatever action you need to take to make it possible to act to your todo list. “Get list of potential team members from HR for Build Team”; “Look up how to find a reliable drywall installer for Fix Hole in Kitchen Wall”; “Set appointment with VP of Marketing to discuss possible action on partnership offer for Movie Tie-In Offer”; “Read Lifehack’s Back to Basics series for Figure Out How to Process my Inbox”.

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    This isn’t all that hard – I label a file with the project name, and I tag actions in my todo list with “for [Project Name]”. And I keep a list of active projects in my notebook. Give yourself permission to reuse the heck out of your folders – you don’t need any excuse to think of something as “too small” to be considered a project. If it’s not something you could sit down and do right now, it’s a project.

    Processing isn’t hard, but it takes some discipline and some clear-thinking time. Discipline because it’s easy to get distracted and easy to put off making a decision for things that you can’t do right now. Clear-thinking time because you ultimately do need to make a decision, and you can’t do that with a thousand other things on your mind.

    So I recommend scheduling a few 15-minute (or longer) blocks of time for processing your inbox throughout the day. Close the door (if you have a door) and get into the “processing zone”. Have your file folders, label-maker (if you use one – it seems silly, but it’s quite a help in getting into the right mindset), your todo list, and a pen handy. Do the same thing at home – set aside a few minutes every day or so to process everything.

    How many times you do this a day depends on your particular situation – keep an eye on your inbox for a few days and see how often it fills up and how urgent the items that come into your inbox are likely to be. For most people, once in the morning and once about an hour before you leave work is enough, and possibly once around lunchtime. If your inbox gets full particularly fast, you may need more than 15 minutes. The trick is to find a frequency and amount of time that leaves you as free as possible to do your actual work the rest of the time.

    And do keep yourself free the rest of the time. Don’t respond to each item as it hits your inbox.  You may as well not have an inbox at all if you’re going to give the world permission to interrupt whatever you’re doing at any time and place whatever they think is important in front of your face. That way madness doth lie!

    More by this author

    The Science of Setting Goals (And Its Effect on Your Brain) Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) How to Admit Your Mistakes How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques

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    Last Updated on February 13, 2020

    What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

    What Is Speed Reading and How to Successfully Learn It

    Too much to read, too little time! Don’t you wish you could read faster without compromising your knowledge intake? This is where a valuable learning technique comes to the rescue: speed reading.

    Speed reading is the top skill to learn in 2020. Read on to find out all about this amazing technique!

    What Is Speed Reading?

    On average, an adult can read somewhere between 200 to 300 words per minute. With speed reading, you can read around 1500 words per minute.[1] Yes, that sounds impossible, but it is true.

    In order to understand how this skill works, you first need to know how the reading process works inside a human’s brain.

    The Reading Process

    The first step is for the eyes to look at a word. This “fixation” on every word takes around 0.25 seconds.

    Next, the eye moves on to the following word. It takes 0.1 seconds for the brain to move from one word to the next. This is called “saccade.”

    Usually, a person reads 4 to 5 words or a sentence at once. After all the fixations and saccades, the brain goes over the entire phrase again in order to process the meaning. This takes around half a second.

    All in all, this allows the average person to read 200 to 300 words in a minute.

    Speeding up the Process

    The concept of speed reading is to speed up this process at least 5 times. Since the saccade period cannot be shortened any further, speed reading emphasizes quicker fixations.

    To accomplish this, scientists recommend that the reader skips the subvocalization: when the readers actually say the word in their mind, even when reading silently.

    Basically, speed reading is the technique of only seeing the words instead of speaking them silently.

    Do not confuse this with skimming. When a reader skims through a text, they skip the parts that their brain considers to be unnecessary.

    You may skip important information in this process. Moreover, skimming does not allow the brain to retain what has been read.

    Why Speed Read?

    Speed reading is not just quick, but also effective. This skill saves a lot of of time without sacrificing information.

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    Also, it has been proven to improve memory. The brain’s performance improves during speed reading, which allows the reader to remember more information than before.

    Since speed reading stabilizes the brain, the information is processed faster and more efficiently.

    Believe it or not, this technique leads to improved focus, too. As the brain receives a lot of information during speed reading, there is far less chance of distraction. The brain focuses solely on the job at hand.

    Since the brain is, after all, a muscle, the process of speed reading acts as an exercise. Just like the rest of your muscles, your brain needs exercise to grow stronger, too.

    A focused brain means improved logical thinking. As your brain gets used to receiving and organizing so much information so quickly, your thinking process will become faster.

    As soon as a problem is thrown at you, your brain will quickly put two and two together. You will be able to retrieve stored information, figure out correlations, and come up with new solutions, all within seconds!

    Still not convinced? Read 10 Reasons Why You Should Learn Speed Reading

    Greater Benefits

    With a healthier brain, you can expect better things in other parts of your life, too. A boost in self-esteem is just one of them.

    As you begin to understand information at a faster pace, you will also begin to figure out more opportunities all around you.

    With the ability to deeply understand information in a shorter period of time, your confidence levels will quickly grow higher.

    Moreover, all the aforementioned benefits will relieve you of stress. You will manage your readings in lesser time, your brain will be healthier, and you will feel so much better about yourself.

