Writing at the speed of sound

How fast do you think? A lot faster than you can talk, and definitely faster than you can type.

Daniel Kahneman, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics and author of Thinking Fast and Slow, suggests that our ‘psychological present’ spans a window of about three seconds, during which we are capable of forming thoughts. By this calculation, we each have about 20,000 thoughts while we’re awake each day. Others, including neuroscientist Deepak Chopra, suggest that this number could be even higher – between 60,000 and 80,000 thoughts.

Blogger Andrew Dlugan analysed a series of TED talks and found that the average speaking rate was 163 words per minute.

And the average person can type only about 40 words per minute. The further you go in this reductionist game, the more frustrating it gets as your best thinking gets away from you.

While it may not be possible to capture every thought as soon as you have it, you can get pretty close - at least as close as the speed of sound. Here are three ways to supercharge your writing speed through harnessing the power of voice-to-text and transcription technologies.

Option 1 - Inbuilt voice-to-text software

Mac computers come with inbuilt voice-to-text software, which can be found by clicking on the System Preferences icon, then on Dictation and Speech. You can set up a shortcut key to jump straight into Dictation while you’re in a document or email program - my shortcut is to hit the Command key twice. Once you’ve set this up, and dictation is activated, just speak at your normal pace and the computer will log your words directly onto the page.

You’ll need a good quality headset with a directional microphone for best results. This is the lowest-cost option – it won’t cost you anything (apart from the headset) to get started.

Option 2 - Purchased voice-to-text software, such as Dragon Naturally Speaking

Before I moved to a Mac computer, when I was still using my trusty PC, this software was my lifeline.

One of the additional benefits of Dragon Naturally Speaking is its ability to analyse your documents for frequently used words and phrases, improving dictation accuracy. For example, it knows when I say, “bid consultant” that I don’t mean “big consultant”.

The software cost is about $200. You’ll also need a good quality headset with a directional microphone for best results.

Both of these software options have helped me to get words on paper twice as fast I can by typing – and I can type about 60 words per minute. These options are best for: 

  • Dictating emails and short sections of text
  • Transcribing from handwritten notes, such as notes you’ve taken on site or from a whiteboard
  • Working in a private office, or if you don’t mind talking to yourself while there are other people around.

Option 3 – Voice recording transcription apps, such as REV.COM

To get words on paper even faster, without being chained to your desk and computer, this is the best option by a country mile.

Download REV.COM’s voice recording phone app from their website and use it to record yourself speaking on a topic. Then simply click to upload the file for transcription directly to them. In my experience, short files are usually turned around lightning fast – in some cases, within the hour – with real people doing the transcription. Accuracy is excellent.

You’ll need to set up an account with a credit card to use this service, and transcribed recordings cost USD $1 a minute. But if you’re a professional, consultant or senior executive who spends a lot of time on the road or in meetings, this could just be the difference between having to squeeze your board reports, business cases and client proposals into your precious time after-hours or actually getting them done during the day.

Using a voice recording transcription app like REV will help you get words onto paper in a quarter of the time you’re probably spending now.

It’s also how I wrote two books in two years while holding down a busy day job full of workshops, speaking and travel – and also spending nights and weekends with my family. This option is best for:

  • Capturing creative insights and ideas on the run, and producing written work that sounds fresh and personal
  • Getting a good quality first draft quickly that you can later tweak and edit
  • Breaking the back of large documents like business cases, reports proposals – and book drafts

There are just so many voice-to-text and voice recording transcription options available now that it is a crime against productivity not to use them.

These are just three of the options that I have tried and tested, and that work for me. Try them, and reclaim some of your day.