The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Speed Reading (2008)
Part IV. Overload Management
Chapter 15. Making Your Electronic Piles Inviting
In This Chapter
• Master your on screen reading workload
• Manage your online subscriptions
• E-books 101
• Let technology be your news clipping service
• Blogging made easy(er)
Just when you think you have your paper reading workload under control, you open your e-mail inbox or surf the Internet and find more to read and manage! If you think about it, reading a paper workload isn’t that different from an on screen one; it’s just on screen! (Chapter 12 has some great suggestions for reading better and faster on screen.)
Getting your on screen reading workload under control can be quite empowering. Most people are slaves to their screens where they really need to be masters. This chapter helps anyone tied to his or her on screen workload loosen their chains in the quest of becoming an on screen reading workload master!
What’s in an Electronic Pile?
Countless types of reading materials are available today, both on paper and on screen. Although many started out in a paper version, they have quickly progressed to electronic versions. Take books, for instance. Just when you thought a paperback was portable, handheld devices like PDAs, pocket PCs, and other designated reading devices came along to enable you to download a book’s text (or an e-book) onto the machine.
E-books are books produced in digital format. They can be ordered online and delivered electronically to your computer. Many e-books are now available on audio CD or as MP3 files you can download to an iPod or MP3 player. E-zines are electronically published magazines or newsletters available online.
Thinking a page newsletter was cumbersome and expensive to mail by traditional means, the computer came along and added the concept of e-zines, or online newsletters, that for the most part are available free of charge. Even those who formerly thought preparing and mailing a traditional newsletter was too much find the electronic version easier to manage. The end result for you? More to read!
And whoever thought a paper brochure would become, for the most part, unnecessary? Since the advent of websites, they are! Websites are interactive brochures.
The same is true for the office memo—what was wrong with that? It wasn’t fast enough! So now we have e-mail to zip documents all over the world.
And if reading your morning paper or a magazine doesn’t fit in your hands anymore, you can most likely read it—archived for years—on your computer screen.
If you’re still struggling to manage your paper reading workload and need some additional help, consider learning more about two important areas: time management and organization. Sometimes what may appear to be too much may mean just too many choices and not enough targeted decisions. In Appendix B, I’ve reprinted an article from Julie Morgenstern, a time management and organizing expert. She has written books on both topics, which I highly recommend. (And for those who would like a break from reading, consider the audio book versions!)
Embrace Your Electronic Reading Pile
With all that’s available for you to read on screen, what and how much do you subscribe to? If you frequently subscribe to daily, weekly, or monthly mailing lists from every interesting website you visit, you definitely have more to read on screen than a person probably needs. And if you purchase anything on the Internet, you’ll also be bombarded with the retailer’s promotions. It ends up just like the paper piles; you have more to read than time available.
Managing Your Subscriptions
Let’s do a quick revisit to the weeding concept talked about in Chapter 14, this time applying it to your electronic reading pile:
1. Gather all your weeds. Identify all that you have coming in electronically. Make a list.
2. What’s their value? Rank the importance of each on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being low and 10 being high.
3. Get rid of the undesirables. Anything you rank under a 6, get rid of or unsubscribe to; keep anything 6 and over.
4. Weigh your pile to match your time. Based on the amount of time you want to be reading on screen on either a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, match it to how much information you’re signed up to receive.
When buying anything online, pay attention to whether you check or uncheck the “Yes, send me e-mails!” box. Some manufacturers phrase their offer positively (“Yes, I want to receive your stuff”) and automatically have it prechecked. Others phrase it negatively (“No, I don’t want to receive your stuff”) and don’t have it automatically checked.
I continually revisit this process when I find I’ve been overzealous and have subscribed to too many things that look interesting. I used to receive information like a word of the day, feeling of the moment, inspiration for the week, and so on and found them great … for a little while. Then it seemed that I just didn’t find value in them anymore and was often deleting them without reading them. That’s when I was sure it was time to unsubscribe!
Getting Started Reading E-Books
When e-books became a reading option in the late 1990s, technology’s early adopters were eager to try this new medium. Internet bookstores offered them for sale, and other specialized websites popped up selling e-books as well. Unfortunately, e-books were not embraced by many others and online sellers stopped offering them for sale. As a result, fortunately for you, is that e-books are now widely available for personal download at no charge!
An e-book reader, such as a pocket PC or PDA (personal digital assistant), is mobile; it fits into a small bag, and can be used almost anywhere (although its batteries sometimes run out!). It is light, thin, and has some paper-like qualities. It isn’t made of paper, however, which for some readers is just too different to work with.
An e-book reader is a device used to read e-books. It may be a device specifically designed for that purpose, or one intended for other purposes as well, like the PDA (personal digital assistant). Some devices, like the Sony Reader Digital Book, can hold upward of 160 books!
E-books have many features traditional paper books do not: the author or e-publisher has the freedom to control the look and feel of the e-book through fonts, colors, images, and in some cases, bookmarks, notes, and annotations from the author.
