What I’m working on: Daily reading rituals, idea files, keeping in touch

It’s Friday again, and here in PA it looks like it will be a beautiful weekend. I’m looking forward to some running, swimming, and hopefully biking, and maybe going out to eat too.

I’m writing on a few topics right now. As always, I love to hear people’s ideas, suggestions of experts, or personal stories. You can post in the comments, or feel free to email me at lvanderkam at yahoo dot com.

First, daily reading rituals. What do you read daily, and why? And a secondary question: how do you think a curious person with limited time — which is to say, most of us — should go about constructing his/her daily reading fodder?

I read the Wall Street Journal on paper (daily) and look at the New York Times online. They’re both mainstream papers, though they tend to approach things differently on the ideology front, which I find interesting. I usually read USA Today online too. By “read” for all these papers, though, I probably don’t spend more than half an hour, total. I read a few major stories and headlines and things that catch my interest.

I read The Skimm — a news digest — that comes to my inbox daily. I try to glance through the Publisher’s Lunch Deluxe that comes in. I have several blogs I like to read though many of the ones I enjoy don’t publish daily, so I’m not in a particular rhythm with those. I likely go through a magazine a day, too, but it varies which one, given that they come weekly or monthly. How about you? Do you think about getting a balance of local, national, international news? Industry-related and not? Fun and serious? And when do you do the reading? Lots of people do their daily reading ritual first thing in the AM, though I think there’s an argument for using the PM slump — less opportunity cost.

Second: Idea files. Do you keep one? Is it effective? I have never been particularly successful with this, and would love tips for keeping idea fodder in one place. And using that fodder to, you know, generate ideas.

Third: Non-sketchy ways to keep in touch. It’s standard networking advice, that you should reach out to your contacts with some regularity. That way, if you do have something important to ask, it’s not weird. But what are ways to keep in touch regularly that don’t seem weird in and of themselves? I know some people send birthday emails. Others aim to send an article of interest every few months or so. My newsletter isn’t personal to people, so wouldn’t count in this category, though it probably reminds some chunk of people that I exist. I’d love to hear your strategies, or effective ones you’ve seen.

Have a great weekend!



17 Responses to What I’m working on: Daily reading rituals, idea files, keeping in touch


  1. Jamie says:

    Idea files: I use “someday/maybe” as an Evernote tag (I think that came from Dave Allen). I use the Evernote browser extension so I can grab things from the web easily, and I have Evernote installed on all of the computers/devices I use so I can create notes wherever I am. Notes scrawled on a napkin at the pool or the gym go into Evernote as soon as possible. I use Remember The Milk for task management, and on the first of every month it prompts me to skim back through my someday/maybe items.

    I keep a 5-year plan in my Evernote shortcuts as well, and ideas that feel more definite than “maybe someday, I’ll…” get recorded here. This is a work in progress (I look back at my plan for my first year on the tenure track and think, “Well, that was delusional”), but I figure it’s good to have goalposts.

    My progress on someday/maybe items is slow, but it’s still fun to see the items that are crossed off, and to remember the interesting ideas that seized me for a moment and would probably have been forgotten otherwise.

    • Laura says:

      @Jamie – I’ve heard good things about Evernote. Re my problems with the idea file: When I talked to a highly productive designer yesterday about her idea file, one thing that came up is that I was clipping a lot of pictures, because I thought they looked cool, but I don’t produce anything visual. Yes, obviously you want to cast a broad net for an idea file, but if I’m writing a lot of business stories, trend stories, etc., a picture of a rock has a lot less chances of producing something than combining an interesting profile I read with 3 statistics I found somewhere else.

      • Mike says:

        One thing that might help the Evernote adoption is to find an ambassador to see how they use it. https://evernote.com/community/
        My favorite has been Jamie Rubin, http://JamieRubin.net

        • Laura says:

          @Mike – thanks, and sorry your comment was sitting in the moderation queue. I think including more than one link triggers it…

  2. Jamie says:

    Evernote is fantastic. You can certainly clip pictures with Evernote, but you’d tag them “pretty” or something instead of “write about this.” A search for the “write about this” tag would pull up the profile and leave the rock picture.

  3. liz says:

    I recently developed the ritual of reading the WSJ on paper every work day at lunch. My husband had started to receive the paper copy, but only read online. I was suffering from an awful procrastinating habit: at lunchtime, tired from teaching a class, I’d flop down in my desk chair and start mindlessly surfing the web. 30 minutes would go by before I even noticed that I hadn’t eaten my lunch. So hard to unstick myself!

    So now, a new ritual: go to my office, pick up my lunch and the WSJ w/o sitting down, and go straight to the faculty lunchroom to eat while reading the paper. 30 minutes later, I’m done w/both food and paper and feel like I’ve had some leisure.

    Something about getting to the end of skimming a paper feels more satisfying to me than the endless, compulsive clicking of internet surfing.

    If I don’t have the WSJ with me, I make a point of printing out a ‘longreads’ article that looks interesting and read that during lunch.

  4. lynneguist says:

    I use Scrivener for collecting notes/links/documents/etc. for each project. I can then start writing the project in Scrivener before exporting it to MS-Word for final formatting and sharing. The only thing I don’t like about Scrivener is that it doesn’t work well with Dropbox, so I have to do other kinds of back-up.

