How to Read 1,000,000 Words a Week

Weekly Word Count

What is your weekly word count? I read the results of a study by Xerox that stated an informed worker reads 1,000,000 words per week. Let’s put that in perspective. 1,000,000 is the same as reading the book War and Peace twice! I took apart my week to see how much I read so I could prioritize my reading and find some way to better manage the time I spend reading - I hope you do the same. I did not include any pleasure reading or content to help me learn new things. I only included the work-related reading that is needed to be functional in my job and stay current.

Like most of us in the information age, I receive 100-200 emails daily, read and respond to various articles on LinkedIn, and read the highlights (and many articles) from news concentrator sites such as Techmeme. There are weekly journals, scanning WSJ, reading a technology piece, and business piece, and a self-improvement or management piece as well. Lastly, I have a book or two in progress at any given moment.

If the average email is 250 words, that’s 185,000-250,000 words each 5-day work week. To stay current, I read about ten blog posts a day at 100-250 a pop; journals (there is an architect journal via the Open Group I am fond of); am part of online communities (primarily LinkedIn for public and internal communities for several of my customers). These typically have links to additional content and the content is typically ~ 35,000/link, 19 links per week average; and am active in social media (LinkedIn, Yammer, etc.). I also read about one leadership book each week.

Here’s my breakdown :

Email: 185,000-250,000

Journal(s): 25,000

Blog posts: 5,000 – 12,500

Communities: ~665,000

LinkedIn/Yammer/Social Media: ~20,000

Leadership book: 75,000

Total: 957,000 – 1,047,500

Several speed reading books I have read suggest the average person reads at 200 words per minute (WPM). Let’s say you are a little quicker than average and read at 250 WPM. If you do the math, 1,000,000 words works out to be 4,000 minutes at the rate of 15,000 words per hour; which is 66-67 hours.

Do you have time for this?

 

Tip #1: Do Not Read Every Word

Our eyes work like a still camera, recording four or five times each second. That’s about 240-300 snapshots/”words” per minute, which is 14,000-18,000 words per hour or 55-71 hours of reading. No fun. Also, like the CPU/keyboard on your laptop, our brains can process information exponentially faster than our eyes can capture so our brain will get bored and we will lose track of what we are reading. Instead, scan the page once, twice, and then if anything feels important to you go back and read just that sentence.

Tip #2: Locate, Position, and Focus

Before you start reading, spend one minute on thinking deeply to clear your brain and increase your focus. Then spend one minute reading too fast to loosen your reading muscles. By reading too fast for a minute, when you read a bit slower it will feel like you are really going slow, almost like when you drive a car on the autobahn and then get off on a side street. When you start reading, use a pen or pencil to track your location and mark any place that sparks your interest. You can use the pen/pencil to place a single dot in the content if you own the book. You can go back to these places but for now forge on without going back to reread, as the author will almost certainly repeat the key points. 

Tip #3: Forests, Not Trees

Scan the page. DO NOT say the words (even in your head). Only say a few important words in your head, look for the ideas, not the words. You will be amazed how much better you retain the key points the author is making. Additionally, there is a technique I use called “3 read”. I quickly scan a document just to get a sense of the narrative the author is presenting and anything that is bolded or bulleted. Then I read a second time, this time a bit close to build on the areas that I flashed on with the first review. The third read I have a good idea of what the nuggets are for me and I do a thorough read of those specific points.

 

Tip #4: Read with Intent

Zoom-in on content that applies to you and skip over anything that is not applicable. Question and infer, determine the importance of what you are reading, and connect it to your existing knowledge (transform/synthesize). Most content is written for a large audience to read and each will have their own information they want to capture. Don’t read all of it, read what is important to you.

Reading quickly is a skill that is learned and you will get better with practice. 1,000,000 words may be intimidating now, but if you follow the tips and practice you will increase your reading speed, be able to spend time on the content that matters to you, and have hours of extra time.

 

This is about 900 words. Only 999,100 more words to go this week : )