There was a time when I absolutely dreaded reading anything besides fiction (including the Bible, I am embarrassed to say.) I would occasionally be assigned to read some book on leadership by my boss at the time, Mike Cavanaugh. It would sit on my desk at work or my nightstand at home unread for weeks at a time. Every once in a while I would open it up and give it a token effort, perhaps getting through the first 2 or 3 chapters. Then Pastor Mike would kindly but firmly give me some extra incentive, like remind me that quarterly reviews were coming up soon. Ugh. So I would finally plot the appropriate hours and plow through.
As is often the case, the book usually ended up being a great help to my life and ministry; but it was a bear to get through! Perhaps you relate. Maybe it’s not a motivation issue so much as a life management issue. When are you supposed to find time to read in the midst of everything else going on in your life!
You’ve probably heard people quote Harry Truman, “Not every reader is a leader, but every leader is a reader.” I would qualify that statement by adding, “every growing leader is a reader.” I am so glad to say that I’ve finally figured out ways to incorporate reading into my life and ministry. I’d like to share some pointers with you; perhaps one or more of these ideas will help you as well. Some of you may be interested to know that I don’t set time aside specifically to read each day or week, yet I get a lot of reading done each month.
Learn how to skim.
This is a skill I have developed over the years that has served me very well. For some books, blogs, or articles, I will simply skim over them. I have successfully “skimmed” 300-400 page books in just a couple of hours and sometimes less than that. I can still tell you today what I learned from some of those books. Sometimes I will skim a book first, and then read it word for word later. Skimming is a lot easier than you think (as opposed to speed reading, which is an acquired skill.) Here are two articles I would recommend that will give you the basics:
Determine when to read and when to skim.
I evaluate every book I read to determine if it’s a “really read this book” or a “skim and get the meat book”. Sometimes I will decide to skim a book and realize within the first chapter or two that this is a “really read this book.” At other times I will “try” giving a book a solid word for word and find I am just not interested or motivated, so I switch to the skim method. Here are a few of the criteria I use to make this determination:
- A leader I highly admire/respect requests or recommends the book: READ. (Pastor Josh suggested I read the book, Next Generation Leader, by Andy Stanley. I read it and now highly recommend it.)
- The content is very engaging and interesting to me: READ. (I started to skim the book, Crucial Confrontations and found it so engaging that I ended up reading through it word for word.)
- The content is important to me (though not necessarily engaging): READ. (I found the book Getting Things Done sort of hard to read, but I knew the information was important and would help me, so I read it all the way through.)
- I want the information, but don’t have time for a full blown read: SKIM. (Sometimes if I’m preaching or teaching in a few days I may skim to get some extra info on a topic. If I found the book really engaging, I’ll set it aside to read through more in-depth later.)
- The author hasn’t impressed me in the past, but I know he/she has something good to say: SKIM. (For whatever reason, I’ve never been able to get into Max Lucado’s books, though he’s a best selling author, so I’ll often skim his books for the good stuff instead.
- I have already read the material before, but want to remember what it was about or get some quotes/illustrations: SKIM. (I recently skimmed the book, Thinking for a Change, by John Maxwell which I read last year in order to prepare for a lesson I was about to teach.)
- The topic is something I am already very knowledgeable in or the material is stuff I already know: SKIM. (I read a blog a while back that was talking about a key principle I’ve already learned and implement from the book Eat That Frog, I skimmed through that article.)
- The topic is not something I need to be well-versed in or I already know the gist of the book: SKIM. (I have the book Drive, by Daniel Pink on my reading list. I’ve already watched him present the content from this book, so I’ll likely just skim it.)
- The book has been sitting on my bookshelf forever and I’m dreading reading it: SKIM. (I purchased the book, Brain Rules more than two years ago. If I actually get to it, I’ll likely skim it. If I don’t read this book within the next year I’ll likely just give it a 15 minute leaf through and either sell, give away, or throw away.)
Notice that I have more criteria for skimming than reading. You’ll also realize that not only do I skim quite a few books, but I also read more than just books every week. See below.
Strategically mark up books when you can.
I know and have used a myriad of methods for tracking information in books, or marking them up for future use. I’m still not sure which methods are the best. I have taken notes from books and created my own “cliff notes” on some books. For others I’ve highlighted/underlined and placed a number next to sections with notes on the back inside cover telling me what that particular section/highlight was about for future reference. I am a big believer in underlining key sentences, highlighting headings or sections I want to stand out, and writing in the margins several words that summarize the selected text for easy retrieval. The point is, find a method for marking up books so that you can quickly get the meat out of it when you need to.
If you already own an Blackberry, iPhone, Android phone, an iPad or a phone with regular internet access, then I urge you to begin taking advantage of the digital options available to you. For example, you have the basic tool you need to begin reading blogs (see next point). Additionally, Amazon will let you download kindle apps for free on your blackberry, iphone, ipad, or Android phones, which can then be used to purchase and read audio books. This year alone I have read about 5 books on my phone using the kindle app. In fact, I read the entire book, Crucial Confrontations, on my phone each night during a 15 minute slot in my day when I was doing nothing else, but didn’t have a book handy nearby.
Discover the power of blogs.
