How to be well read without reading it all

Is your stack of reading material spilling across your desk or in piles on the floor? Some sources claim the number of journals, newsletters, newspapers and magazines has more than doubled in the past decade. I believe them.

If your in-basket looks like mine, it's bulging with reading matter that seems overwhelming. Instead of agonizing over the dusty piles, take a few simple steps that will keep you up to date and organized.

Decide what you really need to know. Are there a few hot topics that you can't afford to miss? Is industry competition your primary concern? Are trends or economic patterns your priority? You can't keep up with everything, so the first step is to weed out the unnecessary. If you seldom read the periodical that arrives monthly, perhaps you should cancel it.

Delay reading until you accumulate a small pile. If you're a notorious procrastinator, a new magazine can seduce you away from your No. 1 priorities. You will be more selective about what you read when you are confronted with a lot of material. Don't let the pile begin to topple over, however. Sort through the pile at least once monthly.

Another idea is to sort your reading material. Create three piles: "Must read," "Moderate interest," and "Read if time." If you find that you rarely find time to read the third pile, save yourself the space and toss them as you get them.

Often I'll skim the table of contents and highlight items of interest with a yellow marker. If the article seems especially good, I'll make a copy of it and carry it in my briefcase rather than lug the magazine around. That way, when I have a few minutes, I'm sure to read it.

Set aside a short period of time each day or week to read. A good time for this is early in the morning before telephones start ringing. Some professionals I know prefer to read one article a night or set aside one night a week for a marathon read.

If you own a dictation recorder, use it to record ideas and quotes you come across in your reading. If you are asked to speak on certain subjects, this technique can be a handy way to capture material for your presentations. Simply have the cassette typed up when it is full.
If you have no time to spare or are on the lookout for a particular kind of information, consider delegating your reading. You may be able to ask your subordinates to watch for certain topics. If you have an information center where you work, employees there may be willing to do data searches for you on the subjects of your choice.

Keep files on subjects of particular interest. If you scan a magazine and find only one article worth reading, tear it out, file it and throw the rest away. Ask your boss or business associates if they have files on key topics that you could copy.

Read with a pencil in your hand. Underline and write notes about how a key point applies to you. When you refer to it later, you won't have to search for key ideas.

When you find a good article you want your subordinates to read, route it and ask them to write their comments in the margins. It's a good way to keep everyone informed and lets them know what interests you. Articles can also inspire agenda topics for staff meetings.

Make it a rule to scan your in-basket each night before you go home. Pluck out items you must read before the next day. Too often, memos, schedule changes and meeting preparation are missed. "It must be buried in my in-basket" is no excuse.

No matter how efficient you are, you can't read everything that crosses your desk. A little planning will help you control the flow.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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