You’re in a business where you need to read. Lots. Too much, in fact. The IS world has exploded with information, but the time available to absorb it all hasn’t.
If you’re like me, your reading backlog is huge. It isn’t hard to imagine all our available reading time, and then some, taken up with articles, analyses, reviews and technical manuals. I’m convinced that an Oracle DBA could spend his or her time reading nothing but manuals and release notes for two months with little time left over to eat or sleep.
Given the need to keep up with developments in our business, a desire to see a little more of the literary turf than a narrow technical focus allows, and the knowledge that we can’t possibly read everything we’d like to, let me share what I’ve found to be a workable reading strategy.
Every morning: Get a paper delivered to your home, get up early, and start your day with a generalist’s view of the world — leave the technical details for later. Subscribe to the Globe and Mail, the Free Press, the Wall
Street Journal — whatever the serious paper is in your town — and invest half an hour of your attention over breakfast.
Don’t waste your time on the tabloids — you won’t learn anything important, and you won’t be taken seriously by anyone who thinks that your world view originates from a paper that features a partially-dressed cheerleader on page three.
By all means read the tech section, but make sure to read the general news and business sections too. Make an effort to keep up to date on the world in general, your business broadly, and your competitors specifically — even the brightest technical people look utterly clueless when they can’t speak with any knowledge about major news events of the day, business or otherwise.
Every day: Our work requires us to keep up with the software manuals, industry publications ( ComputerWorld Canada), technical reviews and manuals: schedule half an hour every day for it, and defend technical reading time against all interruptions. Close the door, find a quiet corner out of range of a phone, and read — remembering to keep a copy of the really interesting stuff on file, and to toss everything older than a year ’cause it’s out of date.
Every night: Plan for an hour of evening reading (usually in bed, maybe between 11 and midnight) every night, and plan to cover two broad areas on alternate nights:
Business and management reading: This is the broader context business stuff, the reading that focuses on the strategic issues that you might not consider every day in a tactical world. What to read? Something I learned a
few years back: read what your CEO is reading. Senior executives often order their books through the corporate library — ask the librarian for the names of the last two books the CEO ordered and get copies for yourself. If nothing else, you’ll get a feel for the type of things that the people responsible for your strategic direction are thinking about.
General reading: The stretch your brain stuff, the stuff that reminds us that there’s more to life than business and IT. To my thinking, we should turn our attention to a good biography, history, or novel at least every second night. Looking at the world through the eyes of people who don’t or didn’t view their world through the filters of technical possibility not only helps to stir the kind of thinking that keeps us fresh, but helps us to keep the work that we do in perspective.
One last category, and probably the most important of all: Reading to and with your kids — if you haven’t spent time with Dr. Seuss in the last few years, do you and your kids a favour.
Half an hour of current events/business in the morning, half an hour of technical reading at work, reading with the kids, and an hour of business or generalist reading at the end of the day. Lots of ground to cover, but certainly doable. You won’t end up knowing everything, but you’ll know more than most of us in the business.
Hanley is an IS professional living in Calgary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.