Listen to This

28 Oct 2018

How I became a more productive and happy reader.

I used to say that I don’t like reading, but some years ago I reframed that to “I don’t like sight reading.” So I’ve invested some energy into being able to listen to content, and over the years I’ve collected some tools and workflows that have benefited me greatly. I want to share those with you, but before I do here’s a little backstory.

I have the triple whammy of dyslexia, ADHD, and poor vision. Even with glasses or contacts on my eyes get tired very fast, dyslexia makes me a slow reader in general, but I also have to reread just about everything at least once to understand it, and my attention span is pretty freaking short when I’m frustrated. All this used to leave me in a pretty frustrated state given I’m an information worker.

Then in 2015, I was introduced to Ben Foss. I helped him put together an event he was working on for The Dyslexic Entrepreneurs Network. It turns out a surprising number of entrepreneurs are dyslexic. Charles Schwab, a dyslexic entrepreneur himself, was the keynote speaker. Ben taught me a lot of things, but one of the most useful and impactful was how to have things read to me on my phone and computer. He also inspired me to be more open about being Dyslexic, which has been a great experience.

Text to speech technology is so good these days, and I’ve found that there are benefits that folks who aren’t Dyslexic might also enjoy. For one I can listen to content at a pretty good clip. It took me quite a while to ramp up to this speed, but I can listen to 420 to 500 words per minute depending on what type of content I’m reading (average is 200 to 250 words per minute). I can also do other things while I’m reading, which allows me to get through a lot of material on a regular basis. It’s near impossible to listen and do something else that requires much thinking, but I can easily listen while I’m walking, cleaning the house, or doing yard work.

Ok, now to the good part.

To get started you will need to turn on Speech on your device. I do most of my listening on my iPhone, so my examples are based on that device, but you can turn on text to speech on just about any modern device.

Go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Speech and make sure ‘Speak Selection’ and ‘Speak Screen’ are on.


Where to activate Speech on an iPhone
Now your phone is set up to read what’s on your screen. All you have to do is pull two fingers down from the top of your screen, and it will start speaking what’s on there to you. I find it works best for me when I have headphones on, and the AirPods are fantastic for listening to speech to text content. For me listening with headphones that are overly noise canceling is kind of awkward. One problem here with this feature is that text to speech only works well some of the time. If you’re using a web browser, it will often read back all of the metadata plastered all over the page, and some apps block it for some reason. At the same time, it’s not always easy to bookmark or save content and if you do it could potentially be saved across many apps.

Instapaper to the rescue! Once you have downloaded the app, it’s easy to add iPhone and Chrome browser extensions to make adding content to Instapaper a chinch.

I use Feedly as a means of finding interesting content and highly recommend it if you want an RSS style app for browsing your favorite news and blogs. Plus they also have an Instapaper integration that’s lovely. Here’s a screen capture that shows you my workflow between Feedly and Instapaper.

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Feedly, to Instapaper, to listening workflow

For reading books and other longer-form content, I use Apple Books app. It’s straightforward, free, and just works. If you’re also Dyslexic, you can join Bookshare. It’s a government-backed service for folks with print disabilities. For only $60/year I get access to download anything published in the US at no additional cost. It requires you to get a note from a doctor to be let in, but it’s worth the effort if you plan on reading books regularly. Capti has a Bookshare integration, so it’s entirely pain-free searching for a book and adding it to the app.

Ok, hope this is helpful or at least interesting. If you have other tips that might help me or other folks simplify their lives, please leave them in a comment!

P.S. I wrote this article using the Grammarly and highly recommend it for everyone. Some other Dyslexic people I know prefer dictation, but I still like typing and Grammarly makes that way more manageable for me!