Through reading books or reading on the web, we immerse ourselves in another world. We are incredibly fortunate how easily valuable information is available and accessible and most of it for free. Effective reading is best done if we give a little structure to how we read. As children we are encouraged to read. Today anyone with a computer cannot escape reading. However post-college it becomes harder to indulge in effective reading, as we strive to strike a balance with jobs, relationships, workouts, healthy eating, while working towards professional and personal progress.
My 90 years old mother, who lived most of her life in India, complains when internet is down. She charges her iPad twice a day, which she uses to read and watch Indian news and religious sermons, creating a little India in her virtual world, while living in the US.
As professionals we seek to enhance learning, stay up to speed on current events and also hope to find time for reflections and absorption through subjects covered in self-help books.
To get the maximum out of our reading, its helpful to sub-categorize it:
Reading news is essential for professionals because at work we are judged not only by our professional acumen, but also how ‘smartly’ we converse on current events. However getting news must be managed. Filter out ‘bad’ news. Allocate 15-20 minutes on most days by browsing on internet or reading newspapers. I balance the opinions from different news sources like NYTimes vs WSJ vs BBC. Every medium tends to give its own slant, and reading counter point of views helps come to more rational conclusions. Time permitting, I like to watch the speakers on you tube, where tones and demeanors help me draw my own conclusions instead of reading press’s opinions. Lastly, supplement reading news with, once a week, Google Alerts, to stay informed on specific subjects, companies, stocks, persons or writers of interest.
Exploring certain subjects of interest on internet can be both educational and invigorating. This may take one hour or two. For example I plan to see Hamilton Musical, now playing in San Francisco. Having grown up in India, I did not have the background and could not appreciate the excitement about it. There was lots to explore besides the story; the inspirational writer & director of the musical, and the author of the book; about American Revolution which cannot be understood without reading American history, and the immigrants landscape at the time, as it seems to have changed in Trump-era, but not really; about the political philosophies of Hamilton, and how they have shaped America; why hiphop, what is hiphop, and about the hiphop-culture. The list was never ending. The most useful thing is to make a list while exploring . Add items and scratch them out as you go along and return to where you started, to complete the task. Be savvy about the source of information on the web, and that is why Wikipedia is popular, but often insufficient. Completion is important as ‘a-task-accomplished’ and ‘knowledge-enhanced’ are energizing and gets me in a productive mindset.
Reading for personal or professional development takes extended time and effort. Getting on a better schedule, weight reduction, regular workouts, improving relationship being some examples of personal endeavors. How to develop presentation skills, prepare to get promoted, change jobs, or get inspired to launch a startup, may be some of the professional struggles. We stumble into such books through best seller lists or recommendations and some of them change us in unexpected ways.
While reading such books, don’t be in a hurry to get to the finish line, as absorption, and retention are the keys. Absorption is improved when you are more receptive and patient and about putting ideas into practice. Find a way to light a fire under you. Take appealing ideas, internalize and personalize them. Start incorporating them in practice the very next day. Be deliberate about repeating and adjusting till you feel the change. Changed feelings results in changed trajectory.
Mind, in many ways behaves like muscles. After an intense day, it also needs relaxation or exercise of different parts, for full recovery. I might indulge in browsing ‘reddit’ or read ‘The Talk Of The Town’ in NewYorker, and enjoy that sub-group’s mind set. I tend to explore and move on if unappealing. Deliberately exploring new out of comfort zone material makes me think more creatively. By reading a novel or a storybook, for relaxation, we retrieve into a virtual one, like my mom’s.
Reading is also a solo activity which has its crevasses. It can get us off centered, if unchecked. Balanced reading is essential to avoid unsound biases. I also find it useful to socialize the new thoughts and ideas with others, both who read and those who might not, but have sharper perceptions and instincts. Keeping my mind open and receptive to knowledge through reading or discussions with others, has helped me stay more engaged, less biased and socially interesting. Reading is magical and a gift that must be cherished, treasured and leveraged.