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How to Actually Take Action on All That Reading

How to Actually Take Action on All That Reading

Reading is good for the soul (and your mind), butway too many people get caught in the trap of consistently reading and never taking action on anything they read. Sometimes, it’s just sheer laziness, but most of the time it’s because these readers don’t have a system set up for pulling out the pieces of information from their reading that they can take action about, and then actually taking action on them.

Lucky for you, it’s fairly easy to get such a system set up!

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Have a way to mark out actionable information

You can do this one of two ways: keeping track of the action items as you come across them in a notebook, or just marking the information in the book to come back to later. It’ll really just depend on how you prefer to process information and what interrupts your reading flow less.

If you’re a natural note-taker, it makes sense to write down the action items as you come across them or as the book gives you ideas—just be sure to separate things you can actually do from things that are just bits of interesting information you might need for reference later. I do this by putting a star at the beginning of lines that have tasks in them, so that after I’m done with my notes, I can skim back through them and easily pull out the action items.

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If you’re not a natural note-taker and trying to take notes just interrupts the flow of your reading, then you might prefer to go through all the action items in the book or article at once. If that’s the case, you’ll just want to mark the places you’re going to come back to—you can use good old slips of paper for this. Another handy trick is to use index cards as bookmarks, and note down which page & line the relevant information is at; this way, you don’t come back to a page later without the memory of what it was you wanted to mark down.

Go back to & store that actionable information

Once you’re done reading, you’ll want to go back and pull out all of the actionable items, and get them in one spot. You can use anything from a plain old notebook or checklist to an online task or project management tool, depending on how your preferences run. The idea is just that you need to separate the actionable tasks from the rest of the information, and get it all in one spot so that you can sort through it. 

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Give it a deadline or put it on your backburner

Once you’ve got all of your tasks in one spot, you need to go through each task and ask yourself whether it’s something you can do right now.

If it is something you can do immediately, then you need to make sure it’ll get done. This is going to depend on your individual productivity systems—that might mean putting it in your weekly planner, or it might mean putting in your online task management tool. (I use and love Flow, myself.) Make sure to give it a deadline; the deadline is going to depend on what other projects you have going at the moment, how urgent they are, and how urgent or important the task is. You don’t want to pile all of your new tasks on one day and overwhelm yourself, but you don’t want to space them out so much that you lose motivation or momentum, either. You can start with the highest leverage tasks first—ask yourself which tasks will have the greatest payoff with the least amount of effort, and do those sooner.

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If it’s not something you can do right now, then you need to make sure you won’t forget it. This is what a “backburner” is for, a concept I picked up from Making Ideas Happen (an excellent book by Scott Belsky, founder of 99u and Behance). In my Flow account, I have a whole folder for backburner projects and tasks. I have a task list for each backburner project, and I also have two catch-all backburner lists for administrative and business development tasks. Then, what I do is schedule a recurring task to remind me to do 1-3 administrative tasks (or have my VA do them) once a week, and 1-3 business development tasks once a week, and I have a monthly task reminding me to review my backburner projects and see if anything can be moved to a front burner, so to speak.

This means that I’m making sure to complete those tasks that add up one by one and add up to progress in my business, by doing what I can when I can, and it also makes sure that I actually take action on the useful material that I read: I pull out the action items, put them in the appropriate place, and then voila! They get done (whether immediately or eventually). Even if it takes a while to get to them, it’s certainly better than leaving them to be forgotten or waste in the ether. So, how do you make sure you take action on your useful reading?

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Last Updated on March 30, 2020

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

What to Do in Free Time? 20 Productive Ways to Use the Time

If you’ve got a big block of free time, the best way to put that to use is to relax, have fun, decompress from a stressful day, or spend time with a loved one. But if you’ve just got a little chunk — say 5 or 10 minutes — there’s no time to do any of the fun stuff.

So, what to do in free time?

Put those little chunks of time to their most productive use.

Everyone works differently, so the best use of your free time really depends on you, your working style, and what’s on your to-do list. But it’s handy to have a list like this in order to quickly find a way to put that little spare time to work instantly, without any thought. Use the following list as a way to spark ideas for what you can do in a short amount of time.

1. Reading Files

Clip magazine articles or print out good articles or reports for reading later, and keep them in a folder marked “Reading File”. Take this wherever you go, and any time you have a little chunk of time, you can knock off items in your Reading File.

Keep a reading file on your computer (or in your bookmarks), for quick reading while at your desk (or on the road if you’ve got a laptop).

2. Clear out Inbox

Got a meeting in 5 minutes? Use it to get your physical or email inbox to empty.

