I've been guilty of it, too. In my early 20s, after almost two decades of being a student, I abandoned reading completely. Blame it on having a busy life, quantity of work, adjusting to living in new cities… but truth be told, those were just excuses.
Three years after abandoning reading, I slowly started up again. First as a pastime, with easy novels. Then, year after year, I read more and more books, expanding from exclusively fiction to many different genres. Reading morphed from a vacation-only activity to a regular pastime to a non-negotiable daily activity that I now see is essential to my personal and professional development.
I don’t have to convince you that reading is important. You’ve probably seen business and world leaders such as Bill Gates or Barack Obama talk about the 50+ books they’ve read in the past year, or about the positive impact that reading has had on their lives — so you can go ahead and read their opinions. But I wanted to share my thoughts on why reading has made me more productive at my job, and how by making small, simple changes to the way you think about reading, you can challenge yourself to read more.
Reading generates ideas
Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, reading changes your perspective, exposing you to stories of struggles and successes that you wouldn’t otherwise come into contact with. More specifically, at any moment, the book you’re reading can spark awesome ideas for your business.
This is exactly what happened when I was reading The Switch by Chip and Dan Heath, which prompted me to propose the idea for a company initiative known as The Secure Cockpit — consisting of dedicated chunks of time when we enforce a strict “no talking, no instant messaging, and no interruptions” policy at the office.
We tested the Secure Cockpit concept, found that it really helped with productivity, and it’s something we’re still doing at the office today. This is just one example of ideas sourced from books that are now key contributors to our software development company culture. When we come across something cool, we try it out, and adapt it to fit our needs.
Reading organizes my thinking and promotes “accidental learning”
Being exposed to a wide variety of literary and communication styles challenges me to optimize my own communication efforts. Whether I have to pitch ideas, give feedback to a team or to suppliers, or craft a marketing plan, thanks to all the reading I’ve done, I’m able to speak and write in a more organized and effective way.
And because reading feels like a pleasurable hobby, I can pick up inspiration for improved clarity of communication almost by osmosis, without “working for it” — a real two for one, given that we all have such limited time.
Reading transforms people into better coaches and colleagues
Not only do I have tons of stories to share with my team as a result of all the books I’ve read, I’ve also become a font of knowledge who can provide nuggets of wisdom that are relevant to my colleagues and their work.
And when someone comes to me with an issue he or she is facing, I can be a better coach, as I’m exposed to a wide variety of problems (and solutions to those problems) in my reading. If team members are dealing with specific challenges, or have a particular interest in something, I can share information from books I’ve read, and link it back to what they’re experiencing.
Reading is relaxing, which makes me more effective at work
We all have stressful moments in life, and on top of this, many of us (myself included) can be prone to anxiety. Reading is the ultimate tonic for mental tension. It relaxes me, gives me a sense of accomplishment, and takes my mind off what’s bothering me — which in turn makes me more energized at work.
Even when I have a bad or unproductive day (and we all have those), I can at least feel like I’ve done something worthwhile, because I’ve read a few (or many) pages of a book.
Getting reacquainted with reading: some tips
So let’s say you haven’t touched a book in ages, or you’re worried that you don’t even have time to read, given how busy you are.
Here are some bite-sized steps you can take to start reading more right away:
- Start small. Give yourself the objective of reading one page a day, or reading for 10 minutes before work in the morning.
- Always carry a book, so that when you’re waiting for the subway, or stuck in line somewhere, you can sneak in a few minutes of reading.
- Source books that genuinely interest you. What you’re reading should feel like a “page-turner”.
- To avoid running out of reading material and falling off the wagon, plan ahead in terms of which books you want to check out next.
- Join a book club! We started one here at the office, and we’re reading one book every one to two months.
- Swap scrolling through your social media feeds for some quality time with an intriguing book.