Stop reading: start doing


I’m currently in hot competition with a friend of mine. Right now, he’s leading 6-5. And I don’t like it. By nature I’m competitive. I don’t like losing at anything.

But hang on… This might be one that I’ll be pleased to lose. In fact, it might be a good idea if I fell further and further behind. Maybe I’ll be losing 15-5 when he finally gives up…

Because the competition is something of a standing joke between us. You see, we both have a file on our desktops called “Stuff I need to read” or words to that effect. When I see something on the internet that I think would be useful, I open the file, write a one-line description and cut & paste the link. And yes, I fully intend to look at the article/stats/infographic as soon as I get the chance. After all, it was really important information and I seriously need to read it.

My pal does exactly the same. And so – I’m sure – do a great many people reading this blog. If there’s any advance on six pages, let me know.

There are important – and useful – documents in that folder:

• How to build a Twitter strategy for your business
• 52 ways to market your business on Pinterest
• Marketing techniques to maximise your social media reach

I’m absolutely sure that if I went through my five pages and read all the articles I’d find something to benefit my business. In exactly the same way that my first boss was sure that if he read…

Those were the days when trade magazines weren’t the sexy, virtual little numbers that they are today. They were thick, they were glossy, and they landed on the corporate doormat every Friday morning. And Richard needed to read them, because they were full of useful information, trade gossip and trends. He went through them, highlighted the articles he needed to read and then put the magazines in the ‘to-be-read’ pile on his desk. Gradually the pile built up. Higher…and higher. Eventually it was a major engineering feat to keep the magazine tower from toppling over. Then one day they were gone.

“That must have been some job,” I said as I walked in for my appraisal. “How long did it take to read all those?”

Richard looked at me over his glasses. “Oh, Ed,” he sighed. “You’ve a lot to learn. You see Pauline?” He glanced at his secretary on the other side of the glass panel.

“Yes?” (I was really eager to learn.)

“When the pile gets so big that Pauline can’t see me through the glass she comes in and chucks them out. Then I start again.”
Maybe I need a virtual Pauline to come and delete the “Stuff I need to read’” folder…

These days, we’re drowning in information – and a lot of it is seriously useful. But sometimes it’s too easy to read too much, to think too much – to suffer from ‘analysis paralysis.’ We can read and analyse and plan and make lists of goals…but it’s only taking action that produces results. While Richard wasn’t reading his pile of trade magazines, he was on the phone to customers – or face-to-face, building and cementing long term relationships with them. (And hopefully I was paying attention.)

So if anyone’s brave enough to do it, here’s a challenge. For the next month, don’t cut and paste any links. Whatever it is, you don’t need to read it. Stop worrying about what you don’t know and be happy with what you do know. And act on it.

Have a great weekend – and I’ll be back next Friday with a children’s story…

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13 comments

  1. Karen Nixon · February 17, 2012

    Ha ha – do we share a desktop, Ed? I’ll take you up on your challenge and see how I get on…

    • edreidyork · February 17, 2012

      Hi Karen – well, well, well. I’ve found you out!! Look forward to hearing your progress report. Great to catch up at Venturefest – great fun as ever!

  2. Andy Gambles (@andygambles) · February 17, 2012

    If you haven’t read something in a week it obviously was not that important and can be deleted.

    Same goes for the email inbox.

    Once you get over that ‘fear of missing something’ you can just crack on with your life.

    • edreidyork · February 17, 2012

      Crack on with life seems like a sensible motto – I’ll do my best!

  3. Colour Heroes · February 17, 2012

    Amen to that Ed! I havn’t the time to research the stuff I didn’t know, unless a customer needs me to do it. I use the stuff I collected over years as a draft excluder for the office back door and it’s made my life much more comfortable keeping the east wind at bay than the guilt of not reading it all!

    • edreidyork · February 17, 2012

      Love the draft excluder technique – genius!

  4. Dave Rawlings · February 17, 2012

    Yep – I have loads of stuff waiting to be read. And I also have bigger piles of stuff I have read but have to keep in case I want to refer back to them one day!

    One of the things I miss about working in a big company is the internal mail system. Any piece of paper you didn’t know what to do with you could “chain” circulate to 4 or 5 others “for comment”. Chances are it would never come back, and if it did it would be so out of date you could safely bin it!

  5. Steven Partridge · February 17, 2012

    I think Andy’s point about e-mails is spot on (and that’s my failing). As for reading, the only time I seem to get to do that is by getting a book when I’m travelling by train!

  6. Jill Tinsley · February 17, 2012

    Hi Ed,

    Oh dear I have been caught out as I appear to have stopped doing and started reading…… Your email made me laugh – you caught me reading when I should have been doing and then I read your blog rather than filing it in the stuff I need to read folder so still have not “done” but have had some fun. It proved useful tho – now I know you have given yourself the afternoon off I will give you a call next week

    Have a good one – Jill at Young Enterprise.

  7. simonjhudson · February 17, 2012

    I skimmed this – too busy doing some other stuff 🙂

    • edreidyork · February 17, 2012

      Very good Simon – no distractions!!

  8. Louise Roberts (@taxperspective) · February 17, 2012

    Ha ha! I think we all do the same. One of my old bosses used to spend the first hour every morning reading his “stuff to read” file. You weren’t allowed to book meetings for that time and his PA kept the file for him by filtering his internal mail. He was very knowledgeable and a real high-flyer but I guess his working day was an hour longer than everyone else’s!

    • edreidyork · February 17, 2012

      And we all know the answer is NOT to work an extra hour each day!

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