How to Conquer a Professional Reading List without Breaking the Bank

One of the common questions we receive from new candidates entering our program:  Do you really expect me to read all of the books on the Alliance reading list?

Here is my answer:  It is not an absolute requirement (we won’t stop you from attending a conference if you haven’t completed it), but I feel it is a very important part of a successful transition.  You only transition once, so you want to get it right.  Reading isn’t just a valuable part of your preparation, but don’t be surprised if an interviewer asks you about your professional reading habits; we have one hiring manager in particular that loves one of the books on our list, Good to Great, and likes to ask questions about it during the interview.

When you think about it, professional reading is actually a long term commitment that should be maintained throughout your career.  And if you think you are too busy to read, consider that Warren Buffett reads 5 to 6 hours a day.  I used to think I was too busy to read, but as I write this about 6 months into the year, I have already knocked out 24 books along with 4 different magazine subscriptions and the daily newspaper.  Reading this much isn’t easy, but it is achievable.  Here are some ideas that have worked for me.

  1. Schedule your reading and make it a habit.  When I say schedule it, I mean actually put it on your Outlook, Google, or other favorite calendar as an event.  As simple as it sounds, if you put something on your calendar, you are more likely to do it.  Following a strict regimen of reading at a set time may be tough at first, but sticking with it for a few weeks can be habit forming.  And speaking of habits, here is great book that is not on our list, but I highly endorse:  The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.
  2. Read during those unplanned ‘white spaces’ on your calendar.  To do so requires that you keep a book on hand with you.  Perhaps the easiest way to do so is to read via e-books such as a Kindle or Nook.  And if you download the Kindle reading app to your cell phone, there is no excuse since your phone is probably tethered to your body.
  3. Create an account on Goodreads and join their Reading Challenge where you set a goal for a number of books to read during the calendar year.  As you complete each book you can add it to your account and it tells you how well you are doing in reaching your overall goal. If you are a military officer, you are likely to be both goal oriented and competitive. And when you add the word “Challenge” to the equation, it should really get those competitive juices flowing.  Also if you have a friend or loved one, encourage them to do the same Reading Challenge to engage in some friendly one-on-one competition.  That way you also have an accountability partner.
  4. Listen to Audio books.  Frankly, this is the only way I can meet my reading goals.   When I claimed that that I “knocked out” 24 books, I didn’t say that I actually read them all.  I listened to a good many of them on Audible. My Audible subscription allows me to read 1 book per month (presently at a cost of $14.95/month).  I have a relatively long commute to work and during my drive I usually listen to a book or a podcast.  It’s amazing how it makes the time fly, especially for long trips.  By the way, if you don’t have an Audible account, they usually have introductory offers where you can get anywhere from 1 to 3 books at a reduced rate (or free) with no long term obligation. Do a Google search for “Audible promotions” and shop around!
  5. Read/Listen to books while you are working out.  Naturally you should avoid wearing headphones when running outside due to safety considerations, but it is completely safe on the treadmill, elliptical, etc. or while lifting weights.  In these cases, I recommend a good wireless Bluetooth headset.
  6. A related recommendation is to make use of “Temptation Bundling,” a concept I learned about while listening to a Freakonomics podcast.  Temptation Bundling is a way to link an undesirable task with a desirable temptation at the same time.  The classic example: if you are someone who has a hard time sticking to a workout regimen but find yourself binge watching Netflix too often, then only allow yourself to watch your favorite show if you are exercising at the same time.  Here’s how this concept might apply to reading:  If you have a favorite coffee shop where you like to hang out, then only allow yourself to go there if you read a book at the same time.  This is just one example.  There are many possible bundles.
  7. Make use of your local library. One thing holding people back from reading books is the expense.  A new hard cover can easily cost over $30.  The great thing with libraries today (military libraries included) is that many of them now have electronic books available for checkout too.  In fact, I discovered an app recently called Libby, that I can link to my library card to find, reserve, read/listen to e-books and audio books, all within the app.  It’s very convenient and best of all, it’s all free! Although I sometimes have to wait several months for a reserved book to be available, I have been able to listen to 6 books on Libby so far this year.
  8. Buy used books.  Let’s face it, sometimes an e-book or Audible book just won’t do because you want to stare at the charts, graphs, etc. and make notes. And you don’t want to borrow it from the library because you want it for keeps.  In those cases, search for used books on Amazon, eBay, or a local used book store where you can typically find slightly used versions in very good condition for a fraction of the cost.

I can personally attest to all of the above recommendations because they have worked for me.  If you would like more recommendations or get a copy of our reading list for transitioning military officers, feel free to Contact Us.

John Zornick