Strategy & Marketing

How Strategic Reading Can Transform Your Career

This photo is the stack of books next to my desk I need to read. It’s big, but it’s not random. My dad used to read even more than me, but WHAT he read were random books. Books his friends recommended. Others he found on sale. Books he stumbled upon. On the other hand, I read strategically. I believe to maximize your time, and increase your knowledge, you need a strategic plan for reading. Here’s what I mean:

1. Start by focusing on books that deal with issues you’re struggling with right now.  When I’m writing my own books, I collect everything I can find on that subject, and immerse myself in it. When I have a speaking engagement, I isolate the books in my library on that particularly subject. I want to learn information that helps me with challenges I’m dealing with today.

2. Save the leisure reading for the beach.  I’m a huge fan of leisure reading – but I hold those books for times when I actually have “leisure.” When I try to read a new novel in the middle of a big project, or when I’m stressed out, it’s a waste of time. But on a plane, I have all the time in the world. Nearly every summer our family spends time at Donner Lake, near Lake Tahoe. I save a stack of leisure books for that trip, because I can relax and really enjoy them. Last summer I read “Unbroken” by the lake and enjoyed it enormously.

3. Underline. If you really want to learn, become an obsessive underliner. Don’t be afraid to write in your books. Write notes in the margins. Circle great quotes. Dog-ear pages. You need to use that book as a resource, not a museum piece.

4. Be organized.  A library is nice, but if you’re a professional, you need a WORKING library. You need to know where specific books are on the shelves, and make them easy to find. You don’t need an elaborate file system or barcode reader, but if you want to be productive, take the time to organize the books in your collection.

5. Re-read.  In the photo, you’ll see a number of books I’ve already read, but I pulled to read again. Memories fade, and we need to keep immersing ourselves in great ideas. Just because you finish reading a book doesn’t mean you’re done. Keep it handy and check on it from time to time. Your diligence will be rewarded.

6. Finally, don’t be afraid to toss it.  There are plenty of books I begin, but quickly realize it’s nothing new or particularly insightful. Don’t listen to the inner taskmaster who says, “You paid for it, so you need to finish it.”  If you’re not captivated within a chapter or two, set it aside and grab something else. Perhaps you’ll come back later, but most likely, you’ll leave it for good. And that’s OK.

Reading is informative, and certainly fun, but it shouldn’t be random. Develop a strategic reading plan because when it comes to personal growth, we never stop. As the legendary artist Michelangelo said late in his life: “I am still learning.”

Any other tips we should consider?

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  1. Read for style/wordsmithIing as well as content. The value of the leisure/recreational reading should be to also hone our skills as communicators and story tellers.

    Well crafted stories are an education in themselves.

    And I agree with Chad: please post your reading list occasionally. Always benefit all to know what others are reading.

  2. good words. My stack is about 25 deep. I have the exact same metal book shelves in my garage for those that don’t fit into the house.

  3. Just thought of a new app for the iPad… a strategic viewing app for movies. We can add reel change markers wherever we want to remember sections. We can add colour dyes (like highlighters) over sections. We can type text over parts of it and add voice comments. Now you can watch your movies strategically! Just imagine Ben Hur strategically annotated.

    No, I don’t like the idea of abusing books to be honest. We brought our kids up teaching them not to abuse books, as we were too. When I look at people who mark up their Bibles I wonder if they see anything new. When reading the Scriptures their eye will be taken to their last thought or annotation. Seeing something new is more difficult. The annotations can obfuscate the message.

    And, yes, I do have a reading bookcase and only manage maybe 40-60 or so books per year. Some are strategic and some are serendipitous. If we are targeting strategic all the time then we are cutting a path rather than allowing our Father to guide.

    So, i never annotate physical books. Ever. I am reading a book as a resource to a film I’m making later in the year or early next year. I have two copies. One the paper variety which I read and enjoy. The other a kindle copy which I annotate with notes, coloured markers and labels.

    1. An interesting perspective for sure Richard. Love the movie app idea… And your thought about not underlining your Bible is interesting, but I don’t think you’ll find many pastors who would agree… 🙂
      Either way – thanks for making us think!

      1. Evangelical pastors for sure. Other confessions and denominations not necessarily. But then that has made a statement about the modernist culture of Evangelicalism. I grew up in that culture and still, within some contexts, call myself an Evangelical.

        I’m reading Rodney Stark’s ‘How the West won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity’ ( right now. Strategic reading fits within some of what he is suggesting.

  4. Great article! I Needed some guidance in this matter. Oh, and regarding point 6, thanks cause I don’t feel guilty anymore! 🙂

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