By reading, we immerse ourselves in another world. We are incredibly fortunate to have so much valuable information available in books and online, often for free. Children are encouraged to read. But after college to make time for effective reading gets challenging as we strive to strike a work-life balance. Reading is most productive when we structure the way we read.
My 90-year-old mother, who lived most of her life in India, complains when the internet is down. She charges her iPad twice a day, and uses it to read Indian sermons and watch the news from India. Here in the US, she has created a little India in her virtual world.
As professionals we seek to enhance learning, stay abreast of current events and also hope to find time for reflection on subjects covered in self-help books.
Reading news is essential for professionals because at work we are judged not only by our professional acumen, but also how intelligently we converse on current events. However, we should be selective in our news reading. Most days I allocate 15-20 minutes to reading newspapers, either online or printed. I balance the opinions from sources such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the BBC. Every newspaper and network has its own slant, and reading several points of view helps me come to more rational conclusions.
Time permitting, I like to watch the political debates and the likes later, on YouTube, where the tone and demeanor of the speakers help me draw my own conclusions instead of reading opinions on op-eds. Lastly, once a week I supplement my news reading with Google Alerts, to stay informed on subjects, companies, stocks, persons or writers of interest.
Exploring my interests can be both educational and invigorating. For instance, I plan to see Hamilton, now playing in San Francisco. Having grown up in India, I initially did not understand why it was such a sensation. There was lots to explore besides the story: Lin-Manuel Miranda, the playwright and director of the musical, the American Revolution, the 18th-century immigrant landscape, which seems to have changed in the Trump era, but not really, Alexander Hamilton’s political philosophy and how they have shaped America; hip-hop and hip-hop-culture. The list was endless.
When on such a mission, I make a list of threads as I explore them and quickly close the irrelevant ones as its easy to get sidetracked. We must also be savvy about the source of information on the web. Wikipedia is my favorite because it’s concise and reliable, but often not sufficient. Very importantly, I am energized by completing such tasks. The feeling of completion and gained-knowledge gets me in a productive mindset.
Reading for personal or professional development takes time and effort. Getting on a better schedule, weight reduction, regular workouts, and improving relationships are some examples of personal endeavors. Developing presentation skills, preparing for a promotion, changing jobs, or launching a startup are some professional struggles. Reading books on these may not always stick but when they do, they change us in unexpected ways.
When reading for forging-ahead, we do not want to be in a hurry to finish the book. Its effective when we are patient, in a receptive frame of mind, and deliberate about incorporating ideas into practice. First I try to light a fire under me. Then I search for the appealing idea, and internalize and personalize it. That means identifying situations where I can try it out. The process must start the very next day. It needs to be practiced, repeated and adjusted till we feel the change. Changed feelings results in changed trajectory.
In many ways, the mind behaves like a muscle. After an intense day, it needs relaxation or exercise of different parts, for full recovery. I might indulge in web browsing and look at sites like Reddit. I move on if a site is not appealing. Deliberately exploring new sites makes me think more creatively. Relaxation with a novel or a story book can transport us into a virtual world, like my mom’s.
Reading is also a solo activity. It can get us off centered, if unchecked. Balanced reading is essential. I also find it useful to share what I have read with others who have sharper perceptions and instincts, whether they read or not. Keeping my mind open to knowledge through reading and discussions has helped me stay more engaged, less biased and socially interesting. Reading is magical and a gift that must be cherished, treasured and leveraged.