A Workshop in SmartReading, or in Wasting My Time

So a while ago I enrolled for this super interesting workshop offered by the university: SmartReading. It claims to enable you to read a book in only one hour and remember all the important stuff. I thought, even if it delivers on half of the stuff, me reading a bit faster and remembering a bit more easily, it’ll be a winner. But ugh, what a waste of time.

The guy from SmartReading sure knows how to market. Basically, all he taught us yesterday was reading diagonally. Scanning the text for what you’re looking for. Let me run you through the process.

First, you have to create a very precise question as to what you want to get out of reading the book. We got to practise on a book about happiness and success from the Australian success guru Paul Hanna. Not entirely my thing, but I wanted to give the SmartReading method a fair try. So after “exploring” the book as workshopguy called it (basically reading the back, looking at the table of contents, etc.) I came up with the very specific question of how I can find more specific aims to work towards in my PhD to feel more satisfied when reaching intermediary deadlines. This they called your “do-goal”, which sounds even sillier in Dutch, a “doen-doel”. My thoughts: isn’t every goal something you aim at achieving or “doing”?

Then we had to make a mind map of that subject. You know, those spider-shaped brainstorm thingies you did in primary school or for group works at uni. Rather than quickly going over the method, we practised it extensively on the subject of “love”. Now, I can see the value of mind-mapping, but this was a workshop for a bunch of academics with little time. For real? Mind-mapping about love? Colouring in our mind-maps and drawing pictures? It was very clear this workshop is aimed at businesses, where the workshop makes up both a fun day for the employees, a bit of team building and learning about the actual method. But I had no need for the first two. I just want to become more efficient when reading one book after another, as sometimes it’s what I do months at a time and it gets really demotivating when the process goes so slowly.

Anyways, I started reading the book with the method we’d been practising. Basically, it’s diagonal reading. You zip through the text not slowing down for anything, not tracing back if you didn’t understand. You’re scanning for what you are looking for, based on the mind-map you made. And indeed, it took me an hour. While you are reading, you stick down little post-it notes where you think interesting information might be found. After “SmartReading” the whole book, you then go back to these sections to see if you can find what you were looking for, adding to your mind map.  I didn’t find an answer to my question in the book (Paul Hanna kept going on about how important it is to have goals and deadlines (duh) but he didn’t specify as to how to determine a goal) and I am convinced I could’ve done the same in 5 minutes. Rather than taking an hour to scan through the book, looking for specific words or phrases that you determined as key words by mind-mapping, you just find a digital version of the book, type in the key-words in the find function, and read only those sections.

The workshop claimed to teach not speed-reading, but smart-reading: a way to read both fast and still get everything out of your text. But what we did was not reading. We scanned.  With a few exercises, workshopguy wanted to show us that there are two different kinds of remembering. They have different names in Dutch, but I think the difference between remembering and reproducing comes quite close. Even though I felt like I hardly remembered anything by reading diagonally, when other people brought up certain aspects of the book, I did remember them. But I could not reproduce them myself. So workshopguy’s conclusion: you remember a lot more than you think, good news! Now ask yourself this: when you have to read a certain book for work, to add to your theory or apply its theory to your data, what use is it if you can “remember” what it said if someone else brings it up, but you can’t reproduce the main points yourself?

My conclusion: the workshop is aimed at either school kids or businesses, it is designed in the previous decade when computers weren’t as much a part of lives as they are now, and it teaches nothing new. I enrolled for the workshop hoping to become more efficient. Instead, I spent half my day colouring, and the other half I practised diagonal reading (which anyone who made it this far in academics already masters) in order to achieve a result my computer can achieve in five minutes. And on top of that I had to listen to all this jibberjabber about “if you have a positive attitude than good things happen for you” and “you have to believe in it for it to work”. I don’t want to be a negative person and I do believe in positivity getting you a long way, but this workshop was far from professional and not at all aimed at its audience and their wishes. I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt and do my homework for the next session, because I payed a shitload of money for it, but so far this was a massive disappointment. SmartReading my ass, what about “diagonal-reading-the-way-you-were-taught-in-highschool”?!



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