Welcome to the 3x5 Leadership podcast where we champion intentional leaders who create significant impacts. In this show, we share simple, practical strategies to help you live, lead, and learn more intentionally.
To learn more about 3x5 leadership and explore all our resources to help YOU become a more intentional leader, go to our website at 3x5Leadership.com.
Today, we look at how to maximize the developmental impact of our reading efforts. If leaders are readers, as President Truman said, how do we make our reading more effective, more efficient, and ultimately ensure that the insights from the books we read simply don’t expire on the bookshelves once we are done with them? Let’s look at ten simple, but impactful habits to help us achieve that. So, let’s get into it!
I’m Josh Bowen, and thanks for joining us today. Reading can be one of the easiest, but also one of the most powerful developmental activities that we can regularly engage in. For me, developmental reading offers me three important benefits. One, it keeps me learning by equipping me with new knowledge and new ways of thinking, which broadens my thinking. Two, it expands my perspective beyond my circumstances. It helps me to see life beyond my immediate surroundings, which encourages an improved sense of resilience for me. Finally, reading keeps my cup full, keeps me encouraged, keeps me inspired.
But it has taken me years to arrive to a place where I felt like my reading efforts were clear, focused, and impactful. I remember when I came to the realization of the power of developmental reading and decided to begin my own personal habit. It was back in 2013, three years into my career, and while I felt committed to this new behavior, I also had no idea where to start. What book should I start with? Where or to whom should I turn for recommendations? Is there anything special I should do to ensure my reading is quote-unquote developmental? What’s the right way to do this?
I remember starting with a book about the Korean War, and while a beneficial read that I still remember today, in looking back, I’m not sure it was the best book to start with. And it really took me years to figure out how to create, manage, and grow from a personal developmental reading habit.
So, in hopes of helping you either start a new reading habit or to make your existing approach more intentional and not simply a check-the-block activity, I’d like to offer the 10 reading habits I rely on every day. These make reading powerful, efficient, as well as fun for me. So, here are the 10 habits that can help you kickstart your reading this year.
One, consider the benefit of audiobooks. If you’re a purist and anti-audiobooks, hear me out. Reading is a means of learning…of growing. And I find there are a lot of opportunities in my weekly schedule to learn, even if I can’t sit and focus a book. I can listen to audiobooks when I’m running, when I’m walking my dog, when I’m cleaning dishes after dinner or while folding laundry. I can listen while commuting. When you add up all that time in a week, that can be a pretty decent learning effort that might have otherwise gone untapped. It’s a huge source of some great learning over a year. So, tap into audiobooks!
But, habit two is to be selective in what books you choose to listen to on audiobook versus actually read. There are just some books that I know I am going to need to highlight, take margin notes on, and reflect about as I read. When I identify these books that I know will be very engaging, I deliberately choose not to listen to them on audiobook. I don’t want to potentially miss key insights from the book while listening versus reading.
So, I select books like history, fiction, science fiction, and a small amount of non-fiction. These are genres I can follow along pretty well by listening and understand the greater themes, but have lower risk of missing details that I may want to retain. I also find these genres a lot more fun to listen to over reading.
Ok, habit three is to always be reading a physical book (or digital one if you prefer) and an audiobook at any given time. This not only maximizes use of all regular learning opportunities you have, but also keeps your perspective broader from day to day. Reading a leadership-based developmental book and listening to an autobiography on audiobook for example prevents my learning from feeling monotonous by focusing only on one topic at a time and keeps my perspective, energy, and attitude towards what I’m learning fresh each day. It also just makes it more fun for me by gathering multiple sources and types of ideas week to week. Always have your next book and next audiobook lined up before you finish your current title.
For habit four I encourage you to be selective in what you read. To prevent finding yourself in a situation like I did when trying to select my first book – which was lost and uniformed – I recommend you select books along your prominent identities in life. In the previous episode, I argued for the need to be clear on our identities in life – what roles do we fulfill on a regular basis and what values do we live by? If these are the most important things that define who we are, use reading as a means to grow in those relevant areas. Am I reading a book about the Korean War because someone randomly recommended it and I don’t know otherwise? Or am I reading it because I’m an amateur historian and find it interesting? Or maybe because having historical context about our military helps make me a more informed military leader? Reading along your identities gives increased purpose to what you’re reading. It explains why the book matters. So, clarify your identities and then select books in support of those to keep growing in focused and purposeful ways.
