By Claire West
With thousands of business books published each year, it would be virtually impossible for anybody to read them all, not least a busy businessperson. So how do you make the most of your limited reading time? And how do you ensure that you are properly digesting the wealth of information contained in these books? Here is some handy advice from entrepreneur and author of Business Greatest Hits, Kevin Duncan:
1.Read the cover carefully
A good book should be able to pitch on a postcard. If the dust jacket doesn’t grab you, then proceed cautiously. Skim to pick up themes of interest (if there are any), or delve deeper to see if anything resonates. This should not take more than two minutes.
2.Investigate the author
Who are they? Do you like their stuff? What is their style like? Have you heard of them before? Have they been recommended to you? Authors present their ideas in very different ways. You might love the concept but hate the style. If so, grab the gist but don’t subject yourself to wading through the whole thing.
3.Check the blog first
A quick online check reveals a lot before you purchase. Some ideas are better as articles rather than books, and may already have been published elsewhere in a more digestible form. Subscribing to business blogs gives you an up-to-date feel for whether you might enjoy a whole book by that author.
4.Check the date
The copyright symbol on the first page gives you a lot of information. If it is this year or last, then it’s a new piece of thinking and is probably worth investigating. You should be aware of new thinking even if you don’t agree with it or find it relevant. Older books may be too old to be topical, but the number of reprints could indicate a classic that has borne the test of time, or been significantly updated.
5.Look at the length and layout
If you don’t fancy it or it looks impenetrable, then don’t just grin and bear it. Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, so if you know you won’t endure it then don’t fool yourself. Smaller chunks of text with lots of quotes and illustrations can make for easier digestion of the points. Small type can also disguise very long books and reduce your enjoyment.
6.See if the theme is developed in the contents
Many books have little to say after the first chapter. Try to grasp the gist at the beginning and see if the thread is continued through the next few chapters. Look at the penultimate chapter to see if the author has run out steam. If so, the concept may warrant a cursory glance rather than a sustained read.
7.Try the dip test
Choose a random page and see if you like the writing style. Great ideas can be lost in poor style, and great style can disguise the lack of an idea. If the dip test turns you off, still give the idea a second chance, but stop short of buying if you feel this is the wrong medium for you to absorb it.
8.Keep a postcard as a bookmark
As you read, make a note of relevant points by page number so that you can refer back at the end. This allows you to cross-refer later and keep a cogent thread. When you have finished, do something useful with the points, such as transfer them to something you are working on, or look up a new word.
9.Work out what you are going to do with it
As you absorb the theme, consider how you might apply the thinking to your work or life. Problems, customers and colleagues all benefit from fresh thinking. If you particularly like the thrust of a book, buy several and give them to people who you think will benefit. Equally, don’t buy if you can’t think of a reason, and certainly don’t buy just because everybody else is.
10.Digest the shape, not every word.
If you can’t be bothered to plough through a whole book, use some shortcuts. You don’t have to read 200 pages diligently if you can pick up the main points by skimming, so long as you don’t do it so fast that you miss out vital chunks. You can read in any order you like, and dip into particular parts to round out the detail. As long as you grasp the concept, that’s fine.
Kevin Duncan is the author of Business Greatest Hits and Marketing Greatest Hits, published by A&C Black, paperback £9.99.