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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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