I suggest you try reading an e-book on an e-reader before deciding whether or not e-books are for you.
E-Book Reader Options
Today, you can find many different e-book readers, some more expensive than others. What has changed considerably in the past few years are both the software and the reading device options available that support e-books and documents.
What makes e-books come to life are the applications, or software, used to read the e-books. As of this writing, here are a few of the more popular and widely available e-book applications:
• Microsoft Reader with ClearType technology can be used on your PC, laptop, or pocket PC. Features include highlighting, bookmarks, notes, and drawings. Microsoft e-book readers are available for free download on pocket PC devices manufactured by Hewlett Packard, Casio, and Compaq. Go to www.microsoft.com/reader.
• Palm Reader is an award-winning application used to read Palm Digital Media e-books on your Palm OS handheld. The Palm Reader is free, but an upgrade called Palm Reader Pro isn’t. It does come with a free 15-day trial. Go to www. ereader.com and click on the software link.
• The Mobipocket eBook Reader can be used on Palm OS, Psion, Franklin eBookman, and Windows CE PDAs. It comes with a free 14-day trial. Go to www.mobipocket.com and click on the software link.
• Adobe Acrobat eBook Reader has a new software application built from the ground up for acquiring, managing, and reading e-books, digital newspapers, and other digital publications called Adobe Digital Editions. It’s available as a free download for Microsoft Windows and Mac systems. Go to www.adobe.com and click on the download link.
Check out www.eReader.comfor a worthwhile, one-stop e-book shop and information center about e-readers.
Other E-Book Resources
If you go to your favorite search engine and type in e-books, you’ll get more results than you have time in this lifetime to look through!
To help you get started, try these select few:
• www.ebooks.com is a digital bookstore that carries 102,000 popular, professional, and academic e-books from the world’s leading publishers. Most can be downloaded for an average of $10 to $20 each and work with the Microsoft Reader and Adobe Reader applications.
• The World Public Library, found at www.netlibrary.net, carries the world’s largest digital archive of more than 500,000 portable digital format (PDF) e-books and documents. They have audio MP3 download options as well. You can join for under $10 a year to receive unlimited downloads from the site.
• Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) and Adobe (www.adobe.com) also offer free e-book downloads for their reader formats. On the main page, enter “free e-books” in the search bar.
Portable document format (PDF) is an electronic document format that’s different from other documents because it allows a certain amount of versatility while retaining the original document formatting. You can download a PDF reader for free at www.adobe.com.
Streamline Your On-Screen Inflow
Are you a news, blog, or podcast junkie? If so, you need to know about RSS feeds and XML. These are free subscriptions to a wide variety of websites and blogs in specific areas such as business, technology, science, education, humor, and more. Instead of you going out to search websites, you receive the news, blog posts, and podcasts you want through your RSS subscriptions.
A blog, shortened from web log, is a journal-type series of entries posted online. A podcast is a web-based audio broadcast via an RSS feed, accessed by subscription over the Internet. RSS stands for “real simple syndication” and is a quick way for you to get updates, headlines, or even full articles culled from the web and delivered to your computer. (You might also see an XML button, which stands for extensible markup language. That’s just another way to read RSS feeds.)
An RSS document, also called a feed, is delivered as a summary of a website headline or update and is sometimes delivered in full text. RSS makes it possible for you to stay current with your favorite websites and blogs in an automated manner that’s easier than checking them manually.
You can also streamline your on screen inflow by subscribing, at no charge, to Google Alert. At www.googlealert.com, you can sign up to receive information about any key word(s) you select. I have several feeds that keep me abreast of websites, blogs, and news postings about topics I’m interested in. I do suggest, however, that you get the daily (or weekly) compilation instead of the individual e-mails! If there are 20 notices in 1 day on your key words, that’s 20 e-mails for you to sort through!
If you want more functionality than the freeware RSS feed, consider paying for software such as Feed Demon owned by www.newsgator.com. It makes it fast to scan headlines of the RSS feeds or blogs you follow or any website with RSS feeds, and it only drills down and reads the entries for the posts you’re interested in.
Also, many large newspapers such as The New York Times have news-clipping services focused specifically on their publication. Some are available at no charge and others are on a subscription fee basis. Check the website of your favorite newspaper to see what’s available.
I’d rather have information that I’ve selected come to me rather than be inundated with all the possibilities out there. Taking advantage of RSS feeds and other alert services ensures that I read the best and don’t even see the rest!
E-Mail Reading Made Easy(er)
I teach a workshop called “Slaying the E-Mail Dragon” in which I spend about third of the time teaching participants how to move their eyes more efficiently across a computer screen, another third about managing e-mail time, and the last third about how to use e-mail software better. Smart reading and processing takes using smart strategies!
Lucky for you, you know the first third already: how to use key words, thought chunks (see Chapter 4), and on screen pacers (see Chapter 12). But you must use them! Reading on screen can make for slower reading speeds, so using your speed strategies can prevent this problem.
