A letter from a real 1:1 student after the first session with Anna

Recently we published testimonies of some students who completed the 1:1 course. Today I will publish a real letter of a real student between the first and the second sessions with Anna. I got his permission to use the full letter and the entire content of the message.

From: Jonathan Stogsdill

Hey Dr. Lev,

1. Good news! I have found a way to read articles that interest me. The problem has been that I have wanted to practice the skills on the books I read for business, personal growth, and leadership development. That has not worked because I cannot easily share them as pdf’s to show highlighted words. I have figured out what to do, and it kills several birds with one stone:
        A. I read summaries online of the chapters in the books I will be reading the next day. this gives me content to share with you, to practice on, and it helps to generate interest and markers to practice holding on to and using the next morning when I read the chapter
        B. the articles I am reading are on topics I am already interested in, and it will allow me to go through the books faster if I already have some understanding of the topic and have some markers made. NOTE: I WILL NEED HELP HONING THIS SKILL!
2. More good news: I was able to read the article I have attached to this email and create some markers for it and I remembered them, and the topic. I surprised myself a little when I realized that I actually could remember the markers! They were FAR from perfect, and they need much work, but I was able to list them off!
3. I need more training with markers. I’m sure it will come with time. But I think this positive experience I had today while reading is more fuel in the tank to A. keep me practicing and B. move me towards my goals!
4. I am having a hard time assimilating practicing into my everyday life. it seems like a lot of work for me at this point in my development to use the skills at my work, in my life, etc. I hope that as I just consistently put in the work every day, the skills will become easier, and will automatically come into my life. This is my hope.

The first session

The first session of the 1:1 with Anna is critical for most of our students. Why?
  • Diagnostics. Anna can easily understand what is holding back most of our students and provide simple corrective actions.
  • Homework. After the first session, the student is asked to highlight the important words in the article read. Then we increase the complexity of the article. The submission is in writing and I personally try to help each and every student. There are multiple iterations.
  • Integration. Many students do not understand how the methods they learn can be applied to their specific needs. We could not make 100 courses for all the professions we work with. However, in 1:1 we can provide immediate guidance.
  • Style. What kind of markers and visualizations works for you? We try to brainstorm with our students and try different things. Quite often we settle on something very different from the default guidelines. Maybe even surprising.
  • Freedom. The students who work alone need to adhere to very specific guidelines. Otherwise, there is no way to check they are not making crucial mistakes. With our guidance, it is easy and safe to express yourself in a constructive way.
  • Training materials. By the end of the training, you should be able to apply the techniques with everything you read. This does not mean you should use the harder materials for the training itself. Quite possibly, they will be handy only after months of training with simpler stuff.
  • Organization. Many students have a hard time organizing their thoughts and tracking progress. We provide examples, ideas, and some basic tools. Often we review the results and suggest further improvements.
  • Confidence. With so many questions it is easy to lose confidence. We can compare the parameters of performance and improvement with other students and eliminate misplaced doubts.

The density of reading materials

During the initial months of training, we recommend controlling the kind of materials you read. Typically, we recommend articles of 500 to 3000 words with more information density than a fiction or motivational text, but less than wikipedia. Usually, this means reading contents of this blog, BusinessInsider, SeekingAlpha, PsychologyToday, ExtremeTech or similar.

At the same time, we ask our students not to waste their time reading the stuff they will never read. This is a contradiction, and as such it requires creative solutions. JS above found his optimal formula by reading summaries.

The recommended visualizations

Around the third session, our students are asked to generate ~2-3 PAO markers per paragraph of the materials they read. This means around 9 words per paragraph. However, after the first session, they usually produce .5 words per paragraph. Why? Because the visualization is really tough at the beginning and really simple after some practice. As we should spend ~3 seconds per paragraph, the number of marked words should increase very fast with increasing visualization speed.

Why is visualization so hard in the beginning? The people add too many details that are not based on the text. This can be disorienting and is always slow. If the details come naturally they should not be stopped, so some advanced students generate very elaborate stories effortlessly. New students try to generate the detail level of visualizations they do not have and is not natural to them.

Personally I do not have detailed visualizations. My default visualizations are stereotypic and stylized as icons or brand images. As I read, they grow with details. Each detail added to the visualization is an associative response to something in the text.


Reading something entirely new is a technically complex task. We need to reread the document several times with different focus. First, we read the title and the people involved trying to guess the content of the article. Then we scan or skim through the article at high speed, picking up parts of ideas and keywords. We try to fix in our head its structure and main concepts. Only then we speedread, quite often more than once.

Reading on a subject we already know is easy. We are already prepared for what we will see inside. Probably we can skip prereading, and will are likely to need only one iteration of speedreading. This is something we recommend to beginner students. To be frank, this single-pass reading is something we do much more often than prereading followed by speedreading iterations.


During the first month of practice, it seems incredible that someone could visualize and memorize faster and more accurate than remembering stories. Generating stories is easy and memorable, so it is most natural to resort to it every time we REALLY need to remember something. It requires trust and motivation to continue visualization based practice, but then it starts to pay off. After the first MONTH of training, many students see the first fruits of such practice.

To be focused on something complex for the entire month, you should at least be interested in what you read…

Another thing that helps is reporting your progress to another person. This is really helpful for success.

Everyday life

It is crucial to integrate the practice in everyday life, yet it is often the hardest part of the training. Sometimes even we do not have the answers.

  • It is important to get enough sleep, yet a person looking for productivity courses is often overworked. There is simply not enough time for adequate sleep. Very hard to fix.
  • During the first months of speedreading, the documents we speedread will be memorized less reliably than the stuff we read otherwise. Yet, we should minimize the stuff we read incorrectly to improve reading speed. This is a complex contradiction.
  • Most people find it easy to break the training into multiple 15 min sections. This might be good enough for computerized training but is less than perfect for longer texts.
  • The progress is not homogeneous. We cannot predict the speed with which you will improve a certain element in your performance. This requires patience, more patience than many people have.

We try to help in each of these subjects, yet it is not uncommon for our students to take a 3-months break from learning after a couple of sessions and come back afterward. This is not very effective in terms of learning speed, but might be the best way to organize once life for the learning.

In some of the future articles, I will try to write about a common situation after the third session. It is the time when people switch from memory training to reading speed.

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