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7 Tips for Effective Reading
by Duncan Brodie

I wonder if you remember the day when it was claimed that by 2000 we would be in the world of the paperless office. The truth is managers and leaders now have more than ever to read. As well as traditional stuff like letters, meeting papers and circulars, we now have e-mail and a whole host of on-line stuff. Given that time is always an issue, how can managers and leaders become more effective readers?

Tip 1: Distinguish between total understanding and overall impression

In some cases it will be essential to have total understanding about the topic in the material you have to read. For example, if you are in the Finance team and there is a change around accounting regulations, a detailed level of understanding will be important. On the other hand if it is about production processes and you are in Finance, an overall understanding might be all that is required.

Each time you have to read something, make sure you get clear on whether you need total understanding or an overall impression.

Tip 2: Set a time limit

Most people can only read for short periods of time without a break, usually about 45 minutes. Make a habit of setting a time limit for how long you will allocate to each reading session to maximise your overall effectiveness.

Tip 3: Ask yourself what you already know about the topic

Sometimes the topic that you are reading will be completely new. Most of the time the topic will be at least familiar to you. Chances are you will have read something similar or complimentary about the topic.

To help inform your reading, ask yourself what you already know about the subject matter.

Tip 4: Read with a purpose

It is easy to fall into the trap of reading something just because it is in front of you. The alternative is to ask yourself what the purpose or goal is from reading the item. Is it:

* To gain information

* To inform a decision

* To get a different perspective

When you are clear on your outcome it is much easier to focus your attention on what matters.

Tip 5: Skim through first

A useful technique is to skim through the document first, focusing on the headings, sub-headings and conclusion to get a general feel about the content of the document.

Tip 6: Read summaries first

Most reports or long publications have a one page summary. In printed articles in professional magazines, a summary of the key themes is often given in a small box. Start with these summaries first.

Tip 7: Make notes as you go

Capturing notes as you go is an extremely effective way of keeping focus. Mind maps or checklists are particularly useful ways of capturing what you might need to refer to in the future.

Reading can become a very time consuming task but by making a few simple changes you can significantly improve your overall effectiveness.

Duncan Brodie may be contacted at
Duncan Brodie of Goals and Achievements Ltd (G&A) works with individuals, teams and organisations to develop their management and leadership capability. Sign up for his free e-course and monthly newsletter at


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