An e-mail is anywhere from 18 to 25 words per line across your screen, while a newspaper column is around six words per line. This means keeping your place while you read e-mail can be somewhat challenging. On screen pacers can help. You should be able to read most of your e-mails on screen. The only time they need to be printed is for portability (i.e., to bring to a meeting) or to keep in a permanent paper file.
To make e-mails more readable and easier to respond to, consider setting a good example to those you e-mail to in the hopes they will do the same:
• Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. If you think of an e-mail like a postcard, you’ll need to think and communicate efficiently.
• Create great subject lines. Be as specific as possible in the subject so the receiver has a strong clue about what’s in the communication and, more importantly, what they need to do with it. For example, “Meeting Time Change” can be more specific if the subject line read: “9/15 planning meeting now 10 A.M.”
• Write short subject lines. Subject lines need to be limited to 6 to 8 words or 30 to 40 characters for the readability. Excessively long subject lines either get cut off when received or are frequently ignored by the receiver.
• Leave space. No one likes to read a thick chunk of text on screen (or on paper, for that matter!), so when possible, include only two or three lines in each paragraph and then separate your paragraphs with a space.
• Number questions for easier response. If you have two questions on the same topic to ask the same person, number them and separate them by a space. He or she can then respond directly by replying with the answers typed after the original text or by saying something like: “In response to question 1 ….” If you have two questions on two separate topics, consider two separate e-mails. It will keep your communications easier.
• Put the main point upfront. Many e-mail writers bury their main point somewhere in the e-mail or save it to the end. If you put it in the first sentence or two, the receiver knows why you’re writing.
• Use the preview pane. The preview pane helps you decide which e-mails you want to read now. If the writer did put the main point up front, then you would know what the email is about before you open it.
• Remember that e-mail begets e-mail. The more e-mails you write, the more you get, so if you want less e-mail, write less!
E-mails are as public as a postcard, so avoid sending anything you’d be bothered that anyone might read. Avoid sending gossip, bad news, inappropriate jokes, etc., via e-mail. Also be careful about replying to all recipients on an e-mail distribution list if you only need to respond to the sender.
If you’re a blogger—and you know who you are—you may have found that you have quickly become inundated with blog posts, not only from your own blog, but from others you subscribe to. Depending on your blog involvement, consider some of these ideas:
• Investigate different blog readers. For example, check out www.bloglines.com.
• Try resizing your browser or news reader to narrower columns (approximately 8 words per line).
• Limit your blog reading time. This can be an addiction for some, which, like Internet surfing, sucks away time!
• Limit the number of feeds you subscribe to on a particular topic. If you add a new feed, consider unsubscribing to an old one.
• Don’t read a feed for a week and then do a quick catch-up to see it if was really worth your time. If so, keep it; if not, unsubscribe.
• Organize your categories by importance or frequency, not by topic. Some breakdowns include “must read,” “daily,” “Mondays only,” “Fridays only,” “weekly,” and “monthly.”
• Quarantine new blogs for a week to decide if you really want to add them to your aggregator.
• Add an “ignore” category for blogs you no longer read so you remember those that aren’t worth your time. Or even better, just delete them.
One entry in a blog is called a blog post. A blogger is someone who adds or edits a post.
An aggregator is a program that watches for new content at user-specified RSS feeds. An example is www.bottomfeeder.com.
Get to Know Your Software
You can read and process information faster when you know how to use the software you’re working with. You could read the thick software manual (and maybe fall asleep in the process!), or you could try one or more of these ideas:
• Subscribe to Microsoft’s e-Newsletter at www.office.microsoft.com. The monthly e-newsletter is chock-full of tips and ideas for working better with your software.
• Become friendly with your local software training company and consider signing up for a course or two.
• Talk to others who use your software. They might know things you don’t, and you can share things you know with them.
And the Results Are …
This is your last formal opportunity to check in on your reading progress. Do either a One-Minute Timing or a 3-2-1 Drill found in Appendix B. Remember to warm up your eyes using the Discipline Your Eyes Exercise in Chapter 3. While you read, use your preferred pacer method. Be sure to record your progress on the appropriate charts in Appendix C.
Now that you’ve completed your last timing exercise, take a look at your results. Look at the first timing you did and compare it to where you are now. What do you see?
What seemed to work best? What didn’t? What more do you want to work on? What topics or strategies do you need to revisit?
Hopefully, you’re pleased with your results and ready to continue experimenting with these strategies to make them even more effective and efficient. Here’s to speeding through your reading!
The Least You Need to Know
• You can remedy an overwhelming electronic reading pile by using the same paper-handling strategies of matching your reading quantity to your available reading time.
• Reading e-books is as easy as knowing about e-book reading devices and the available software formats.
• Keeping up to date with topics of interest is as easy as subscribing to news-clipping services available on the web, many at no charge.
• Make your e-mails look good and easier to read. Hopefully, those who send you e-mail back will do the same!
• Blogs are web logs you can subscribe to through RSS feeds.
• Know how to use your software better and smarter and see how fast you can speed through your reading.