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Leo Babauta, I love you dude, but your last post sucked.

A Little Backstory:

When I was younger, my group of friends and I developed our own brand of juvenile etiquette for disagreeing with one another. And so when you needed to tell your buddy something you didn't like about them you opened up the conversation with this phrase, "I love you dude, but…" then your criticism.


"I love you dude, but the peach-fuzz mustache is not cool, and it doesn’t look good."

If the comment was made in front of the group, an immediate voting on the criticism would ensue. The comment would either be ratified into fact, or vetoed, but most often it was ratified.


"Yeah man, the mustache needs to go. Everybody thinks so, that’s why we’re telling you."

Some may have seen these exchanges as insincere but within our group, opening up without with the line, "I love you dude" was a form of respect. Granted, it's not the most poetic term of endearment, but it allowed us to be honest with each other, without all the hurt feelings. And so you knew that your buddies were telling you something not because they hated you, but because they cared.

Now that we're caught up, there's something I'd like to say about Leo Babauta's post: "Why reading faster doesn't increase productivity".

"Leo, I love you dude; I'm a big fan of zen habits, read a lot of your articles, and I agree with many of your principles but... your last post sucked."


From Your Post:

"I think you should read slower, and focus on doing things slower. It increases your effectiveness, which is a different definition of productivity than 'doing things faster'."

If I understand you correctly, you're saying that focused slower reading increases a person's ability to effectively comprehend the text their reading.

I disagree. In terms of a person's reading rate, there's quite a lot of research that points to the opposite.


Lori Nunez's dissertation: An Analysis Of The Relationship Of Reading Fluency, Comprehension, And Word Recognition To Student Achievement (May 2009). Her dissertation looked at statewide elementary students in Texas and analyzed various methods for developing reading skills.

In the conclusion, Nunez wrote:

"Consistent with the findings of previous research (Allen, 1988; Buchanan, 2006; Flindt, 2007; Stroud & Henderson, 1943) and the National Reading Panel's identification of key reading components, the study confirmed that early development of reading fluency, comprehension, and word recognition do impact reading performance of students by the middle elementary grades. The results of the data analysis revealed that reading fluency, the number of words read per minute, had the strongest relationship with scores on the third grade reading TAKS. ...It would appear that fluency, the speed and accuracy of words read, contributed to comprehension and understanding of the material read, and ultimately to success on the reading assessment."


"In the study, the skill of reading fluency had the strongest relationship and made the greatest contribution to reading TAKS scale scores. The findings of the study supported Rasinski's (2001) argument that the rate a reader reads is significantly correlated to the standardized and informal measurements of comprehension and word recognition."


From Your Post:

"productivity isn't about speed, even if we've been led to believe it is. It's about being effective. It's about accomplishing things -- and that's about doing the most important things, not the most things."

I disagree.

"Productivity is from 1809 with meaning 'quality of being productive;' economic sense of 'rate of output per unit' is from 1899."

Reference:productivity. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 02, 2009, from website:

The two words that stand out for me are the words "quality" and "rate", and the word "rate" is most definitely associated with speed.


From Your Post:

"When we speed through tasks and projects, we lose perspective. We forget what's important and just try to do things as fast as possible."

Your quote makes the assumption that when a person does something faster, they sacrifice their effectiveness.

 What about firefighters? Or paramedics? Or doctors?

The rate at which these people do their jobs can determine whether someone else lives or dies, or many people live or die. I think "speed" can have a lot to do with a person's "effectiveness" in the world around them. Firefighters don't rush into a burning building to try to save the most important people; they try to save everyone they possibly can in the time they have.

This not only pertains to the lives of people, but also in people's careers and the lives of companies, in which a person's speed can be determining factor in whether they get to keep their job.


From Your Post:

"If reading is important, focus on it, and do it slowly. It'll be that much more enjoyable, and so will the project. And when you absolutely love what you're doing, then productivity is a natural by-product."

If I follow your argument here correctly, you're saying, "If I want to read something that is important to me, the rate at which I read it corresponds to the level of enjoyment I’ll receive from reading it."

I agree that certain texts can be more enjoyable when read slowly, but I disagree that all of the texts that are important to us need to be read this way. I believe, and research shows, there are more factors in the process of translating text into meaning than just voicing the words on the page. The process of visual interpretation of text into meaning is an extremely fast process, and your statement concludes that this method, while fast, will lessen my enjoyment of reading the text.


Lastly, From Your Post:

"Slow down, don't speed up. Read slower -- you'll read less, but enjoy it more."

What I don't agree with in this statement, is the assumption that text should be read at one speed. A person can enjoy a fast paced action sequence in an old dime novel reading 400wpm, and then slow down to 150 wpm when detective is explaining how he figured out who the killer was. The reader can read fast and slow throughout the book without losing joy in the text they’re reading.

