Oct 21, 2004


While reading how to read better and faster by Norman Lewis, I learnt a big lesson. Which I had learnt earlier also. But then its always good to revise. The difference between "will" and "wish". I realized that in many projects we say "wish we had automated tests, wish we had continous builds" etc. But we dont anything. Why? Because we dont really want to change or are "will"ing to put the efforts and bear the pain of change.

So I thought that why I picked up this book?Because I "willed" to upgrade my reading skills. Hence If I "will", I can introduce automated tests etc in any project I join. Yes I will face a few difficulties, but then I can find a way out if I "Will". But if I "wish" these difficulties are going to shut me off.

As a start then I am writing a simple finance calculator application which puts into practice refactoring, automated tests, continous builds. I "will" do it because I realize that only if I "will" I can change. I wish many others learn this lesson. Ooops I "will" :-)

Oct 20, 2004

Reading Better and Faster

Of late I am back to getting skilled at my interest of reading. Reading is one of the best ways to keep one informed. And to keep yourself informed, you also need to read a variety of material. People I find who read a variety of material are those who have developed good reading habits.

To develop these habits for self, I picked what else but the Reading Manual by Norman Lewis. While practising through this, I find one of my old lessons handy. Its never the quantity of practice, but the quality of your practice is what matters. So after reading a selection I re-read the selection to find out "how actually I must have read". Thats my semantic gap. And with each selection my aim is to reduce the gap. That is my first attempt to master a page of print must be the ideal approach.

Till now I am just at the very beginning, but I have developed these rules:

  1. Be relaxed. Define the purpose of your reading.
  2. Allocate a time limit. This develops URGENCY.
  3. Start a bit slowly to gain a foothold. And
  4. Aggressively look for main ideas and sense the structure. This develops CONCENTRATION.
  5. Dont ever take your eyes off the reading material.
  6. Dont ever ever regress. Keep plugging ahead.
  7. Minimize inner speech to the extent possible. Dont shut it off however. Dont be conscious of your eye movements either.
  8. If you are sensing structure correctly, you will know which paras are main ideas and which deal with extensions of an idea/details. Partially skim such paras. Go fast on them. Read carefully main idea related paras.
  9. Practice slight skimming conscientiously. Use partial/complete skimming judiciously.
  10. Scribble notes if required, but not at the cost of breaking your rythm.
  11. Approach material skeptically. Think actively. Anticpate. Except. Though not each one may be fufilled, it will keep you involved in the activity of reading.
  12. Ask follow up questions. Think about what you have read. And how much sense it makes to you. :-). By sense how much multi dimensional you can be about the topic.

Whatever be your purpose, getting hold of the main idea and sensing the structure is very important. Further take into account difficulty level of reading material. I have seen that an author usually writes at the same level of difficulty. Its it this context that point 3 is so important. Its like driving. You dont start the car at 60 mph. You increase gradually. And when you hit barriers, you slow down. So goes with reading.

Next point to note is what you are reading. Reading a newspaper is different from reading a book. Add to it why you are reading?Newspaper is for being aware of current affairs. Again within that finance may matter more to you than politics. So different articles in the newspaper will receive different treatments. Also with books. Some books you will study in detail completely. Some just to get an idea. Some in detail in parts and skimming in others. Be very clear about why you are reading?What you expect out of it?Then reading becomes simpler. Its like that 'if you dont know where u wanna go, you wont reach there' :-)

Also some people like me (XPers) will like to read iteratively. Others prefer a single go. Whatever, note that being aware of whether you are into a main idea, an extension, detail is very important. Just like driving again. If you dont know whether you are in a parking lot, freeway, street road, you wont adjust your driving speed. Thats why I am wary of insane or less aware drivers. :-). So skip the next two paras if you are not or dont intend to be an iterative reader.

Eventually I also find that at times stopping a bit and thinking for a few factional seconds doesnt harm. In fact that stop lets you re-group. I remember "Slow and steady wins the race". So when Norman says fast, aggressive and such other terms, he implies be the tortoise and not the rabbit.

To update I would say that this stop should come only after the first round of reading where you have mastered the central idea and the structure of the passage. Its not meant in the sense of stopping while reading. This is because typically your purpose will vary always. When you are attempting say an aptitude test, your purpose is different is compared to that when you want to study the material. But in all purposes, one higher purpose is to "get the main idea and register the structure". So its like understanding the forests before diving into the trees. The way you do navigations, from an overview level to details. Further doing the first will help you to actually dive into those areas where you need to depending upon your purpose.

This book is a must read for everyone.