If you’ve got a lot in your inbox, you’ll have to work quickly, and you may not get everything done; but reducing your pile can be a big help. And having an empty inbox is a wonderful feeling.

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3. Phone Calls

Keep a list of phone calls you need to make, with phone numbers, and carry it everywhere.

Whether you’re at your desk or on the road, you can knock a few calls off your list in a short amount of time.

4. Make Money

This is my favorite productive use of free time. I have a list of articles I need to write, and when I get some spare minutes, I’ll knock off half an article real quick.

If you get 5 to 10 chunks of free time a day, you can make a decent side income. Figure out how you can freelance your skills, and have work lined up that you can knock out quickly — break it up into little chunks, so those chunks can be done in short bursts.

5. File

No one likes to do this. If you’re on top of your game, you’re filing stuff immediately, so it doesn’t pile up.

But if you’ve just come off a really busy spurt, you may have a bunch of documents or files laying around.

Or maybe you have a big stack of stuff to file. Cut into that stack with every little bit of spare time you get, and soon you’ll be in filing Nirvana.

6. Network

Only have 2 minutes? Shoot off a quick email to a colleague. Even just a “touching bases” or follow-up email can do wonders for your working relationship. Or shoot off a quick question, and put it on your follow-up list for later.

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7. Clear out Feeds

If my email inbox is empty, and I have some spare time, I like to go to my Google Reader and clear out my feed inbox.

8. Goal Time

Take 10 minutes to think about your goals — personal and professional.

If you don’t have a list of goals, start on one. If you’ve got a list of goals, review them.

Write down a list of action steps you can take over the next couple of weeks to make these goals a reality. What action step can you do today? The more you focus on these goals, and review them, the more likely they will come true.

9. Update Finances

Many people fall behind with their finances, either in paying bills (they don’t have time), or entering transactions in their financial software, or clearing their checkbook, or reviewing their budget.

Take a few minutes to update these things. It just takes 10 to 15 minutes every now and then.

10. Brainstorm Ideas

Another favorite of mine if I just have 5 minutes — I’ll break out my pocket notebook, and start a brainstorming list for a project or article. Whatever you’ve got coming up in your work or personal life, it can benefit from a brainstorm. And that doesn’t take long.

11. Clear off Desk

Similar to the filing tip above, but this applies to whatever junk you’ve got cluttering up your desk. Or on the floor around your desk.

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Trash stuff, file stuff, put it in its place. A clear desk makes for a more productive you. And it’s oddly satisfying.

12. Exercise

Never have time to exercise? 10 minutes is enough to get off some pushups and crunches. Do that 2 to 3 times a day, and you’ve got a fit new you.

13. Take a Walk

This is another form of exercise that doesn’t take long, and you can do it anywhere. Even more important, it’s a good way to stretch your legs from sitting at your desk too long.

It also gets your creative juices flowing. If you’re ever stuck for ideas, taking a walk is a good way to get unstuck.

14. Follow up

Keep a follow-up list for everything you’re waiting on. Return calls, emails, memos — anything that someone owes you, put on the list.

When you’ve got a spare 10 minutes, do some follow-up calls or emails.

15. Meditate

You don’t need a yoga mat to do this. Just do it at your desk. Focus on your breathing. A quick 5 to 10 minutes of meditation (or even a nap) can be tremendously refreshing.

Take a look at this 5-Minute Guide to Meditation: Anywhere, Anytime

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16. Research

This is a daunting task for me. So I do it in little spurts.

If I’ve only got a few minutes, I’ll do some quick research and take some notes. Do this a few times, and I’m done!

17. Outline

Similar to brainstorming, but more formal. I like to do an outline of a complicated article, report or project, and it helps speed things along when I get to the actual writing. And it only takes a few minutes.

18. Get Prepped

Outlining is one way to prep for longer work, but there’s a lot of other ways you can prep for the next task on your list.

You may not have time to actually start on the task right now, but when you come back from your meeting or lunch, you’ll be all prepped and ready to go.

19. Be Early

Got some spare time before a meeting? Show up for the meeting early.

Sure, you might feel like a chump sitting there alone, but actually people respect those who show up early. It’s better than being late (unless you’re trying to play a power trip or something, but that’s not appreciated in many circles).

20. Log

If you keep a log of anything, a few spare minutes is the perfect time to update the log.

Actually, the perfect time to update the log is right after you do the activity (exercise, eat, crank a widget), but if you didn’t have time to do it before, your 5-minute break is as good a time as any.

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Featured photo credit: Lauren Mancke via unsplash.com

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