I was a slow reader for quite some time, and even though reading was important to me, reading slow did not make reading more enjoyable. In fact, quite the opposite.

I don't think I'm alone on this, but maybe I am… I’ve found the more I read, the more I enjoy reading.

We only have a short time in this life, and my approach to reading is much like that fireman running into a burning building. There's too many great things to read in this world that to read them all would take several lifetimes, I'd like to enjoy reading as many of them as possible before my time's up.

Leo, I love you dude, but your last post sucked.



Kris Madden

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Reader Comments (21)


"I love you dude, but..." actually, there is no "but". I agree with almost everything you've said. You present clear, research based arguments, and I am completely in the same position as you once were: I read slowly. I have very high comprehension (generally) and rarely need to read things twice, but, dammit I want to read faster! And so, I'm reading your book, following the advice, and work on my reading speed.

If there was a "but" this is it: you cited research correlating reading "fluency" has the strongest relationship with some standardized test score among a group of subjects; I wonder how the results of those standardized test scores would change if a) fast readers made an effort to read slower or b) slow readers, after following some program, learned to read faster -- I'm not convinced that the results would be the show increased comprehension in either case.

Notwithstanding, I'm working my way through your book, enjoying the mental exercise of replacing "Alice" with "aonea" in my head...

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBen Hawkins

Thanks for the comment Ben.

To comment on "b)", you might want to check out Alice Krumian's dissertation, "Critical Analysis of the Study of Speed Reading" (2000).

"Chaper 9: A Pilot Study on the Effectiveness of Speed Reading" addresses that very idea of teaching "slow readers" speed reading techniques and notes their improvements in comprehension across the board. If you've got access to ProQuest, you can read her dissertation online there. Her whole dissertation is worth reading, it's just plain awesome if you're interested in literacy and reading curriculum.

December 2, 2009 | Registered CommenterKris Madden

Hi Kris ... thanks for your thoughtful response! It actually gives me a chance to clear up some misconceptions.

Namely, you misunderstood a couple of points:

1. I didn't mention reading comprehension in my post and if that was implied, I apologize. Slowing down was to make the process of reading -- and of working in general -- more enjoyable. That's the main point of slowing down, not to comprehend more.

When we slow down, we move at a more leisurely pace, we don't feel so rushed, we're not trying to cram too many things into our day. And most importantly, we have time to think about what's important, rather than just doing things as fast as we can.

2. I didn't say everything had to be read at the same rate. I just said to read slower. This can be a different rate of slowness for different types of materials, but the basic point -- to slow down to enjoy life more -- remains the same.

3. Productivity as you've defined it is definitely the traditional sense. I'm rejecting that traditional definition, and have for awhile now. Read some of my posts on Zen Habits for more on this. I basically believe the traditional definition of productivity -- to increase our rate of output -- is outdated and based on an industrial model, where workers were machines and management tried to increase their productivity and thereby increase profits. I reject this -- workers are not machines, but creative, imaginative humans with hopes and goals and the desire for freedom and happiness.

And so, I believe productivity shouldn't be to output at a faster rate, but to lead to achieving things, to freedom, to happiness, to doing what you love. That's why effectiveness is more important than rate -- if you focus on what's important, then you can get great things done, and do them in less time because you're not trying to do too much.

Thanks for the opportunity to clarify my thoughts!


December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLeo

Be always busy, never hurried.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterThe Barking Unicorn

I agree with you, Kris. An English major lawyer,I read very quickly; my husband, a computer science theory professor, reads at a snail's pace. I certainly am more productive than he is. I also retain considerably more of what I read than he does. I do occasionally miss details in statutes, so I have trained myself to read again--but slower never seems to result in fewer mistakes--repeated passes does.

When my beloved but long-winded father tells one of his tales, I find it incredibly difficult to follow. Likewise, audiobooks are a problem--reading out loud is of necessity slower than reading silently.

Generally slowing down is great for most things in life, but reading isn't one of them....

for me, anyway.

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKathryn Fenner

"There's too many great things to"

Sure, you can also say this, for discovering places, for meeting people, for sports, for having sex with too many great people... so... do them all and never stop: run, run, run, and one day, you will realize, that, an a certain point, that you cannot do everything, all the things.

I do not always agree with Leo on every point, but that is not mandatory, but I agree that our society has not the obligation to "process" everything at 200 mph, and going at 50 mph is fine, and enjoyable...

But hey, enough reading here, go fast open your new reading and do not stop at all, go read 10 books today, you will have a great day this way, a better life ;-)

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRoro

I believe alot of this has to do with the makeup of the individuality of a person's wiring and their internal connections..
For example, I have three sons all same age...

One reads (avidly) daily for hours. He reads at an immense pace. He enjoys every book and can give you detailed information 1 year later. He is amazing. I must have him read less to get done his daily things.

