For many people, summer is a chance to read, as things slow down and we find ourselves with relaxation time at the cottage, beach or back porch. If you choose carefully, you can boost your career.
Consultant Wally Bock’s father, a Lutheran pastor, saw summer as an opportunity to delve into something he always wanted to read. The nature of that book might change from year to year; Mr. Bock shares the five categories, which might help clarify your own possibilities:
- Big thinking: While his father usually “inhaled” books, with these books of big ideas he would often read in bits and pieces, allowing time to reflect on what he was encountering.
- Delve more into a subject you know well: It can be helpful to dig deeper into an important topic. One summer, his father read the collected sermons of the Scottish theologian Peter Taylor Forsyth.
- Pump-priming: Each summer, his father also tried to read a book outside his usual range, asking other people what great books they had encountered recently. “The topics were all over the map, but the one thing they had in common was that they were not the kinds of books my dad usually read. He felt that reading one good ‘pump-priming’ book every year or so helped you stay fresh and creative. Choose a book on something you never read about,” Mr. Bock writes on his blog.
- Re-reading a great book from the past: This is Mr. Bock’s addition to his father’s pattern. Every year, he makes it a goal to re-read a great book he had grappled with in the past.
- Something for fun: Yes, summer is a laid-back time, and so both father and son recommend something easy and fun. For his father, often it would be several books by the same author, such as the year he binged on James Michener.
As you contemplate your reading pattern, it’s worth considering how consultant Anthony Iannarino recently changed his own approach. He used to read a book a week, but a few years ago he decided to slow down his reading and focus more on reading for application.
“Instead of reading 50 books, I read 10 or 12 books deeply,” he writes in his blog. “I read the same book multiple times, often listening to the audio version at the same time.
“I read much more challenging work with the desire to improve my life as the outcome of my investment. The strategy for reading was only possible because I had read widely enough to know where I wanted to go deep.”
That last point is critical. After a few years, he is now returning to reading widely, since that will allow him to sort through possibilities down the road that will require more attention and time.
Sounds good, but do you lack the time? Time-management specialist Laura Vanderkam notes on Fast Company that keeping track of her time on a spreadsheet – something that she figured she might do for a week but ended up doing for more than three years – revealed that she had hidden reading time. With four children, the youngest three months old when she started time-tracking, she figured reading was not feasible.
“Except I did read. I read 327 hours that first year, which is almost an hour a day. Unfortunately, I was using that time unintentionally, reading whatever was easiest − usually gossip and fashion magazines that showed up due to the magic of auto-renewal, and a shocking number of online comment sections,” she says.
Once she knew this time existed, she vowed to use it more mindfully instead of on quick reads, even if she was using brief spurts of time. She read War and Peace, Moby Dick and Ulysses, for example. With a lot of time spent in her car, she dug into the podcast realm.
So, the time is there. Summer is at hand as well. Find something you always wanted to read, and get on with it.
Remembering what you read
If you find that when you read you tend to forget what you came across, don’t despair. Blogger Leon Ho says that’s natural: The first time you read something, finishing it is the only aim. “Unless the content is linked to your survival, chances are that you’ll forget what you’ve seen or read soon after viewing it,” he writes on Lifehack. “When you’ve never seen something, your urge to finish the story is your main concern. After you’ve satisfied your desire, you probably won’t remember what you’ve seen.”
He compares it to passing strangers on the street. Your neurons process that you’ve encountered someone, and that’s the end of it. The key is to see, connect, and then repeat.
That means revisiting the content several times and applying it instead of passively taking in information or actively trying to memorize it by rote. “If you can apply what you’ve learned, get feedback, and re-apply a concept with feedback, it’s much more likely to stick,” he says.
It’s helpful to start with a purpose. Have a question at the back of your mind before you read something. Keep in mind that reading can be wonderful, but only if you take something away. He says people who read lots of books “but can’t remember them waste a lot of time. They haven’t taken in any information that will actually help them. To avoid forgetting everything you see, apply it immediately after you see it, and revisit the concepts often.”
Here’s another tip from noted professor of economics Tyler Cowen of George Mason University: Cut bait on the losers. “I start 10 or so books for every one I finish. I don’t mind disliking a book, and I never regret having picked it up and started it. I am ruthless in my discards,” he writes on the Marginal Revolution blog.
He churns through countless books looking for gems. Five days a week, he might be at a different library in his area, scanning the new books shelf (and nothing else), giving him time at what he considers to be the best bookstore in the world for free. He supplements that with visits to the new books table at Borders. “How can I let that book go unread or at least unsampled? I can’t,” he says. But if, when sampled, it doesn’t make the grade, he is on to another, part of his system for reading fast.
Five books for summer
Here’s Bill Gates’s list of five books worth reading this summer:
- Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson
- Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler
- Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
- Origin Story: A Big History of Everything by David Christian
- Factfulness by Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Ana Rosling Ronnlund
- It used to be that factories required synchronization because workers were all expected to arrive at the same time. But entrepreneur Seth Godin notes that these days, even if we know time very precisely through our gadgets, more work is asynchronous. Work is no longer time-based; it’s project-based.
- Before meetings, leadership guru Tom Peters writes one word on his hand: listen.
- Send post-interview thank-you notes within 24 hours. To make a positive impression, you must be prompt, advises the GetFive Career Blog.
- Our most painful moments are also our most important. Rather than run from pain, we need to identify it, accept it, and learn how to use it to better ourselves, says Ottawa-based blogger Shane Parrish. The formula: pain plus reflection equals progress.
- Stop conversations when people disrespect or insult you, suggests career trainer Dan Rockwell. If you’re seated, stand up. Speak quietly but firmly: “You’re not going to speak to me that way. I’m interested in your concerns. Would you like some time to gather your thoughts?”
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