Here is an excerpt from an interview of Bob Pozen by Justin Fox for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete interview, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
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Fox: Describe your approach to reading.
Pozen: To begin with, you have to ask: “Why am I reading this book or newspaper?” Reading for pleasure — that’s a separate topic. But if you ask most people why they are reading the newspaper, they will give you vague answers. I know what I’m reading the newspaper for. At breakfast, I read the Boston Globe and the New York Times; at work, I read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times. In reading the Globe, I’m trying to follow the major political events in Massachusetts. I also want to see what’s happening with the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots. With the New York Times, I’m reading the front page to see what the paper considers important and then deciding whether to read any other stories in my areas of interest. I’m mainly interested in finance, health care, retirement, and taxes — broadly speaking. I read the editorial page of the Times to see the liberal perspective on current events. With the Wall Street Journal, I read the summaries on the left of the front page and then leaf through the Journal page by page. I’ll read the introductory paragraph of an article and think, “Is there something here that relates to one of my four topics — finance, health care, retirement, or taxes?” If so, I’ll read the tops of the paragraphs until I come to new facts or a new analysis of the subject. Then I will read the full paragraph. I will also look at the editorial page of the Journal to understand the conservative perspective on current events. With the FT, I’m looking for coverage of topics outside the U.S. I read the front page of both sections and skim the rest to find articles with material not covered by the Wall Street Journal or New York Times. I also read the editorial page of the FT, which I find to be relatively objective.
Fox: What’s the key to reading fast?
Pozen: Here’s what I did to teach my kids and nephews to become speed readers. I would see them doing some dense reading such as chapters in a history or science textbook, and I would say: “When you get to the exam in a month or two, what do you want to remember from this chapter? After reading this chapter, please write no more than the one or two paragraphs you want to remember for the exam. Then go back and see how you could read more efficiently to obtain that paragraph or two.” One of the reasons why some people are slow readers is that they’re reading every word. Instead, they should read the introduction, the conclusions and the tops of the paragraphs to determine if that part of the chapter is really important for them. But you’ve got to know what you’re reading for. Are you reading for certain facts? Are you reading for new analysis? Are you reading for the author’s general themes or the specific support for these themes?
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Bob Pozen, chairman emeritus of MFS Investment Management, senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and sometime writer for Harvard Business Review and HBR.org, gets an awful lot accomplished with a minimum of visible effort and stress. Justin Fox, editorial director of HBR Group, was curious how Pozen did that. The result is a seven-part series on productivity, of which this is the second installment. The first, on Pozen’s daily routine, is here. He is also the suthor of Too Big to Save? How to Fix the U.S. Financial System published by Wiley (2009).