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Getting Organized in the Era of Endless

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Organize Your Reading

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Almost two-thirds of likely voters in the United States do not believe congressional representatives read bills before voting on them, a UPI poll indicated early this year. The health care reform bill is over 2,000 pages. Now that’s what I call ‘reading!’ Chances are you don’t have that kind of reading, but you could easily have the equivalent of 2,000 pages a year to read in professional magazines, office memorandum, leisure reading, industry and company reports, consumer information, daily news, RSS, ebooks, social media feeds and on and on.

The short solution to “How do I organize my reading material?” is to read it. That may seem obvious, but as you know, it’s easier said than done. Here’s how to read more so you have less to organize in the first place. Make some big categorical ‘buckets’ for your reading. By ‘buckets’ I mean both electronic folders and corresponding physical baskets or bins because you’ll always have both digital and hardcopy stuff to read. I suggest these categories to my clients to get them started:  leisure, business, personal development, and consumer reading. My client, Marge, runs a dog rescue clinic. National Geographic  is her escape (leisure), and The Dog Rescue Clinic Times is professional reading (business) along with several related blogs and online magazines. She reads personal finance and health articles (personal development) to stay well-rounded. Consumer reading can be very diverse. For Marge, it’s that fat envelope full of 401(k) material, her smartphone contract, and that Internet print-out of health savings accounts to look over. Just be sure if you dump stuff into the consumer category that it doesn’t have a deadline or due date. That’s really not ‘reading’, it’s more like ‘action.’    

  • Consider delegating reading. That’s what your Congressperson does. She delegates portions of the legislative bills out to various staff who read it and summarize and report back to the Congressperson. Just make sure that your delegatees have enough knowledge to understand what it is you’re asked them to read.
  • Read with a closed mind. That’s right. Don’t be open-minded. If you know what you are looking for before you read a book or article, you’ll be able to tell fairly quickly if it addresses your needs. But if you don’t know your needs, you’ll be slogging through a lot of irrevelant stuff. (Obviously this advice doesn’t apply to leisure reading.)
  • Schedule a regular purge of your reading material. “I always add reading but never seem to subtract any so my filing and retrieval systems are so big and complex, I can’t find what I need when I need it”, complains Daniel a client of mine.  Good times to purge are April 15th while you’re churning up documents and files, New Year’s Day for that ‘fresh start’ feel, or during National Get Organized Month.
  • Move professional reading into the mainstream of your schedule. Don’t rely on ‘finding the time’. Those days are gone and never coming back. Give yourself permission to read at your desk if the reading is relevant to your career or job. I find my female clients tend to see professional reading as self-indulgent. Not so. While your male counterparts might not be putting their feet up on the desk and spreading open a newspaper, you can bet they read online and offline to keep up with their careers. You should too.
  • Be an active reader. Taking notes, highlighting and underlining helps the brain retain information, and helps you block out internal distractions.
  • If you need to read something with a lot of numbers or graphs in it and it’s not your forte, consider a reading partner. Someone who you can read with, outloud, who has a better grasp on that kind of material than you do.

Know How Deeply to Read

Mindstool.com recommends you know how deeply you need to read. They suggest, where you only need the shallowest knowledge of a subject, you can skim material. Here you read only chapter headings, introductions, and summaries. If you need a moderate level of information on a subject, then you can scan the text. This is when you read the chapter introductions and summaries in detail. You can then speed read the contents of the chapters, picking out and understanding key words and concepts. Only when you need full knowledge of a subject is it worth studying the text in detail.

Use Technology to Organize Your Reading

* If you’re a big reader of novels, poetry or best-selling business books, consider getting a Kindle or Nook, especially if you travel.

* Use Calibre.com or another program to organize your ebooks. Assemble them by subject, like the library does. Add tags and  you’ll be able to find any ebook content at the click of a button

* Readability.com makes it easier to read articles on the web by stripping them down to text and photos, removing ad and other extraneous material.

* Use Google Reader for the blog and website you frequently visit.

* The coolest book apps can be found at Huffingtonpost.com

A Word About Books

If you’re a biblioholic with thousands of books you want to pare down, Literacy Volunteers could sure use them. Donate them to your local library only if they are in good condition. Chances are the library will sell your books to raise funds rather than shelve them. Selling your books is tough unless they are rare and in great condition. Used bookstores are likely to offer you credit to use in the store rather than cash.

If you’re having difficulty organizing your reading materials and books, contact a professional organizer at the National Association of Professional Organizers.

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