Saturday, October 16, 2021

Using Speed Reading Skimming

One of the techniques I've been using since I've been learning about speed reading is skimming. This is surprisingly effective.

There are several variations of it. The specific method I've been using is to skim a book's table of contents, then skim its actual contents:

  • For the table of contents, I read the chapter and top-level section headings.
  • For the actual contents, I read each heading and the first clause, line, or sentence of each paragraph.
The content skim depends a bit on the writing style and layout. Some paragraphs might be very short, or might be only a single long sentence consisting of multiple clauses. Others might be very long, just a couple per page.

In general, I'm trying to read roughly one out of every 5 lines, or 3-5 sentences per page.

That allows me to cover 100-300 pages per hour. Make no mistake, this is not a deep dive on information; it's a sampling method. I use the pomodoro technique with it, in 25 minute/5 minute cycles.

What's so surprising about this is that despite actually reading only 10-20% of the material, I'm able to pull a good amount of information out of it. That allows me to digest a complete book in an hour or three.

This takes advantage of the fact that paragraph structure is typically a topic sentence followed by supporting sentences. The high level information is there at the beginning. That's not uniformly the case, but it's consistent enough that the overall gist of the material can be extracted this way.

While I may not comprehend 100% of the book (since I didn't actually read it), before I skimmed it I comprehended zero percent of it. So it's definitely useful progress.

Skimming works equally well with short-form content such as articles or online posts, taking just a few minutes, and with medium-form content such as entire newspapers, magazines, and journals, taking 10 minutes to an hour.

Skimming has a number of benefits:

  • It acts as a first pass to prepare my mind for a more in-depth read, preloading a summary of the information.
  • It provides a gestalt and context to help grok the overall material.
  • It helps me quickly assess the quality of the material, for instance for a review.
  • It helps me prioritize the things I want to cover more deeply in a second pass, skipping the ones I don't need.
  • It allows me to quickly refresh, review, reassess, and reintegrate material I've read before.
  • If I'm going through multiple books and resources, I can do a first-pass digest of all of them, then a second pass on each one subject to what I got from the others.
The ability to take repeated passes through material is very helpful for increasing comprehension and retention, making use of the brain's reticular activating system (RAS). This is something Jim Kwik talks about in Limitless (see Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik). Spaced repetition helps overcome the "forgetting curve."

The pomodoro technique takes advantage of the primacy and recency effects of memory by splitting the activity into multiple sessions with breaks that allow the brain to consolidate information: primacy means we remember what we learned at the beginning of a session, and recency means we remember what we learned most recently at the end of a session. It's the stuff in the middle that doesn't do well, which is part of why cramming for hours without breaks is not effective.

I don't use this for everything. It's not suitable as the first pass for all material. When I'm reading a novel for pleasure, I want to savor every detail (and not get hopelessly confused in the plot and character interactions).

But when I want to acquire information quickly, it really does work. It also works well for incremental, additive understanding and reinforcement, lighting up the memory. That even works for later passes over material that I read normally the first time.

Here are two videos on reading a book a day that talk about skimming, with some slight variations and applications of the method. The first is a great short overview of the speed reading techniques I'm practicing, including skimming. The second talks about using skimming to filter the material down to the really interesting parts worth focusing on.

I cannot overstate how mind-bogglingly effective this is. I wish I'd learned it 50 years ago! Now I'll use it for the next 50.

Using The Pomodoro Technique

Over the past couple of years, I've been using the Pomodoro Technique more and more, for a variety of things. This is a very effective time management method.

The idea is that you set a timer for a specific amount of time to spend on something, and during that time you focus exclusively on that task. You can add additional work periods, or alternate with rest periods.

Pomodoro is Italian for tomato, and the technique is named for kitchen timers that are shaped like tomatoes. Each work period of 10-60 minutes is called a pomodoro.

I like to use my cellphone timer, the Brain Focus app, or a timer similar to this one. There are a number of phone apps similar to Brain Focus; I picked it pretty much at random from the choices that showed up.

What's nice about the app is that it sets up an alternating cycle of work periods and rest periods. I use it for studying and reading, to make sure I take regular breaks. The default setting is 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest, with a longer 20-minute rest every 4 cycles.

As I mentioned in Review: Limitless, by Jim Kwik, the rest periods are to allow my brain to consolidate information. If I'm doing some kind of physical activity, the rest periods allow me to recover physically and avoid overdoing it. Both cases allow me to put in a sustained effort that can add up to several hours.

