This is Part 3 of an eight-part series addressing the value of reading for leaders’ personal and professional development. You can begin the series with Part I: Introduction HERE.
Like almost all things in life and work, to grow as a leader through reading requires a defined management system to ensure long-term sustainability and effectiveness. I’ve found that a quality personal reading program requires a tracking system and a means to maintain the lessons learned from the books you read.
As of this writing, I have 217 books on my to-read list right now. That is years-worth of reading; so, how do I manage such an extensive list and know which of those to read next?
Keeping track of your books, both completed and ones you plan to read in the future, is no different than a runner tracking his/her miles and workouts over the course of a long-term training plan. Not only is it satisfying to see the progress made, but it helps keep your efforts focused on your goal(s).
When I started reading to grow personally and professionally, I initially kept a list of books I wanted to read on a simple note app on my phone. As the list grew, I had to transcribe that to a Word document maintained on my computer. Finally, in 2015, I discovered and began using the Goodreads resource.
Goodreads is an online “social cataloging” and community website for readers. On it, you maintain your personal “bookshelf” of books you have completed (you can also rate and write reviews on them), are currently reading, and want to read. Further, similar to other social media platforms, you can connect with friends, see what they are reading, and interact with one another on all things reading.
The biggest benefits to using Goodreads as my reading tracking system include:
- When I encounter a book I want to read, I merely mark it as “want to read” on the website or phone app. The website does all the maintenance work for me.
- It can organize my “want to read” list in a variety of ways to best help me select which book to read next (a book that has been on my to-read list the longest or one about a certain topic?)
- I can see what other people, people smarter than me, are reading. I routinely check out what Joe Byerly, a giant in the world of reading for professional development, is reading. Often, I should be reading what he is reading.
You can learn more about and sign up for Goodreads HERE; it’s free.
Find me on Goodreads HERE.
Maintaining Lessons Learned
If the purpose of reading is to grow personally and professionally, then how are you learning through your reading? You may argue that you are unconsciously growing just from the act of reading, but that certainly is not the most effective learning method. Learning requires deliberate effort and reflection; like almost everything for me in life, if I don’t write it down, I won’t remember it.
Thus, it is important to support your reading with a system of recording and maintaining what you learn through your reading. Though every person’s preferred method of lesson retention will be different, here are the details of my personal system to help inspire you to enact your own.
- As I read, I highlight key quotes throughout the book and write personal insights in the margins. If I’m reading an e-book, I type the quotes and notes on a note-taking app on my phone.
- Upon completing the book, I go back through the book and type up all highlights and notes in a Word document. Yes, it is a little time consuming. If I typed the notes on my phone, I just email them to myself and transfer them to a Word document.
- I maintain a separate Word document for every book, naming the document after the book’s title. I keep all of these Word documents in a “book reflections” folder on my Dropbox app, which I can access anywhere on a computer or where I have data service.
This system accomplishes several things that work best for me. Again, you may prefer a different system of recording notes, but ensure your system accomplishes these things for you.
- I have the learned lessons from the book for long-term reference. Even years down the road, if I am trying to enact an idea that I read, use a quote for a future blog post, or simply help make some leader reflection connections, I still have the key insights available to me from the text (and my thoughts while reading it).
- The lessons are accessible. Early in my reading program, I typed my lessons up, printed them, and kept them all in a well-organized binder. It was a wonderful product, but it wasn’t easily accessible. With the documents online, I can pull them up if I happen to be in conversation regarding a random thought I had from a previous book.
- It helps you complete the thoughts you have. By typing or writing out the book quotes and any relevant thoughts you had associated with them, you complete the idea and make full sense of it. This better enables application down the road and improves relevance to your life.
Ultimately, the platforms of choice do not matter; find what works best for you. But it is critical for reading leaders to track their books and track their lessons. Who you are as a leader 1 year, 5 years, and 10 years down the road will thank you. Please comment below or email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have other great ideas about managing your reading program!
Next week, I make an argument for reading fiction, which I’ve learned is critical for a fully developed leader reading program.
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