by David Woods

Are there means by which the busy professional can keep up to date by reading? Well, speed-reading may be one solution but this is rather like bolting a good meal in five minutes – probably just as much nourishment, but not very enjoyable. In any case, it’s not the mindless devouring of words that counts so much as remembering what you’ve read. Here are some more palatable approaches, if reading is to be more than simply a chore.

  • Pre-sort the mountain of reading material that may be threatening to avalanche your desk, and turn it into a manageable molehill. For a month’s reading, that might include a dozen or more journals, several general magazines, and perhaps five or six books. Plan ahead, noting those items that will be of interest, and unashamedly leaning on the comments and suggestions of critics and reviewers with established credibility.
  • Make full use of abstracts and contents pages in your journals, or circle promising headlines. No paper or magazine can expect to print material that will involve all of its readers all of the time, but nearly all of them make it as easy as possible for readers to pick out what information they need.
  • Try to decide in advance what you want to be informed about and where you can find that information. A process, in other words, of discernment and discipline.

– Discipline in reading consists of allotting realistic amounts of time to it.
– Discernment is sifting information; knowing what not to read. In other words, as one writer puts it: “The art of reading is to skip judiciously.”

After that, reading becomes constant assessment: is the message coming through? Is the material interesting? Is it enjoyable? These are factors that are not always easy to discern since education, which taught us how to read, has not always taught us how to judge what is worth reading and persevering with. Some of that may hinge on a bit of ruthlessness: don’t hesitate to discard what is clearly neither helpful nor crystal clear.