ARTICLE “Reducing Your Reading Pile: Handling Article Overload”

How many magazines, journals, articles, and books do you have piled up? Do you have an almost obsessive-compulsive urge to read everything from aardvarks to zygotes? Do you ever feel guilty because you feel you’re missing important information? Information does not equal power. Information equals potential power. If you have the information but don’t do anything with it, you have no power. How do you get through all that material?

So, how do you tackle your reading chore reasonably and productively? Here are some tips to get you started:

1. Publications often accumulate in a pile because they are physically located at an inconvenient place. Ask yourself where you really like to read. Locate your reading pile where you want it versus where you think it should go. Then watch that pile disappear! For example, I had a friend that used to spread out her magazines nicely on her coffee table in her living room. She didn’t enjoy reading there because it was a major traffic area and the television was always on. She relocated her stack to the back of her couch in her study. Although it looked pretty in the living room, it was not functional because she never read anything. 

2. How about considering a revolutionary step to shrink your reading pile—throw out most or all of the pile and start fresh. It feels so good! And your career is not going to stall because you missed an article. 

3. Every time you get a new edition of Newsweek or Time or other another weekly magazine, the contents of the old one is OLD NEWS. If you haven’t read it yet, throw out the previous week when the newer version comes in.

4. Indecision actually causes clutter. If you can’t throw out old magazines, catalogues you never order from, journals you won’t read, and so on, your reading pile will quickly get out of hand. This is a time to get real with yourself and think of what you WILL do, not what you SHOULD do. Or, at the very minimum, if you must save that catalogue you never order from, throw out the old one when the newer version comes in.

5. Don’t read magazines cover to cover. The task is simply too overwhelming. Besides, most advertising never changes. Go through the table of contents, allow yourself a maximum of three articles per issue, rip them out, throw the rest of the magazine away, and put the articles in a folder marked “To be read” (I keep mine in an old briefcase). A stack of articles will make the actual reading task seem much less formidable than a stack of magazines. Then the key is to take your reading with you everywhere. Any time you’re waiting for a client, stuck in traffic, at the doctor’s office, picking up a child from an event, waiting for a meeting to begin, or eating a meal alone, you never waste the time because you have your reading pile with you. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, you have reading material available. 

6. Skim a book when it comes across your desk and mark the sections you want to read later with a sticky note and a key word. Don’t read any books or magazines with a low return on investment. There is simply too much to read.

7. Spend a weekend catching up on the important reading once and for all. Get creative! Try the timer technique. Set an egg timer for fifteen minutes for each periodical. When the timer goes off, the paper goes in the trash. 

8. Another tip comes from Nobel laureate Herbert Simon, speaking in People magazine, “Reading daily newspapers is one of the least cost-efficient things you can do. . . read the World Almanac once a year. What’s happening you’ll hear by lunch anyway.” 

9. Try subscribing to a clipping service, listening to books on tape, canceling subscriptions and downloading articles from the internet, taking a speed-reading course, or going on a newspaper diet by shifting to liquid Dan Rather. 

10. Another technique I recently witnessed was team reading. Team members traded off reading important articles and writing a synopsis of important ideas for the group. They also read books cooperatively by splitting up chapters. 

To completely conquer a reading obsession, you have to believe (despite your conditioning), that little of what you insist on saving is of real importance! 80% of what we file, we never look for again, anyway. BE RUTHLESS and REALISTIC!

© 2000 Laura Stack. All rights reserved. You are free to use portions of this publication in your company newsletter, provided the following credit is listed at the bottom:

Laura M. Stack, MBA, CSP, is “The Productivity PRO,”® helping people leave the office earlier, with less stress, and more to show for it. She presents keynotes and seminars on time management, information overload, and personal productivity. Contact her at 303-471-7401 or visit her website at