I spend the rest period in a variety of ways, depending on the main activity and how I'm feeling:

  • Doing a deep-breathing meditation, which I also covered in the Kwik review. Another common pattern I use is to count breaths to 10 (5 breaths alternating inhale and exhale, then start over; start over if I lose count or my mind wanders).
  • Standing up and doing stretches to work out the kinks.
  • Doing "chair yoga," simplified yoga poses that use the furniture as props.
  • Doing simple calisthenics like situps, pushups, or deep knee-bends. Where the other rest activities are relaxing, this is stimulating.
  • Going for a short walk.
  • Getting coffee or water. It's important to stay hydrated during any mental or physical effort.
  • Going to the bathroom.
There are a variety of benefits. In addition to pacing out and breaking up work and making sure I get brief rests, it enforces both minimum and maximum times.

This ensure that I at least put in some minimum amount of time for something I don't like doing, such as housework; and that I don't let time get away from me when I'm doing something I like, such as reading.

It also makes sure I address and balance the various demands on my time. That prevents exhausting all my energy on one thing while overlooking other things. Just about anything can be done in small segments, mixed in with segments of other things.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Recipe: Lunch Super Salad

Like my Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl, this is my nearly-everyday salad, combining a number of the superfoods I listed in Losing Weight With WW Purple.

As with that one, it's not a precise recipe. I've listed general ranges for amounts, loosely packed, and the specific items vary by what I have on hand.

Lunch Super Salad

  • 1/2-1 C Red leaf lettuce
  • 1/2-1 C Napa cabbage
  • 1/2-1 C Baby spinach
  • 1/2-1 C Baby kale
  • 1/2-1 C Baby arugula
  • 1/4-1/2 C English cucumber
  • 1/4-1/2 C Sweet red/orange/yellow pepper
  • 1-3 Mushrooms
  • 1/4-1/2 C Tomato
  • 1 slice Spanish onion
  • 1 scallion
  • 1/4-1/2 C Kimchi
  • 1/2-1 slice sourdough bread (1-2 WW points)
  • 1/4-1/2 Avocado (3-5 WW points)
  • 2 Tbsp hummus (2 WW points)
  • 1/2 Tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 Tsp ground black pepper (to activate the curcumin in the turmeric)
  • 1/4 Tsp cayenne pepper powder (for the capsaicin)
  • 2 Tbsp Bolthouse Farms Chunky blue cheese yogurt dressing (1 WW point)
  1. Slice and chop all items into bitesize pieces.
7-10 WW Purple points.

Recipe: Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl

This was formerly my nearly-everyday breakfast (see Recipe: Lunch Super Salad for my nearly-everyday lunch), and forms the basis of my new nearly-everyday breakfast, by adding greens to make Recipe: Super Green Fruit Smoothie. It combines a number of the superfoods I listed in Losing Weight With WW Purple.

A couple of the items are bitter or sour tastes, but the fruit sweetens them. I don't add sweeteners.

I've made one recent change to it since starting, replacing unsweetened fat-free Greek Yogurt with unsweetened coconut-milk kefir, based on Dr. Will Bulsiewicz' book Fiber Fueled, which is very consistent with Dr. Uma Naidoo's book This Is Your Brain on Food: An Indispensible Guide to the Surprising Foods that Fight Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, OCD, ADHD, and More. The reason for the replacement is to switch from a dairy-based probiotic to a plant-based one.

This is actually a two-part recipe. The first part is a dry mix that I premix in bulk.

It's also not a precise recipe. Except for items that have WW point values, these are all Purple free foods, so the amounts are variable according to my whims and what I have on hand. I've listed recommended amount ranges.

I list specific brands where I've checked the ingredients and point values carefully. It takes constant vigilance to avoid or minimize unwanted sugars and sweeteners, so be careful making substitutions.

Dry Mix

This is a combination of spices, seeds, grains, and vegan protein powder. I use the protein powder scoop to measure everything out and store the mix in an empty protein powder jug.

All measurements in "scoops".

  • 6 Ground turmeric
  • 1/4 Ground black pepper (to activate the curcumin in the turmeric)
  • 1 Cinnamon
  • 1 Sesame seeds
  • 1 Vega Essential Shake protein powder, vanilla
  • 1 PB2 powdered peanut butter
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill muesli
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill chia seeds
  • 1 Bob's Red Mill flaxseed meal
  • 1 Unsweetened toasted coconut flakes
  1. Chop the coconut flakes finely.
  2. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.

Breakfast Super Fruit Bowl

  • 1/2-1 scoop dry mix
  • 7 g walnuts (2 halves, 1 WW point)
  • 5 g dark chocolate (8 Ghirardelli 100% cacao unsweetened chocolate chips, 1 WW point)
  • 1/2-1 C unsweetened coconut-milk kefir
  • 1/2-1 C blueberries
  • 3-6 strawberries
  • 1/4-1/2 banana
  • 1/4-1/2 apple
  • 1/4-1/2 peach
  • Optional for smoothie: 1/2-1 C unsweetened almond milk
  1. Chop walnuts and chocolate finely.
  2. Slice fruit pieces into bitesize pieces.
  3. Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
  4. Optional for smoothie: add almond milk and blend smooth.
WW Purple points: 2