Seven Tips for Effective Reading

Managers, leaders and administrative professionals have mountains of paperwork to read. So how can you more effective when you need to get through a stack of work?

By Duncan Brodie

Do you remember the day when it was claimed that by the year 2000 we would be in the world of the paperless office? In reality managers and leaders now have more than ever to read. As well as traditional stuff like letters, meeting papers and circulars, we now have email and a whole host of online items. 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 of 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 impression 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, and this is usually about forty-five 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
Sometimes the topic you are reading about 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 helps managers and leaders achieve their true potential. You can sign up for his free monthly newsletter at

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