Read more, faster

Apr 01, 2020
Cormac Lucey helps you turbo-charge your ability to identify and absorb relevant information in three easy steps.

A close friend of mine is a retired journalist. We were in school together for several years in the 1970s. He went into journalism; I went into accountancy. In sixth year, our school won the Leinster Senior Schools cup in rugby for the first time in decades. My pal kept a copy of the following day’s Irish Independent, complete with match coverage. It disappeared under the mountain of detritus we are all at risk of gathering. Then it re-emerged after both parents had died, and the family home was put up for sale. What struck Peter, in the early part of this century, was just how thin that 1978 edition of the Independent was compared to the bulky newspapers we have today. Ironically, our newspapers are bigger and better than ever before, even as they face going down under the online onslaught.

In 1978, nobody was at real risk of information overload. If anything, we suffered from information poverty back then. Today, however, we are forced to deal with an abundance of information. Separating the informational wheat from the chaff is critically important today, as each of us could be submerged in the flow of information pouring our way. I read a lot – both online and in print – and have three key rules for managing the information flow I face.

Rule 1: Learn to speed read and put it into practice

The average best-seller we might take with us on holidays has about 400 words on each page. It is said that President John F. Kennedy could read 2,000 words per minute, equivalent to five pages per minute. I find that hard to believe. But with a disciplined approach, it should be possible to read at speeds of 500-600 words per minute regularly.

What are the core elements of speed-reading? Here is a speed speed-reading course:

a) Develop the good habit of reading in a smooth rhythm; abandon the bad habit of disrupting that rhythm by occasionally going back to reread a passage;
b) Instead of visually absorbing single words, get into the habit of absorbing several (three to five) words with each glance;
c) Measure your reading speed when you’re reading a book and focus on getting that speed up; and
d) Practice reading some trashy material at an incredibly fast pace. Then, when you read regular content, you’ll find yourself chomping at the bit speed-wise, just like when you come off the motorway and chomp at the bit at the outrageously slow speed limits then imposed.

Rule 2: Focus

When you read something, you are reading it for a purpose. Be deliberate about that purpose. If I’m reading a newspaper, I want useful information and I want entertainment. I also want to limit the amount of time I devote to reading the paper. I am certainly not going to read all of it. The paper owes you a duty – you owe the paper no duty.
Similarly, just because you have started to read a book does not mean you are duty-bound to complete it. Our time and attention are limited. If a book is boring, tedious or just getting you down, discard it and choose another. That book may deserve the dismissive review: “Once I put it down, I couldn’t pick it up!”

Rule 3: Discriminate among preferred providers

I follow several financial websites closely:
  • RTE.ie – click on “Business”, “Broker Reports” and “Goodbody” and you will be directed to a comprehensive review of the previous day’s business and economic news refracted through the prism of its implications for corporate value.
  • Google “McKinsey on finance” and you will be directed to the website of the management consultants’ quarterly report on corporate finance themes. Each quarter, five or six issues are considered in a succinct and intellectually well-founded manner with a focus on drawing actionable conclusions.
  • Google “Damodaran online”, and you will land at the website of Aswath Damodaran, Professor of Finance at the Stern School of New York University. This site features models, including lots of detailed valuation models; data, including important sectoral cost of capital data; and Damodaran’s blog, where he analytically considers important current financial topics.
Cormac Lucey FCA is an economic commentator and lecturer at Chartered Accountants Ireland.