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Finding Time to Read: Tips For Time-Deprived Professionals

We all know the amount of information thrown at us is overwhelming: from over-flowing email inboxes stuffed with the latest industry reports and e-newsletters to that tottering "to read" pile sitting on our desks, we're deluged with stuff that we either need or want to read.

Keeping up with this information flow can be difficult -- which do you read first? The trade publications sitting in a pile on your desk? The feeds from blogs? How about those weeks old e-newsletters sitting in your inbox or that newspaper article you saved for later -- and that is now turning yellow with age? And don't forget best-selling business books, such as Good to Great, The Tipping Point, and The World is Flat.

More important than what to read, the question really is, just when do you find the time to read everything? As knowledge workers, we're up to our necks in phone calls, emails, deadlines, memos, and meetings. Trying to squeeze yet another 15 minutes out of the day can seem impossible.

However, we all have time to read -- you just have to learn to look for it in unexpected places. What follows are my tips for finding time to read -- plus some equally good tips from my friends and colleagues.

Maximize daily downtime. Are you usually a few minutes early to a meeting or do the meetings you attend start late? If you combine working and raising a family (aka, you work from home), maybe you have to wait in the school carpool lane for 10 to 15 minutes each day. Or, you may use public transportation to commute to and from work.

Whether five minutes or thirty, these little pockets of time make ideal reading times. To help maximize these periods, I have a vinyl case with a zipper that sits on my desk. As magazines and other material arrive in the mail, I place them in the case. I also print out e-newsletters and reports and file them in the case as well. Then, when I know I'm doing the carpool, or I have to take my son to piano practice, I bring that case. I can whip through a pile of material in 15 minutes to a half hour while waiting for my son.

(I keep a pen and sticky notes in the case as well. That way I can note action items to be added to my to-do list or whether I should forward the article to a colleague or client.)

Read the table contents first. Instead of thinking you have to go through entire magazines from cover to cover, read the table of contents as magazines arrive and cull the articles that interest you. Put them in your briefcase for later reading.

Cut down on your TV time. I've never been a real TV watcher, but my family is. So at night, when they're watching the Simpsons, I'm reading business magazines. The content is interesting enough that it keeps my attention, but it's light enough that it doesn't "hurt" my brain after a full day of work.

Copywriter and direct mail expert Bob Bly goes to his reading room when his family is otherwise occupied with TV or video games. "My reading room is strewn with books and magazines and when I can, I go up the steps to this room, get comfortable on my reading couch and read."

Says personal branding expert Lyn Chamberlin, "I read for pleasure in the very, very early morning and for business at night when the rest of my brain cells are fried. Usually I have mindless TV on in the background -- so that I can tell myself I'm not really watching it but accomplishing something productive instead."

Read while you cook or exercise. Ok, this takes some practice, because you can easily lose track of time and burn dinner, but I've found that I usually have five to ten minutes while dinner is cooking to quickly skim through one of the weekly business publications I receive. Usually the news is general enough that a quick scan lets me see if information needs to be culled.

At my gym, you can watch mindless music videos or TV while on the treadmill or other exercise machines. However, I've noticed some people read. I'm not sure how they do this, but it's a good use of time!

Read in the bathroom. My good friend, Mac McIntosh, a business-to-business sales lead expert, reads while in the bathtub! I laughed out loud when he told me this, but he's in good company because according to him, Alan Greenspan reads in the tub, too. Another person I know, who asked that I not use his name, reads while -- well, you know where he reads. He says, "In just five minutes, I can read three to five pages of a business book. I'm able to get through a half dozen books a year this way."

Read before everyone gets up. When the weather is nice, Bob Bly likes to get up early on the weekends and read the newspapers in the back yard. (Heaven.)

Read while traveling. Whether traveling by car, boat, plane, or train, bring along your reading material.

Listen to audio books while driving. According to motivational speaker Steve Chandler, when we use our drive time to listen to tabloid-type news or music, we undermine our own frame of mind. In his book, 100 Ways To Motivate Yourself, he states, "If we're more selective with how we program our minds while driving, we could have some exciting breakthroughs in two important areas: knowledge and motivation."

You can find excellent motivational and educational audio books at the library, in bookstores, and on the Internet. I know a Fortune 500 executive and mom to three kids who simply does not have time to read books. So she buys them on CD and listens to them while driving to and from work.