    With all these advantages, your emotional well-being will be healthier than ever. You’ll feel less stress since your brain will learn to tackle problems efficiently. Speed reading will lead to a relaxed, tension-free lifestyle!

    How to Learn to Speed Read

    Speed reading is a superpower. Fortunately, unlike other superpowers, this one can be learned!

    There are different techniques that can be used to master this skill. Opt for the one that best suits your learning style.

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    1. The Pointer Method

    The person who is credited for popularizing speed reading, Evelyn Wood, came up with the pointer method. It is a simple technique in which the reader uses their index finger to slide across the text that they’re reading.

    As the finger moves, the brain coherently moves along with it. It is an effective technique to keep the eyes focused where the finger goes without causing any distraction.

    Readers have a tendency to back-skip. The pointer method prevents this from happening, thereby saving at least half the reading time.

    2. The Scanning Method

    In this technique, the reader’s eyes move along one part of the page only. This can be the left or right side of the text but is usually the center since that is the most convenient.

    Instead of pacing through the entire text from left to right, the vision shifts from top to bottom.

    This method involves fixation on keywords such as names, figures, or other specific terms. By doing so, the saccade time is minimized.

    3. Perceptual Expansion

    Generally, a reader focuses on one word at a time. This technique, on the other hand, encourages the brain to read a chunk of words together. In doing so, this method increases the reader’s peripheral vision.

    Here’s the thing: even though the fixation time remains the same with perceptual expansion, the number of words that the eyes fixate on increases.

    So basically, the brain receives 5 times more information within the same amount of time.

    This technique is the hardest to master and takes the most time to learn. You’ll need help from speed reading tools in order to practice the perceptual expansion method.

    However, once you master it, this technique will offer you the fastest reading pace with the maximum knowledge intake.

    The Best Speed Reading Apps

    The easiest tool to aid any process in any part of life these days is your smartphone.

    You can use mobile applications to learn speed reading on the go. It has been proven that regularly practicing speed reading is the fastest way to learn this skill. [2]

    Here are a few great options to look into:

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    1. Reedy

    If you own an Android smartphone, you can download Reedy to your mobile. Otherwise, get the chrome extension on your laptop to enjoy speed reading with Reedy.

    This app trains readers to read faster by displaying words one by one on the screen. Instead of having to go through lines or long texts, Reedy prepares the user to focus on one word at a time.

    Although this isn’t an effective method to learn speed reading long texts, it is a great way to start.

    Once your brain gets used to the idea, you can shift to another app to train speed reading sentences or longer texts.

    2. ReadMe!

    Whether you’re an android or iOS user, you can take advantage of the ReadMe! application. This app even comes with some e-book options to practice speed reading on.

    Start by choosing your desired font size, color, layout, etc. Other than that, there are different reading modes for the user to choose from.

    If you want to practice reading sentence by sentence or in short paragraphs, you can choose the focused reading mode.

    The beeline reader mode changes the color of the text to guide the eye to read from the beginning to the end at a certain pace.

    Lastly, there is the spritz mode in which the app focuses on chunks of words at once. This controls the reader’s peripheral vision. However, this mode is not fully available in the free version of the app.

    3. Spreeder

    Spreeder is available on both iOS and Android. However, users may also gain benefits from Spreeder’s website. This application lets the reader paste in any text that they would like to speed read.

    Starting off at a rather low speed, the app flashes words one by one. Gradually, as the user becomes more comfortable, the speed increases.

    Slowly, the user is trained to speed read without having to skip any words.

    This app is different from the rest because it tracks the user’s reading improvements, recording the overall reading time and speed.

    The progress and improvement are tracked in order to motivate the user to perform even better.

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    Adjustable settings, such as the speed of the text, background color, etc. are in the control of the user.

    The Controversy Surrounding Speed Reading

    Truthfully, speed reading does sound too good to be true. It’s hard to believe that it is humanly possible to attain such a fast pace in reading without compromising the quality of information you receive.

    Perhaps as a result, there are people who do not trust the process of speed reading. They believe that when you read through a text at such a high speed, you cannot comprehend the information successfully.

    According to these people, your brain is unable to process information at the speed that you’re reading, and so, they regard speed reading as problematic.

    It is true that speed reading will be of no use if you do not understand the text you’re reading, no matter how quickly you did it.

    Similarly, if you were to read slowly and still not retain or understand the information you read, that would be useless, too.

    However, there a few factors to consider here. When reading at a normal pace, there is enough time in between every step of the process for the brain to get distracted.

    Conversely, speed reading leaves behind no time for the brain to focus on something else. It is unlike skimming. No part of the text is skipped, which means that the brain receives every single bit of information.

    Conclusion

    Keeping all of this in mind, speed reading cannot be labeled a hoax or a failure. Science has backed up this technique, and numerous readers have been using this skill to improve their learning ability.

    At the end of the day, it is your decision whether or not you want to trust this process.

    However, if you decide to take advantage of the opportunities speed reading provides, you will find a world of possibilities opening up to you.

    We live in a fast-paced world. Consuming information faster will help you keep up with that pace and find further success.

    Speed Read Like a Pro!

    Featured photo credit: Blaz Photo via unsplash.com

    Reference

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