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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 October 15, 2019

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why we procrastinate after all

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

So, is procrastination bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How bad procrastination can be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

Procrastination, a technical failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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