Have you ever tried to read something but couldn’t focus on it? You find yourself re-reading the same page over and over again and retaining nothing? It’s happened to me countless times. It happened to me right before sitting down to write this as I was reading something for school. We all are going to have to read things we may not want to- be it for work, school, as a favor to someone, a social obligation- so let’s take a look at what’s going on, and why it may be hard to focus on the reading task in front of you.
What do you have to read?
Why do you have to read this?
What’s significant about it?
Is there a deadline to read this?
What about this piece of writing is making it challenging to focus on? Is it the format? Language? Subject matter? Something else?
Is it challenging because it’s on a medium you don’t like and wish to view it some other way (like reading on a computer or book or tablet and need it presented in a different way)? Is it possible to get it to a more pleasing medium?
Is there any physical reason that could be impeding your focus? Is your chair causing pain or discomfort? Is the computer brightness or position too low or high? Is the font on the page too small? Are you hungry or thirsty? Need a nap? Is the light in the room giving you a headache? Can any of those things be addressed and changed?
Is there something else you would rather be doing? What is it? Can it be a reward for reading this? Would it be more beneficial to adjust your schedule to do the other thing first to get it out of the way? How would you know what schedule adjustments would be affective?
Is there a time of day when you work/read most efficiently? Can you read the materials then?
Where is your mind going when you are trying to read? What thought(s) are jumping out and demanding your attention?
Would it be beneficial to take a breath, allow those thoughts to be present, let them fade, then go back to reading? Why or why not? Can you include your thought-wandering time into your schedule as a part of your reading? Is the thought-wandering, or thinking/digesting/analyzing what you’re reading all a part of the reading process? Should that time be included in how long it takes you to read a certain number of pages or paragraphs?
Is it more beneficial to write down the thought, deal with it later, then get back to reading? What would or would not work about that?
Does it work to try and ignore the thought and power through with the reading? How does it work or how doesn’t it work?
What would happen if you didn’t read the material? What are the consequences?
Would scheduling a time to let your mind wander be beneficial? What about practicing meditation, or calming breathing techniques? What system would work to get your mind in a quiet place to allow you to focus on the material?
Does the reading have to happen all in one sitting? How long can you sit and read until an interruption happens? Is there a way to build up your reading-focus stamina?
What’s it like when you are focused on what you’re reading? What type of reading material keeps your focus? What’s worked in the past to keep your focus, and what hasn’t worked?
Reading something may take more time than we think it will. I know in school, for me personally, it felt embarrassing to be a “slow reader” but reading isn’t a race. It’s okay if it takes you longer to read something than someone else. There’s no way to know if someone that’s reading “faster” is comprehending the material or appreciating it more than yourself. Stop and smell the roses, it’s okay to take your time and take care of yourself in order to read something you have to read.