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Productivity Hack: Read More, Get More Done

Ask a busy knowledge worker if they’ve read any good books lately, and nine times out of ten, you’ll get a response like this: “Oh, I’d love to read more, but I just don’t have the time.”

A couple months ago, I would have said the same thing myself. But I finally decided that enough was enough, and dammit, I would make the time to read more. Over the past few weeks, I’ve journeyed from the steppes of Central Asia to the French-Italian Alps to the distant planet Tralfamadore. It’s been wonderful, even life-changing. And despite the (extremely well-spent) time I’ve devoted to it, my new-found erudition has paradoxically improved my productivity, rather than weakened it.

Less Screen Time = More Mental Clarity

Have you ever mindlessly reached for your phone, set it down, only to reach for it again 30 seconds later? Guilty as charged. I’d grown so accustomed to the constant low-level hum of digital pollution that I barely even heard these subconscious siren songs anymore – Check Facebook! Was that my phone? Do I have a new email? Maybe someone just texted me!

Bonus points if you resist the temptation to reach for your phone right now.

The simple act of focusing my eyes on a physical page rather than a screen helped quiet that ongoing din, and with it, my thoughts grew clearer and quieter still. After just 30 minutes of analog reading, I found that I could think through challenges, understand problems, and identify solutions more clearly and strategically. Even more significantly, I feel generally less stressed, more mindful, and more present to my surroundings.

Cross-Pollination Rules

Try this trick the next time you’re wrestling with a difficult challenge at work: instead of staying late, go home and read a book about something completely unrelated. Speaking of unrelated, here’s a fun fact: Did you know that apples – one of the most culturally significant and ubiquitous fruits in the world – are originally from Kazakhstan?

Aside from being great fodder for cocktail parties, this seemingly impractical information is actually fertile ground for new insights, because it takes you out of your regular mental frameworks and helps you look at ideas in new and unexpected ways. Just recently, I was thinking about how to improve communication between a few different departments here at Mindjet, and was inspired by this lesson from Mongolian history: building bridges between ideas and cultures is more effective than coming up with ideas alone. If it worked for Genghis Khan, I figured it could certainly work for me.

Productivity Fueled by Creativity

When I’m creatively engaged with the world, I’m vastly more productive, too. Plenty of studies on employee engagement at work suggest that I’m not the only one. So how does that tie back to reading more books? Easy. The most interesting, engaged, and yes, productive people I know, read. They read broadly, deeply, and often.

Reading grants us access to all kinds of new perspectives, insights, and ideas that inspire us to think and act more creatively. Not the angst-filled-chain-smoking-artist kind of creativity, nor even the drop-everything-and-write-the-next-Great-American-Novel kind. I mean the kind of vibrant creative energy that comes from being fully engaged with ideas, with others, and with life in general.

It’s no coincidence that when we’re fully engaged with the world around us, we’re also more productive in the best possible way. We’re not just getting sh*t done – we’re bringing our whole, rich, complex selves to a challenge, improving on what’s been done, and imagining what could be.

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