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Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?

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Brett Nelson, Contributor


I discuss investing, strategy and management (and poke some fun, too)

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EN TREP REN EU RS | 6/04/2012 @ 9:09AM | 38,517 views

Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful?


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The most successful people I know dont just readthey inhale information. Its a habit especially prevalent among seasoned investors and serial entrepreneurs: folks who speak in freakishly polished prose, who punctuate their arguments with perfect metaphors, and who can pivot from financial arcana to managerial nuance within a sip of coffee. Folks who thinkas one venture capitalist I know recently put itat the intersections of things. Compared to mere mortals, these human Dyson vacuums manage to fit in English: A high stack of books, drawn in what amounts to an entire extra Inkscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) workdays worth of reading every week. This ability is a big part of what makes them so formidablethe sort you want to do business with, not against. Have what it takes to keep up? Lets find out. According to a speed-reading test sponsored by Staples as part of an e-book promotion (brilliant marketing, by the way), here are the typical speeds at which humans read, and in theory comprehend, at various stages of educational development:
Third-grade students = 150 words per minute (wpm) Eight grade students = 250 Average college student = 450 Average high level exec = 575 Average college professor = 675 Speed readers = 1,500 World speed reading champion = 4,700 Average adult: 300 wpm
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Brett Nelson
Contributor Follow (407)

I'm a former mechanical engineer who spent 14 years at Forbes, most recently serving as Executive Editor. I covered large corporations, investment strategies and self-made wealth builders. In 2012 I left to put that experience (and an MBA in finance from NYU) to work in the bubbling investment community in Nashville, Tenn. Oh, and I like making snarky video
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The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.

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To put those rates in meaningful context, I applied them to the kind of serious reading regimen favored by the super-successful set.

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9/3/2013 2:09 PM

Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful? - Forbes

http://www.forbes.com/sites/brettnelson/2012/06/04/do-you-...

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20 articles a day, each an average 500 words long. (Newspaper stories tend to run longer, blog posts shorter.) At 300 words per minute (the average-adult speed), youll spend 33 minutes a day, including weekends, on that part of your regimen.

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MO RE FRO M B RE T T N EL S ON

But were just getting warmed up. Lets look at magazines (yes, many people still read them). Consider that one page of text in a typical weekly or bimonthly news-and-analysis-style publication Brett Nelson Contributor (Forbes, The New Yorker, the New York Times magazine, etc.) contains roughly 900 words. Each issue typically runs between 60 and 150 pages. Say each publication is 100 pages long, the ratio of advertising to editorial pages is 50/50, and you think just half of those pages (25) are worth reading. At 300 words a minute, youll spend 75 minutes plowing through one magazine. But super-successful types (and those who aspire to be like them) dont read just one publication. Say the number is more like five, and each comes out once a week. Applying the ratios above, the total reading time over the course of a month comes to 50 minutes a day. So far weve chewed up nearly an hour and a half every day and we havent even mentioned booksbe it Michael Lewis latest financial best seller, the biography of a famous entrepreneur, the random novel (to keep up at cocktail parties), or whatever else happens to be on tap. Continuing the exercise, assume each book contains 100,000 words (a reasonable estimate), and the goal is to read one book a month. At 300 wpm, that comes to another 11 minutes a day. Out of necessity (or masochism), some even might feel the need to consult a fortifying textbook or How-To guide, so well round up the whole book load to 15 minutes a day. That brings the daily total to 98 minutes. Were still not done. How about all those emails, texts and LinkedIn discussions (never mind any active engagement with the authors). On the personal-finance side, throw in an investment newsletter or two, to make sure youre not missing some subtle but important trend. All in, its not hard to imagine, at 300 words per minute, having to set aside at least two hours of reading every day just to keep upyou know, when youre not doing other stuff like working, eating and spending time with your family. At 600 wpm (slightly better than a high-level executive, according to the Staples test), the daily regimen is still intense, but it effectively adds back an hour of reading time every dayor nearly an entire workdays worth of reading every week. Thats not a luxury. Thats what it takes to keep up. I wont tell you my speed, but its not fast enough. Pruning and prioritizing helpsnot every article, chapter, post and comment thread is worth the timeand still the pile keeps rising. If I could read faster and comprehend (let alone enjoy) the words, I surely would. Maybe Ill get a book on speed reading. What does your reading regimen look like? Have any effective speed-reading tricks? Share your thoughts by commenting on this post. We all could use them!

