Despite living in an electronic age of instant messaging, SMSs and teleconferences, a lot of work material probably arrives on paper needs to be read. How you handle your reading and writing has a huge effect your productivity.
It seems that in any organization there’s one department whose sole purpose is to generate stuff for you to read. You can bet that when you don’t read the material that comes out you’ll miss out on some vital information, like the fact that the there’ll be no coffee available when you’re on deadline, or that internet access will be off when you need to download important documents for your MBA presentation.
So reading and writing is a necessary evil. Here are few ways to improve how you do both.
- Learn to skim-read: this takes a bit of practice, but it works. Start with some documents that aren’t critical to the rest of your career. Get yourself a highlighter and sit in a well-lit area with the document laid flat on a desk. Skim through the document, reading quickly. Highlight one word in each paragraph.
- When you reach the end of the document, return to its beginning and see if you can get the gist of what’s written from your highlighted words. It’ll soon become easier, but it’s a technique better used on documents that aren’t too critical.
- Here’s what it achieves: when you’re reading, your eyes flick between groups of words called saccades. Skim-reading simply helps your mind expand the size of the groups of words you read and to deduce the meaning.
In the Essential Manager’s Manual, Robert Heller and Tim Hindle estimate that effective skim-reading can halve the time you take to read a book, without harming your powers of comprehension.
Get the gist of it
But in complex documents like project proposals and specifications, you probably won’t absorb all the material at first read. Some documents come with a summary. Read it carefully, then skim through the rest of it. Try taking a break and doing something else before coming back to read the document from the beginning. You might find you already have a clear outline of what’s needed.
If you’re reading a complex document, use the highlighter, pen and paper to make notes as you go. You’ll find you remember things more easily once you write them down.
Now, what about writing?
Writer’s block is real for many people; even those who write every day. Let’s say you’re tired and you need to write a detailed, comprehensive and accurate report. And there you sit with a blank screen and a blank mind.
One of the most effective ways to get rid of it is just to start writing whatever comes into your head. Start with your shopping list or a stream-of-consciousness commentary about the progress of your project – just the sort of conversational word-flow you’d adopt when chatting to a colleague.
Don’t bother about writing word-for-word. If you’re storming you way through writer’s block, “thn shrt phrss witht nns wll stll b unrstndbl ltr”.
As ideas about what you should be mentioning in your report pop into your mind, write them down. You’ll probably end up with a few paragraphs you’ll delete, as well as a basic framework for your report. You can then add an introduction and a conclusion.
At this stage it’s probably worth printing the document and working through it with a pen. You’ll probably see syntax errors and inconsistencies leap out at you from the page.
There’s no shame in running your document through a spellchecker or asking a colleague to read it. (William Smook)