Now of course, there is a caveat to that habit, which is habit five. It is to ensure you read broadly and diversely. I believe we can learn new information, new perspectives, and new ways of thinking from a diverse approach to what we read. Can digging into a sci-fi book help you think more creatively about the future and “what if?” Or can a historical fiction book help you appreciate the experiences of people from significant points in our world’s past? I’m sure we can all learn some compelling lessons from authors who don’t look or think like us.
Number six is to use some form of what I’ll call a reading management system. This just means to maintain a simple and useful way of keeping track of what you have read and, more importantly, what you want to read. A “want to read” list is an important tool to keep my reading focused and deliberate. It helps me use discretion in what books I plan to read.
I’ve used the Good Reads website and phone app for my system over the last few years. First of all, it’s free. And through it, I’m able to maintain and easily access my have-read and to-read lists. It also offers a few other productive functions like an annual reading challenge to help me set and stay committed to a reading goal, and adds a social component where I can follow and interact with friends on the app. I’m able to see what others I follow are reading, which can provide another source of reading recommendations as well. So, use some sort of structured reading management approach so we are not whimsical in our book selections.
Seven, read at least ten pages a day. If you’re super busy on a given day, ten pages will only take you a few minutes whether it’s when you first wake up, right before you go to bed, or some other window of opportunity in your routine. But a simple ten pages every day not only keeps you making progress in your book, so it doesn’t merely collect dust on your nightstand, but maintains habit momentum which is crucial. Get ten pages done today.
Number eight, always keep a pen and highlighter next to your book. When you read, highlight away. Write margin notes of connected ideas, questions, and whatever comes to mind. If you’re like me, you’ll forget the thought by the time you leave the page. Capture it with notes and highlights.
Nine, once you complete a book, yes have the next one lined up and ready to go but dedicate some time to reflect on and make sense of what you read before you move on. For me, I usually spend a long run or a day after finishing the book to think about it. I use my three-question framework discussed in episode one where I clarify the what, why, and how from the book. I capture a summarized thesis of the book and how it applies to me. And I create a simple, but clear set of things I need to work on, do, or think about moving forward. We can’t move from book to book without spending time making sense of them. We are not growing without it. So, block off some time – whatever you think is appropriate – and mentally process the book before you move on.
And the tenth habit is to not let the lessons, ideas, highlights, and margin notes die within the pages once you put the book back on the shelf or delete it off your device. How are you making the lessons come to life in your leadership days, months, and even years later? Create a way to be able to revisit lessons from the book to ensure they remain relevant for you well down the road. Some elect to re-read books. I prefer to go back through the book and actually type up all the quotes and notes from it. That alone is part of my reflection of the book, but also helps me retain the key insights from it. I don’t believe there is a right way at all, but there is a best way for your unique preferences. So, feel free to try a couple of activities out to see what works best.
And there’s the ten habits! Before we end, I do want to share one more thought. Let’s call it a bonus 11th habit. I encourage you to talk about what you’re reading and what you’re learning from it. Talk about it with your family, friends, with colleagues, or anyone relevant in your life – whoever might be interested, willing to listen, and can benefit from the conversation. Ask them what they are reading and learning too. This is a great way to help you clarify your lessons from your book; the more you talk about it the clearer you become. It’s also an easy way to get book ideas and insights from others, and even to inspire them toward a reading habit too. A conversation like this might be more mutually beneficial during a lunch break than one where we gossip about colleagues. Starting a conversation like this is as easy as asking, “so, have you read anything interesting lately?”
Equipped with these habits, I’m confident you’re reading will be more focused, regular, and impactful this year. So, here’s to a great year of intentional reading and learning!
Now, before you go, I’d like to share three simple recommendations.
First, if you enjoyed this episode and want to recommend it to others, consider giving us a like and a review. It helps spread the word and enables others to find us.
Second, subscribe to 3x5 Leadership through email! When you do, you’ll get new insight on how to lead more intentionally every week. Plus, when you sign up, you’ll get your FREE 10 Habits of Intentional Leaders guide.
And finally, if you’re interested in getting more and going deeper, we invite you to join our Patron Community where you get even more from 3x5 Leadership each week. Learn more and join the community by going to Patreon.com/3x5Leadership. You can find the link in our show notes.
Thanks for joining us this week, friends. Until next time, take care and lead well.