3 simple ways to slay comprehension fatigue and learn more in less time


  1. Get a speed reader
  2. Watch videos on Youtube @2X speed
  3. Use Text to Speech to read articles to you

I love to learn - at my own pace. If I could I would read and watch the 1000s of articles that churn through my 160+ site RSS feed. There is a 1 to 2 hour window every day where I review everything interest worthy to me.

I am one of those people who loves sending and promoting cool stuff out to all the tribes that I can.

Consume whole chunks of the internet at a time.

But our time is a finite resource and I want to use it as effectively as possible.

So I started looking at ways I could consume faster while keeping my comprehension high.

The following are the tools I now lean on.

(these are somewhat OSX and Chrome skewed - but alternatives for other browsers and OS all exist)

When it comes to absorbing complex information we currently can only take it in through our eyes or our ears. I am looking forward to the day we can project things straight into our brains but we are not there yet.

I can suffer from something I will call comprehension fatigue where I am still keen to learn but I can't drag my eyes across the screen anymore. It is most easily addressed by switching how I'm learning to a different sensory input. For example start listening to something I was reading or vice versa.

Read faster one word at a time with a speed reader

When I see a huge wall of text I get all excited and sad at the same time. Somewhere in that wall there is something I have not seen before - or there is a timely reminder of something I'm already familiar with.

When there are 30 other tabs open next to it all begging for attention how do I get that data crammed into my head as fast as possible?

Moving my eyes while I read? I aint got time for that!

Passing content before your eyes instead of your eyes over the content is really efficient and significantly boosts your reading speed.

I first heard about this when Spritz made some noise about it a while back.

However there a tonne of free alternatives to boost up your browser reading speed.

Option 1: Get a Browser Plugin (Chrome)

Spreed is a Chrome plugin available here.

There are a tonne of ways to start it going but once it does it looks something like this:

If defaults to 500 words per minute which I now find very comfortable.

Note: this plugin does share usage information with Google Analytics

Option 2: Bookmarklet

Another option that doesn't send information to any external parties is a browser bookmarklet. There are a few of these around but by far my favourite is one I found a while ago. I have saved it as "LazyReader" in my bookmark bar and I now click on it many times a day. It was made by David Buezas & Emiliano Onorati and is very featured.

Head over to their github page for instructions on how to install it.

Once you have got the link in there just give it a click, select the text you want to read, and hit the space bar. Sometimes it can be a little finicky and you will need to click the bookmarklet again after selecting text.

Once running you can use the up and down arrows to set your words per minute.

Note on images and layouts

Both of these methods mean that images and other stylings that authors has laid out in an attempt to explain things in a page can get overlooked or missed. I always scan the whole article first to look for parts that may cause confusion and usually just highlight parts of text in and around the other page elements as I go.

Watch Youtube clips at 2x speed

Some times there are just too many cat videos to watch.

The Youtube HTML5 Video player introduced a bunch of settings inside the cogwheel icon to help us. My favourite of these is speed to help steal back half my time.

Using the 2x Speed settings I can plow through a 20 minute presentation in 10.

There are also options for 1.5 if that is too fast or even all the way down to 0.25 if slow motion is your thing!

There is always a small smirk at the chipmunk voices you hear at first but then it quickly fades as the content powers in.

Unfortunately there are no current plans for a similar Vimeo equivalent as the team there have express no interest. You can download Vimeo videos and use VLC or another playback program to do the speed increase but its a lot of fiddling around. It's a shame as there is a lot of great content hosted there that I'd love to hear double time (looking at you 99u)!

Switch from eyes to ears: Text to speech

Sometimes speed reading the wall of text won't cut it. You want to keep going but the thought of huge slabs of words make the brain ache. If you are using OSX I like to use the native text to speech feature to sit back, close my eyes and listen.

Long way

  • Highlight the text to be spoken
  • Right/Alt Click and choose
  • "Speech" -> "Start Speaking"

Or set a key bind in the Dictation and Speech settings dialogue (I use Option+ESC).

The keybinding also helps with being able to press again to stop the speech and reselect a new starting point if you want to replay a certain section.

Also in here you can set the speed so like the youtube hack above you can up the words per minute to an appropriate rate.

So I hope somewhere in the middle of that you changed how you popped off to hear the Youtube chipmunks or sped up how you were reading this page. Got any other tips to consume web content more efficiently ? Let me know