As a doctoral student, I often have to read long academic articles in a single sitting. This type of reading stands in sharp contrast to the type of reading I do online, which consists mostly of short news articles, Twitter messages, and emails.
The traditional advice – pace yourself, take a break every so often, put on your favorite music, get comfortable, etc. – tends to leave me unfocused and unfinished at the end of the day. I’ve been trying to expand my repertoire of strategies for increasing my reading stamina to ensure that I finish all of my reading each week. Here are some tips that I’m trying out today:
Use temperature variations – hot tea and ice-cold water help stimulate the senses and keep you alert. I filled my water bottle with ice and held it to keep cool in the stuffy hospital lounge where I was reading this morning.
Find endless beverages – I drink lots of ice water and decaffeinated tea when reading. You can only drink so much coffee without upsetting your stomach or overdosing on caffeine, but it can help pace your reading to drink water or tea.
Stand, squat, or sit in a different place – I can’t read on the couch without getting sleepy, so I always choose a hard chair at a table. When I get tired of sitting at the table, I stand up or try another position to keep myself focused.
Hold the article or book, rather than leave it on the table. I find that this physical connection with the text keeps me focused.
Underline or highlight – this one’s obvious, but the more your mind is engaged with evaluating the text, the more you’ll stay focused.
Set short-term goals – when reading dense academic articles, I often find my thoughts wandering, and I’ll realize I’ve spent 15 or 20 minutes without finishing the page. Today I tried setting a goal that I’d reach the end of a given section within 5 minutes, then 5 minutes for the next section, and so on. I didn’t read any faster – I kept up my normal pace – but I was far more focused and didn’t let my mind wander.
How do you stay focused when reading a long, dense article?