Another reads at a snails pace. Sinking every word and yet enjoying at his pace. He also retains information although he doesn't have the long term retention as the first child.

My third has mental retardation and autism. He cannot hold a conversation, says few words but can read. He could read as a toddler b/c he knew which vcr tapes he wanted by looking at the words. He retains his information as well b/c when I give him a comprehesion check via visual multiple choice, he gets every answer correct.

I myself have a fast pace of reading and do remember the details. Due to chemo, I do not have my memory like I used to.

But in my humble opinion, I believe it is how one is wired internally coupled with the intensity of how much one likes/loves to read and also the availability of materials to individuals.... if nothing of interest is available, the reading is going to be slower... if the person does not like to read, it will be at a slower pace... it the individual s not wired as a typical person (using my definition as compared to autism), the reaading will depend on the neurotransmitters with the individual..

Based on all of those relationships... it will depict how a person reads, and answe the why's when's where's and all the questions
Once again, my two cents worth.
Happy reading... which everway one reads.... it isn't so important how you read, what is important is that you can read... simply put: we all should be thankful that we can read....

I live ea day trying to help my son live in this world.. feedng therapy to eat (provided by me); dressing/bathing/all self care needs must be met for him, he will live longer than I (I have cancer), my worst fear, him living beyond my years... I don't want him abused, I don't want him to be neglected b/c there is no dignity given to him other than immediate family... he deserves the dignity to live b/c he is a human being. I fight every day through a maze of systems b/c what a "typical" person gets in life (e.g. education in school), I had to fight 5 years in a court system and still didn't win... I have to homeschool him... He should have the right to speech therapy with his insuranced b/c he can learn through pictures how to communicate and then he transfers to words... We've shown through data and reports his progress since the age of 13 when he began to speak... no, I had to fight for his rights to obtain speech therapy that should be covered under his plan, but not for him... b/c he is already "written off" in our society. So sad. So sad... did Igo off here? I apologize. My point is that we should be thankful for the readers who can read first... then secondly for the differences of the readers... some slow some fast some retaining all and some not retaining much... this is what makes the world go round.... our world... everyone so different... so precious... Thanks for reading!

December 2, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSue

Thanks for the references to research. I was a little confused by Leo's post too.

The words "reading" and/or "speed reading" have complex semantic lexicons. I think the confusion probably lies in the way each of us interpret these words and ideas.

Leo's comments make sense to me if he is talking about "reading slow" when you are reading for enjoyment. The idea of "stop and smell the roses." Relaxing with a good book and just taking your time sounds wonderful and should be something we allow ourselves all year long, not just something you save for the summer vacation at the beach. Or perhaps if you are reading poetry, or Shakespeare, or literary fiction--then savoring the words and images makes the reading experience more enjoyable and we can add increased levels of understanding and meaning as we are thoughtful and mindful of our reading.

So many people don't read at all. They want the TV or Video-condensed version of a story. Finished in 3 hours. No thoughtful analysis or life-changing message. Just a mindless way to pass the time and what they call "relax." Some people don't care if they learn new things, or try to improve their minds or lives.

I suspect this was where Leo was coming from. He was asking us to challenge our usual patterns and assumptions about something as basic as reading.

Thanks for adding your valuable ideas to the discussion. Mary

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMary E. Ulrich

Note that the study correlating speed with comprehension was with third graders. I strongly believe fluency in third graders means something different than fluency in adults. In third graders, it means that they can read with automaticity and are no longer decoding. Most adults are no longer decoding, either.

I teach reading at a community college. One thing I hear often from my students is that they think they're pretty good readers because they can read fast. However, comprehension checks will show that they don't understand what they have read. My students tend to read in nouns and verbs and miss important signal words that show how ideas are related. When they slow down, they do a better job picking out those signal words and thus have better comprehension.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCathy

Hi Cathy,

Thanks for your comment.

What are your thoughts on the journal article "Developing Visual and Reading Efficiency in Older Adults"?

It's study on increasing reading efficiency in all groups through a reading program consisting of "included guided reading, tachistoscope, React, and PAVE (Perceptual Accuracy Visual Efficiency) training."


"This study quantifies the level of reading efficiency in older individuals who present with average or better reading comprehension skills, but whose reading pattern is slow and laborious. Our subjects frequently showed slow visual processing, inefficient of oculomotor skills, poor directional attack, and a slow reading rate. All of these visual functions improved significantly with the appropriate training intervention described previously. In general the subjects were satisfied that they are reading after the training was more comfortable and efficient than before. They could read for a longer period of time with improved concentration. A statistical analysis of the results justifies this conclusion in this population of older adults. Prior studies cited earlier noted that similar improvements were attainable and analysts and young adults. There appears to be sufficient evidence that reading efficiency should be stressed to a greater extent in reading, educational, and vision therapy programs in all age groups and at all reading levels.

