What if I told you there was a relatively painless way to guarantee both your personal and professional growth?
What if this method required absolutely no monetary investment?
What if you could do this in as little as 2 hours a week?
Well, such a technique does exist and just about all of us had it mastered by the time we got to second grade. Have you guessed it yet? That’s right: Reading. There is no more sure-fire way to get better at doing your job than by some strategic reading of books, magazines and blogs in your professional area.
The cost? Nothing, as long as you have a library card and an internet connection, and if you’re reading this you must have internet- even if it’s only -shudder- dial up. If you don’t have a library card, then shame on you. You first job after finishing this is to go down to your local library and remedy this situation. Not sure about the value of a good library? I’ll let Neil Gaiman convince you otherwise.
Yes, reading is that important. Not only will you make sure you are up on the most cutting edge research and techniques in your field, you’ll also be better prepared to have the kind of networking conversations, both online and off, that get you noticed.
For those of you whose idea of reading is pretty much limited to what shows up in your daily feeds let me help get you started. Here are 3 things to keep in mind when reading for career development.
1. Cast a wide net: We live in an age of information. Everywhere you turn there is more written content to take in. If this were 20, or even 10, years ago I would have advised you to subscribe to some professional journals and newsletters and that would be that. However, the internet has birthed a thousand new voices in every field imaginable, both in terms of online writing in web magazines and blogs as well as new books that are supported by those online platforms.
Search far and wide for the best material. Ask those a bit higher up the food chain than you who they read. You’ll be surprised by how willing people are to share writers whom they value.
2. Be intentional: While all reading is beneficial, if you want to get the most out of your professional reading, spend a little time creating a list of what is important in your field. Just because there are thousands of new voices, that doesn’t mean all of them are worthy of your time.
Fortunately there are a lot of tools to help you do this. Search your profession in Amazon and look at the top ten best sellers. These are the books people in your area are reading and talking about, so start there . Some other great tools for online content are Google Blog Search and Technorati. Type in your field and see some of the best blog authors out there discussing your very profession. Make a list of books and sites that are interesting and influential in your profession and make this your reading list.
3. Make it part of your schedule: If you are really going to get the most out of your professional reading you need to be sure it is a regular, non-negotiable, part of your week. For those of you who are regular readers this will not be a big problem, but not all of us are readers, and that is OK. If you need some motivation to kick-start the habit I suggest penciling in 2 hourly sessions at the local library. This way you have to leave your house and go someplace where distractions are minimal. And if you are going to spend an hour reading- what better place?
OK, so at this point, hopefully, I have convinced you that some intentional reading is worth your time. But I don’t want to leave it there. I want to give you some concrete advice as to where to start. Below are a few of my personal all-time favorites that can be helpful to you no matter what your career.
Book number one: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink. This book was truly a game-changer for me. For those who don’t know, by day I am a middle school English teacher, and Drive completely changed how I view student motivation. But this isn’t a book just for teachers- in fact, there is only one short chapter on education. Most of the book deals with motivation in the business world.
Money quote: “One source of frustration in the workplace is the frequent mismatch between what people must do and what people can do. When what they must do exceeds their capabilities, the result is anxiety. When what they must do falls short of their capabilities, the result is boredom. But when the match is just right, the results can be glorious. This is the essence of flow.”
This book is especially useful for managers and supervisors- or those of you who want to eventually be managers and supervisors. I guarantee you’ll get more out of your staff, and make them happier about it in the process.
Book number two: Austin Kleon’s Show Your Work. At first blush this looks like a book for creatives. (Yes, I just used the word ‘creative’ as a noun. Upping my hipster cred.) However, the advice to engage with your network, be generous and share, cuts across a wide swath of professions. It isn’t just artists and writers who can show their work. It’s all of us.
Money quote: “The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning in front of others.”
Want an easy way to start? Create a simple blog and start keeping a log of what you read. Share a quick thought or two. Put up quotes that strike you as important. Then share your posts on your social media of choice. That’s all there is to it. You are now putting yourself out there as a professional who wants to improve, who wants to grow. I guarantee that is exactly what employers- and your supervisors- want to see.
Money quote: “You don’t need to go back in time to be awesome; you just have to start right now. Regretting that you didn’t start earlier is a great distraction from moving on your dream today, and the reality is that today is earlier than tomorrow.”
I hope this article has inspired you to do some quality, career-boosting reading. Do you have a book you’d recommend? I’d love to hear. Hit me up on twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn and let me know. I’ll make sure to share your suggestions with my audience. (Giving you credit of course. See? Networking in action!)