The New Yorker, National Geographic, two catalogs, the Tuesday newspaper, Mirabella, PC World, a stack of articles from a conference, a newsletter from the financial planner. Waiting to be read. Gathering dust. A stacked monument to inadequacy as an information cruncher.
Reading is still fundamental to most people's professional and personal lives. But who has time to get through the must-read stack these days, much less the wanna-reads? It can be done, says Carla Hayden, Baltimore's highest profile reader. As director of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, she's a busy administrator with as many limitations on her reading time as most people have. So how does she manage to keep her reading stacks whittled down to a manageable size?
"It's a matter of attitude," she says. "Don't consider the volume or how much you have stacked up. That turns them into 'guilt stacks.' That's disheartening. I think about it in terms of the time I spend reading instead."
Ms. Hayden reads a minimum of one hour a day -- "that's outside things like memos and such" -- even if she has the kind of day in which meetings run into late evening hours. That's when she turns to her favorite personal reading: mystery novels by authors such as Elizabeth George, Sue Grafton and P.D. James.
How does she keep her attitude in the right place when faced with more reading matter in one day than most of us look at in a week? Here are the head librarian's secrets:
* To avoid that defeating "volume" bugaboo, separate what needs to be read into several stacks according to subject or intended use, and put the piles where they'll be accessible when you have a few odd minutes.
* When reading a journal or report for work, first read the table of contents. Then turn directly to what you want to read. If it isn't necessary to read the article for some immediate purpose, skim it to make sure it will be useful in the future, tear it out or photocopy it and then file it away by subject. When the information is needed -- to write a speech, for a meeting, etc. -- pull the subject file and read what's needed.
* If time away from the office is used for professional reading, try to block out a span of time Saturday or Sunday morning when you're fresh. Ms. Hayden warns against reading professional materials at night, especially before bedtime. "You don't want to read things at night that overstimulate you or make you anxious. Work-related reading makes you think of all the things you have to do or want to do."
* Even though Ms. Hayden has a vested interest in encouraging people to check out books from the library, she says it's not always the most time-efficient way to read something. "Some things you should buy so you can read them over a span of time and feel free to write notes and highlight in them for easier and faster future reference. This is especially true of professional books." She suggests borrowing library books when you know you'll be able to read them in an allotted time, or when the books are of a very specific professional nature with limited application, or when they are too expensive to buy.
* Now, back to that attitude thing: "Instead of feeling overwhelmed by all that you have to read, look at it as an opportunity. Change the way you think about it from, 'Oh, there's so much,' to 'Oh, I never have to be bored.' "