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Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful? - Forbes

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9/3/2013 2:09 PM

Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful? - Forbes

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CALLED-OUT Expand All Comments Follow Comments gustavstieglitz 1 year ago

All right, this is going to be nerdier than the rest of the comments combined, but when I was 16, I invented my own set of letters. I hypothesized that handwriting would become less prevalent in the digital age, and as typing on a keyboard is just as easy for simple letters as it is for complex ones, I drastically increased the number and complexity of letters, decreasing the length of standard texts around 50-75%. Reading speed automatically increased as my eyes could suddenly detect twice as much test as before, only the text conversion process was annoying. Im considering picking it up again getting browser text and my ebooks displayed in Stieglitz Script v2 shouldnt be too hard, and I need more quirks for my career as an eccentric millionaire anyway.
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Brett Nelson, Contributor 1 year ago

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I am in awe (in the terrified sense) of you, sir.


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gustavstieglitz 1 year ago

Heh, maybe Id make a decent evil genius after all. Joke aside Ive tried speed-reading before, with limited success. Im a bit skeptical about the whole concept. My natural reading speed has stayed about the same, and deliberately increasing it tends to significantly lower my comprehension, especially when there are different ways in which the text could be interpreted. (This also matches the data from R.P.Carvers 1985 Rauding Test*) I think most speed-reading seminars/books/gurus try to brand effective scanning/skimming as the new reading, which doesnt really appeal to me personally. Ill stay with aggressive pruning and concentrate on getting the most out of the books I do read, even though it might take a bit longer. *http://img138.imageshack.us/img138/2964/raudingrate.png
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Michael Noer, Forbes Staff 1 year ago

A goal of one book a month? Thats like trying to lose weight by eating one less Big Mac a week. A better goal: One or two books a week.
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Brett Nelson, Contributor 1 year ago

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Dont scare em, Michael! (Understand, people, that this guy can read at something like 2,000 words per minute.)
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Chris Muthoka 1 year ago

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Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful? - Forbes

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Carla Alvarez 1 year ago

Great article! The private school I went to had weekly speeding reading classes using a reading machine with comprehension tests afterwards similar to the Staples test. I am so thankful for that, because as you said, reading faster allows you to take in much more information. A few things that are helpful is to learn to read in phrases rather than word by word. When it comes to the web, sometimes a 500 word article is really only 100 words of actual content, so learn to skim for concepts. For technical articles or writing that is more dense, then you have to slow down. Also remember that the article layout will affect how fast you can read it. There is a reason that newspapers are printed in columns, they are easier to read. If you are on a site that has a content column that stretches halfway across your big screen monitor and you are struggling to read it faster, scale down your browser.
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Brett Nelson, Contributor 1 year ago

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Many thanks for the tips, Carla. And lets hope we can make that ratio of actual-content to total word count as high as possible! Best, Brett
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Max Ogles 1 year ago

The best book on speed reading that Ive found is Breakthrough Rapid Reading by Peter Klump. Although I havent hit a thousand words per minute (highest has been around 800) Ive increased my speed significantly.
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Adam Kronk 1 year ago

Im one of the slowest readers Ive ever met, but I retain pretty much everything. As an English literature major in college, this was a challenge, and I remember taking a speed reading class to no avail. So I find that Im very selective in what I read, but I did want to throw out two alternative tips thatve helped me in this battle to intake all the information I need to be successful, both involve ears rather than eyes. First, I listen to NPR whenever I drove. Yes, you give up the ability to flip the page or skip an article, but the coverage is pretty efficient and I find myself well informed and referencing stories often. Second, a good friend of mine told me that he listens to audiobooks with the speed cranked up. It struck me as bizarre, but when I tried it, I very quickly got used to the resulting higher-pitched voice and found that it was another good way to cram more content into an already packed week.
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Do You Read Fast Enough To Be Successful? - Forbes

http://www.forbes.com/sites/brettnelson/2012/06/04/do-you-...

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