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.
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.