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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Productivity

Here's the Simple Secret to Absorbing Everything You Have to Read at Work

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Being able to speed read isn’t just a skill I take pride in, it’s also part of my job. There’s no way I would get through everything I needed to if I didn’t skim over a lot. Most days it feels like I’ll never get through everything if I thoroughly read every email, every industry article, every company update, and every report I receive.

Turns out, I have it all wrong. Not that it isn’t efficient—we can all agree it’s faster than actually sitting down and really taking the time to digest what you’re reading. But the efficiency isn’t worth it because you’re only tricking yourself into thinking you’re getting ahead.

Let me explain. According to a 2016 study cited on Quartz by Shane Parrish, reading quickly and understanding what you’re reading don’t go hand in hand. Basically, “[it’s] really just a fancy way of fooling yourself into thinking you’re learning something,” says Parrish. And isn’t the whole point of reading to get something out of it, not pretend you did?

The thing that really struck me, however, is what he says next:

[S]peed-reading gives you two things that should never mix: superficial knowledge and overconfidence. That’s a recipe for really bad decisions. And bad decisions, in turn, reduce the amount of free time we have, because we have to run around fixing all of our mistakes. When you think about it, a lot of people spend their days correcting their poor initial decisions. This gives you even less time to read.

Ultimately, the solution is clear: Taking the time to actually read is worth it. Every time. Of course, this is easier said than done when you’re like me and you’ve got an inbox full of messages to get to. But as Parrish says, the more we rush our assignments, the more work we create for ourselves later on.

So, make a compromise with yourself to take the time to read (at least) the important stuff—this means avoiding distractions and multitasking. Because in a completely unexpected way, you’ll manage to save more time and learn what you need to learn faster.