As you can see, we all have small amounts of time throughout the day to catch up on our business reading. To make the most of these periods, have your reading materials ready to travel with you. Keep a pencil handy for jotting action items, and learn to skim material for relevant information. You'll quickly cut that "to read" pile down to nothing.


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Dianna Huff is a B2B marketing communications consultant and copywriting expert. You can subscribe to her e-newsletter, The MarCom Writer, at the DH Communications website. To download her latest free e-book, "Five B2B MarCom Strategies to Increase Sales Now," visit MarCom Writer Blog. Click here to read more articles by Dianna Huff.

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Comments from our users:

Wednesday September 26th 2007, 7:20 AM
Comment by: Cindy R.
As a sales rep for pharmaceutical products, I frequently find myself in the same situation. I love the case idea, great for sitting the waiting rooms of doctors offices!

Wednesday September 26th 2007, 8:53 AM
Comment by: Mary C.
As a professor, I make my living through reading, so I always take something with me to read wherever I'm going. Inevitably there are delays, and reading makes them more bearable. Even if I am running errands, I might stop somewhere along the way for a cup of tea, just to take a break--having my reading with me makes for a nice departure from this chore, and I'm getting my work done too!
Wednesday September 26th 2007, 11:20 AM
Comment by: Susan D.
I've switch to subscribing to a lot of my enewsletters (or even newspaper digests) as podcasts (just search for favorite authors or topics at the iTunes Store, Podcast Alley or other podcast directories). They arrive automatically in iTunes and from there my iPod. Like others here, I listen in the car or during downtime, but my favorite time to listen is while walking the dog! A tip there, though: If it has been a particularly stressful day, listening to music to chill a bit is a better overal use of the time than trying to cram in even more work!
Wednesday September 26th 2007, 12:25 PM
Comment by: Kimberly B.
Rather than listen to books while I drive, I utilize mass transit. I can ride the bus (or train) to work and get a ton of reading done. More importantly, I know I'm doing something good for the environment.
Wednesday September 26th 2007, 6:31 PM
Comment by: Hamid T.
As a consultant, I need to keep up with design and building trade. So, In addition to listening to audio books while driving, I also scan periodicals in the bathroom at home and remove articles of interest for later reading. I usually end up carrying about a dozen articles of various lengths and intensity (folded in 1/4 size) in my back pocket. Depending on the available time, I select an article and read it, then either discard it or save it for future reference.
Friday September 28th 2007, 3:29 PM
Comment by: WordyGerty's girl
I keep a book of poetry on the console of car...how else to read complete works of Neruda without taking a weekend? Perfect for long waits at lights/inevitable road construction stops. Left turn lanes usually long enough for several poems at major intersections.

Smaller books fit purse for endless office waits: who wants to read repetitive magazines (each article recycled, I know, because I use decades-old magazines in my art and see the same topics repeat, repeat, repeat)? Watch the crawl on waiting room TVs (someone...or why would they be there, but not I!)
Sunday September 30th 2007, 8:49 AM
Comment by: Dianna H.Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Susan, Love the idea about listening to podcasts while walking the dog!

To everyone else: I just discovered my library has dozens of books on CD -- including business, motivational, and fiction. I'm now listening to a fiction book that's been on my "to read" list for a while now.
Monday October 1st 2007, 11:37 AM
Comment by: Anonymous
Pod casts and audio books keep my head above water. (I'm a professor too.) I go way beyond listening while driving or walking the dog. I listed while I cook, clean house, iron, do laundry, and garden. My family does get a bit annoyed. Whenever they say something I have to pause and ask for a repeat. Of course they do the same thing--but they are watching tv.

One other trick--my students thought this was amusing! I read the paper and journals while I dry my hair.
Tuesday October 16th 2007, 9:08 PM
Comment by: Lois T.
I'm a writer, and when I need to do yardwork, run an errand or clean the house, I like listen to talks or audio books on my iPod on whatever subject I'm writing about. That way I can keep my mind warmed up and focused for writing, but I get some exercise and housework done too. And, I get break from the desk.
Sunday November 4th 2007, 7:28 PM
Comment by: omar V.
As an instructor of university English classes, I have accepted the fact that I cannot read for pleasure as much as I used to in the good old days. I now live with the fact that I can only allow myself 5-10 minutes of good, solid recreational reading during my busy weekdays.

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