December 3, 2009 | Registered CommenterKris Madden

I agree with both Leo and Kris because, in my humble opinion, you guys approach reading from two different aspects: benefits of reading and scientific reading skills.
For Leo's slowness, as his title in his response post re-clarifies, reading is about happiness, or (my humble understanding) what you get from the reading of this book: you enjoy the suspense and turns of the plot? you find the plot really clever or even helpful to your own plot (say you want to kill some one or steal some one's job)? Or more seriously, is this book consciously or sub-consciously changing your life style or your career path?
For Kris's reading skills, sure, knowing these facts will help you forming some good reading habits/skills. I have tried RSVP reader as an add-on in firefox and the little java-script shortcut(bookmark) called 'readability'. Maybe I am not working hard enough to learn RSVP skill, I am still not comfortable reading using it. But I found readability tab is really helping me focus on the content of the post/webpage.

I have to say a few words for Kathryn's husband as I myself am a computer science researcher and I read those papers in snail's speed (I guess I am even slower than him as I am not a native English speaker/reader). Reading scientific materials, esp. those relevant to your area/interests, is a very complex and time-consuming process: you need to do some of those calculations and deductions yourself, trace back other publication from the same authors or related work done by other research group, even invoke some discussion among your own group and/or the authors. Therefore, please endure our incredibly slow reading speed.

Last but not the least, Sue, please accept my deepest sympathy for your son and forward my best wishes to him.

Cheers for reading,

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHao Wang

First time here at your place Kris, I really like it.

Now on to my comment, I thin both Leo and you are talking different languages and about totally different things. It's true that reading faster can help you develop extra comprehension, it's also true that fast reading is a good skill to have.

On the other side, what Leo shares is also true, going slow is for an enjoyable experience. He has also gone into a different side of the productivity theory, where he focus on important tasks to get more time for what he loves. Which in turn means slowing down.

As you can see, those two topics are totally different. One talks about enjoyment another one about comprehension. Both are backed up by an interesting set of analysis and experience.

But I think both miss something very important (mostly by the response each one gave after the original post at mnmlist) You are not taking into account your own individuality, what Leo may define as enjoyable to another person may sound like crazy talk, the same goes for the thought about reading faster, to someone else may sounds just like the wrong way to go.

I think both of you just collided the wrong way about this one. And blown it to something without importance, the real point of the 3 posts is to do what feels right for each one of you. Each journey is different. Reading fast can be horrible or pure joy as reading slow may be both too.

Think of this situation like 2 great ideologies colliding, the point is not which one is best or right. The point is which one can help you as individual. I personally stick with Leo's idea, but Kathryn Fenner above seems to find your take (Kris) more valuable and helpful. Enjoy the diversity, it makes for a very interesting world.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlejandro Reyes

I believe that you miss understood what Leo says.
Leo's said read slow be more effective, can be read or eat the point is not rush in your live. You are attacking him but you really do not understand man
I think you need to read slow ;) to understand better.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGlen

Kris, I think that you are really missing Leo's point. You are analyzing a new way of thinking with old methodology. Life isn't about bigger, stronger, faster anymore. Those ideas brought us into the global crisis we are facing today and those ideas will lead to an unsustainable future should we continue to pursue them. Now more than ever, we should be pursuing new ways of life, such as smaller and slower. For example, does one really need a 5000 square foot home that is out of their budget? No, a smaller home would be more sustainable financially and allow the owner time to enjoy things other than maintaining a large house. In regard to reading, should one speed read every Hunter S. Thompson book as quickly as possible for the sake of productivity. No, it be better to read one book at a normal pace, soaking up all of the beautiful language and imagery that the author painstakingly labored over to create. Art takes time to make, it should take time to enjoy. Less is less. And less is better.

December 3, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJames Anthony

Using the word "sucked" was far too negative to paint the hard work of somebody else. It made the rest of the article, with all it's fact-checking and proofing, much less serious to read.

December 4, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTexafornia

Maybe proofreading your blog entry at a slower pace might have saved you this mistake, "Here dissertation looked at statewide elementary students in Texas and analyzed various methods for developing reading skills."

Oh the irony...

December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie

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March 7, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterdissertation writing

Looks like some kind of missunderstanding. Anyway, hope you guys will stay cool and will aprecieate each others work. Still everyone have their own opinion but before write be careful and check the information that you share. Posters should be careful with their own opinion.

June 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter
March 15, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGavin

I totally agree on this "productivity isn't about speed, even if we've been led to believe it is. It's about being effective. It's about accomplishing things -- and that's about doing the most important things, not the most things'...I wish you even more success...

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commentervoclizayuri88

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