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Daily Reading Rituals That Will Make You More Productive

Daily reading habits can expand your thinking. Here’s what you should be reading and how to take make the most of the time you have.

What we do daily has a profound effect on our lives. A good daily reading ritual can keep you informed about the world and your industry. But if you’re a curious person with limited time, how can you make the most of the minutes you have?

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Make peace with incomplete knowledge.

You will never read everything. Dan Kennedy, associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University, notes that he tries to read The Boston Globe and The New York Times daily as part of teaching his students. But to get all the way through both, “I could easily spend an hour, and who can do that? I feel like I need to and yet I can’t.”

So don’t try. Instead, figure out roughly how much time you’re willing to devote daily to staying informed. If you’re not devoting any time, 15 minutes is a good start. But try tracking your time for a few days. You’ll probably find that you’re spending more than 15 minutes on random things. That time could be repurposed if you want.

Consider the daily paper.

This medium is alleged to be dying; according to one calculation, the last newspaper will be printed in 2043. But daily papers have a lot going for them from an efficiency perspective. “By buzzing through that every day, and reading in depth the things that really interest you and skimming the rest, you can be a reasonably informed person,” says Kennedy.

Choose one publication you’d like to incorporate into your ritual. If you like print, the The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today can all be delivered nationally. If you’re reading online or through an app, you can choose any publication you like.

Know that rituals need not always look the same.

You probably have some interest in what’s going on locally. If you pride yourself on seeing all sides, you might also see that each news source has a particular world view. The key to efficiency is realizing that your “daily” reading ritual need not be the same publication daily.

Rotate in a local news source, and maybe another major publication, at least once a week to keep things fresh. If you read The Wall Street Journal daily, for instance, but live in Philadelphia, you could read The Philadelphia Inquirer once a week, and the headlines at Salon once a week instead of your paper. Reading a local publication once a week will give you the gist of major stories.

Boost industry knowledge on breaks.

You no doubt have at least three spots during your day when you’ve got five minutes to fill. Most people check email during this time. Instead, make a list of three blogs or publications covering your industry. Scan one during each five-minute slot. If there’s a longer, more involved story, make a note to read it later, but many updates can be absorbed fast.

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Skip the mornings.

It’s awesome to linger over a newspaper or magazine on Sunday morning, but chances are the rest of your week doesn’t look like that. So here’s the upside of the modern news beast: Most major sites are updated constantly. You don’t need to read the morning paper for news to be new.

Instead of scanning headlines when you get to work, preserve your first hour for major professional priorities that require focus. Then do your reading during your afternoon slump. Sean Blanda, managing editor and producer at productivity website 99u, says he reads in the afternoon “because that is when I’m the least productive and often struggle to do any deep-thinking work. Reading is something a bit more passive that I can do to still move the ball forward. Most knowledge workers can benefit from a similar routine, I think.”

One exception to the morning ban? If you’re consuming news on your commute by reading the paper on public transit or “reading” the news by listening to NPR, that’s fine. “So many of us are trapped in our cars,” Kennedy says, and using this time to become well-informed probably beats anything else you could do with it.

Read before bed.

Remember those longer articles you saved earlier in the day? Now is the time to tackle them, or deeper reading for your career (or general edification). “I try and set aside an hour a night to read and take notes on my Kindle,” says Blanda. “My tip is to make it your ‘default activity’–the thing you do when you could do anything.” He likes the Kindle because of its highlighting and note-taking features, but an old-fashioned book or magazine will do too. A bonus: Reading will probably help you relax more than watching House of Cards.

About the author

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management and productivity books, including I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time (Portfolio, June 9, 2015), What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast (Portfolio, 2013), and 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think (Portfolio, 2010). She blogs at www.lauravanderkam.com.

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