This is the original reason I wrote this blog today. I know many pastors and leaders who are afraid of the word “blog”. It’s an unknown so it’s intimidating. It’s something for the younger generation, right? Not true. I’ve discovered that reading blogs is one of the best ways to stay fresh on just about any topic or issue without stealing time. In fact I read an average of 10-12 blogs a day (sometimes as many as 25), all within chunks of time when I wasn’t going to be doing anything else important anyway. Here’s a couple ideas to get you started:
1. GOOGLE READER: If you aren’t a blog reader yet, then I recommend you start with Google Reader. Yes, there are a myriad of other readers out there, but you’re already intimidated so just trust me and start here. It’s very easy. If you already have a Google account then just log in and find “Reader” on the “More” drop-down. If you don’t have an account, it’s free to set one up. Once you get to the reader, just click on the “Add a Subscription” button and perform your search and then subscribe (for example, type ‘transforming leader’ or ‘Wayne Hedlund’ to find my blog). Once you start playing around with it you’ll discover it’s quite simple to use. You can then set the page up as a shortcut on your desktop or a favorite you visit regularly and wala, you’re on your way. You can also download an app on your phone giving you easy access to your blogs.
2. Blogs and Email: Let me just say something about the idea of subscribing to blogs via email. Just about any blog worth reading will give you that option. If you really don’t have regular internet access, then this is the way for you to go. A couple of suggestions:
- If you use Outlook 2003 or earlier for email, create a folder labeled ‘blogs’ and then create a rule that pops all your subscribed blogs into that folder. If that’s too complicated for you, simply drag the blogs into that folder for reading later when you have time, instead of mucking up your inbox.
- If you use gmail, then do the same thing but with the label functionality. I don’t know about other email applications on the web, but most of them will allow you the ability to create rules, filters, folders, and labels.
- If you use Outlook 2007 or later, read more about the built in RSS reader. This is how I got started as a blog reader. Again, don’t worry about the intimidation factor. Like just about everything these days, once you’ve learned how to do it, you’ll be amazed that you waited so long to take advantage of it. Try this online training to learn more.
Here’s the main thing you should understand about blogs if you are new to them. Don’t read every one. That’s right, unless you’re only subscribed to mine (joke) you’ll want to look through the list of blog titles that pop up in your reader or email each day or week and decide which ones sound or look interesting to you. You’ll then skim or read those as you see fit and mark the rest read. Every once in a while (almost daily for me) you’ll find one you really like and want to either forward or keep for future reference. If that happens, I recommend you take care of it right then, or it will likely not happen at all
Take advantage of dead time.
This may seem obvious, but it actually takes diligence, preparation, and intentionality to take advantage of the dead time in your life (time that you aren’t really doing anything valuable). One of the best ‘dead time’ tools is, as I already mentioned, a phone with reading materials available on it like e-books or blogs. If that’s not available to you, I recommend you try to keep one or two books with you at all times that you can pull out to read whenever you have a few minutes. If I stay focused, I can read a whole book in one month just by taking advantage of the white space in my life.
Become a bathroom reader.
Uh, well I just covered this above, but thought perhaps it was worth mentioning specifically. Most of us can often spend anywhere from 4 to 24 minutes on the throne. Other than the obvious, there’s not much else to do in there. It’s a great place to get some reading done. Even the four minute sessions can be valuable if you pick the right kind of book – one with short chapters. For instance, I read Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and Axiom from start to finish in the bathroom. Find a good book that will work, or some magazines that are relevant to your life or ministry, and just leave them in the bathroom. Don’t read them except when you’re umm, you know, busy in there.
Kill your guilt.
I used to get so frustrated with myself if I didn’t finish a book or if it took forever to read. I’d even feel guilty if I was reading the book (which someone else told me was awesome) but thought it was real boring. My suggestion . . . don’t be so hard on yourself. Some books are going to hit you as amazing, relevant, and inspirational, others won’t. Don’t worry about it.
Read a whole book in 8 pages (or listen in 20 minutes.)
OK, I guess you won’t actually read the whole book, but there is an awesome way to get all of the relevant highlights and major points of hundreds of popular books on leadership, management, marketing, etc. Last year we stumbled across www.summary.com. It’s not a christian organization, so far as I can tell, but it has been an awesome resource to our team at Elim Gospel Church. Basically, you pay the fees you feel are appropriate for your situation and find yourself with access to all sorts of great book reviews. You can download them as pdf’s – each one being 8 pages long or you can listen to someone read the summary in a 20 minute period by downloading the mp3 version. You can even subscribe to them in a blog if you want. For me, I occasionally walk to work. It takes me almost exactly 20 minutes. I can listen to one book review in that one walk. It’s awesome.
Read while exercising or commuting (audio-books).
You already know about audio-books. I actually don’t utilize them myself too often, but have several friends who do very successfully. Audio-books are perfect for your 15 – 45 minute commute, for when you exercise, or when everyone else is watching that program that you just aren’t interested in. I also know that the national literacy rate is about 14%, which means some people just don’t read very much. Additionally, I have friends who can read fine, but hate doing it. Audio-books are a great alternative.
How about you? What other ideas might you suggest on how we can stay sharp as readers and leaders?
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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