I love to consume media. So much so that I chose a more tenuous career so I could have the time to immerse myself in the flood of text, images and video available — which gives you an idea of how much I love this era of media production and consumption. Fortunately, working through and with media is what I do for a living, so technically the time I spend reading is work.
One of the biggest challenges I find is how to get to the good stuff when there’s so much out there and so little time. Even I, having more time than most, struggle with identifying gems and weeding out the media equivalent of junk food. Some c-suite executives may have the luxury of someone else doing the reading and delivering a daily brief, but for the rest of us, it tends to be a process of discovery as a we go along.
The key, I’ve found, is to improve the selection of articles served to you, thereby increasing the value you get from time you spend reading. To quote the biomedical engineer and author Guru Madhavan: “Simplicity is not about stripping down features to a bare minimum. It’s about achieving elegance while maintaining performance.”
Simplicity is not about stripping down features to a bare minimum. It’s about achieving elegance while maintaining performance. – Guru Madhavan
Here are 5 ways to optimise reading for work.
1. Grow your niche intelligence
Forget about being a generalist. My philosophy is such: What makes a person stand out is revealing a facet that is unseen, or making a connection that is not obvious. Presenting information that is already known does not make you memorable in any way. One interesting soundbite is better than a barrow full of known facts. So decide on 1 – 3 topics and keep it at that.
2. Read reviews of books in your industry
I’m a slow reader and my current target of 5 books a month requires chunks of uninterrupted time; a luxury most people cannot afford. Then there’s the issue of having so many books on the ‘Must Read’ list. The trick is to just read the contents pages on Amazon.com, read the blurb and then read more than one book review for each title so you have a less biased opinion. Amazon.com reviews do not count. If you want to go one step further, listen to a podcast interview given by the author.
3. Read sideways
And no, I don’t mean horizontally. If you only read material from industry sources, you’re only going to be as up to date as the person in the next cubicle. Select topics that have the potential to influence your industry. I read on celebrity and have no qualms about it because if there’s someone who is using digital and social in a way that works, it’s someone in the entertainment industry. Example, if you’re doing digital and you haven’t followed the escapades of DJ Khaled, you’re missing out.
4. Diversify your feeds
If you haven’t noticed already, publication feeds tend to share the same articles. There is only so much news to go around, and if a topic is hot, more replication is likely to occur. Since every minute counts, I have different feeds on Flipboard on my phone and iPad, so I don’t end up reading the same articles regardless of whether I am browsing on the go or at home. Also, mix up the topics to avoid duplication. Don’t subscribe to a general “Business” feed and then subscribe to something like “CNN Business”.
5. Make newsletters work for you
Few things are more annoying than having an inbox full of newsletters I haven’t read. That means an inbox of stale news, and it only takes about 48 hours for things to get old. The trick with newsletters is to select a service that makes you instantly smarter or better at your job. If it’s not telling you anything you won’t come across elsewhere, or it’s serving up articles that are not relevant to your career, feel free to unsubscribe. You’ll come across the information some other way on your daily media journey.
For myself, if I had to limit myself to one email newsletter it would be Geoff Colvin’s Power Sheet, which I read every day (and what a fantastic name). The highlight for me is the personal opinions given upfront. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re a c-suite with interest in global business, this is a great review of the day’s events.