  5. Primada says:

    Great blog Laura. About reading rituals – I want to thank you for turning me on to the Pomodoro method. I use my pomodoro timer (either the old fashion tomato timer or the 30/30 app) to get in at least one pomodoro of reading a day. If reading is one of my principal joys in life it deserves at least one pomodoro.

    • Laura says:

      @Primada – anything that is a principal joy in life deserves at least one pomodoro! Those are good words to live by.

  6. Patrick Henderson says:

    What a challenge and stimulated by the “shares”. I collect magazine and paper cuttings into a Keeper Folder, I have a page on my Evernote – to tap in future ideas and then if relevant scan in the paper copies. Adding photos off my I Phone.

    I scan through them once a month and pull out development tasks if I feel there is milege in the idea or send it to a friend. If not I bin,
    To me the key thing is having recorded them – initially I used paper lists, it seems to sit in my subconscious memory and I then find myself thinking them through on walks etc

    The key thing is we record them and follow up

  7. Roo says:

    I definitely need to be better at reaching out to clients. I’m in the creative field, so I think it’s expected that I operate with less formality. If we’ve exchange numbers, I’m okay with shooting a text if we’ve worked together long enough/comfortably enough where that doesn’t make me look like a creepy person.

    Often, we’ll end up following each other on social media, and I keep active on my channels, so I feel like it’s a way to stay connected without necessarily picking up the phone (figuratively, I’m always picking up my phone) and investing in a phone call.

    I feel like I’m invested in most of those relationships, though, so shooting over an article or something interesting doesn’t feel like a business tactic, but genuine relationship building, if that makes sense.

    • Laura says:

      @Roo – I’m increasingly thinking that social media is tailor made for keeping in touch in a low-stress way. Tweeting someone a link is so low key. And yet is still a way of making contact.

  8. ARC says:

    I love OneNote for ideas and lists – similar to EverNote but I’m biased since it’s a Microsoft product. :)

    I also use Pinterest for ideas and make separate boards for different things so I can separate “that’s cool” from “marketing stuff I want to figure out” from “scrapbooking page ideas”. I don’t follow other people and don’t care if they follow me – it’s just my own personal bookmarking space.

    Keeping in touch – I send holiday cards with a personal message, and make sure I try to reach out for lunch or coffee if I happen to be traveling to where a mentor/colleague is. I do try for the occasional lunch date for local folks as well.

  9. sara says:

    I use project-specific idea files, which are esp. important for me in the early stages of different projects. Each project file is just a single Word document. I include everything from free writing to random references. As projects develop, my system of organization has to become more complex, but I find the single document very helpful as I’m starting something new.

  10. Marietta says:

    Reading rituals: I am always reading a few books at a time, so that I can read serious material when I’m in the mood, or easy content when I don’t feel like thinking. I try to read the news daily to be more aware of what’s going on in the world, focusing on major news or interesting articles, like one today about a supermoon. When I’m not watching TV while eating, I will be reading. That’s the kind of multitasking I consider reasonable.
    Keeping in touch: There are quite a few celebrations throughout the year. You don’t have to contact each of the people you know ‘Happy New Year’, you can just tweet once to all your followers, which may include the people you want to keep in touch with. If you find a good quote or phrase, that would be comfortable to share with others.

  11. Fionnuala says:

    Reading habits
    I read constantly, a lot of it in work for work purposes. However, I also read a lot for fun, easily five books per month (but there is a bit of blurring between ‘fun’ reading and ‘work’ reading, as like Laura I really like my work). I should say that I don’t have kids, which naturally helps! Somehow this seems to get mopped up between a half-hour commute each way every day (which I use exclusively to read, no daydreaming) and the odd half-hour or hour here and there, at the odd wet lunch break, or in the evening before I make dinner, or at the weekend. I can read books sequentially but prefer not to; somehow it occupies more mental bandwidth. The exception to this is audiobooks, of which I’m a big fan; I can easily add one or two books to my monthly total simply by listening in short bursts while doing the dishes, on my walk around the supermarket, etc. If it’s a good audiobook, it has the extra benefit of making me find reasons to go for a walk or do more household chores, to get a chance to listen to it.

    Organising projects
    I’m a big fan of Pinterest for personal projects. I’ve found it invaluable when I’m adjudicating on an upcoming purchase – I can keep a very visual record but also, in the description, add whatever pertinent informational details (price, shop, etc.) for at-a-glance comparisons. I’ve done this for my latest set of prescription glasses, for various house/DIY projects, etc.

    I am still mourning Google Reader for my blog reading. Feedly has been a decent substitute, but it’s not the same.

    I’m trying to get into Evernote, having heard it lauded to the skies. I’m slowly finding it useful, but I suspect a) that it is a very powerful beast with a million and one features, and I’m not even scraping the surface of it and b) that my information is getting harvested from it. But then … that’s the internet.

    • Laura says:

      @Fionnauala – I am on Pinterest, and can totally see the appeal, though I’m not much of a DIY or visual person. So I wind up spending less time there than I might. But someone mentioned to me the other day that they actually clipped and saved kid-activity type stuff there, not just arts and crafts, which is something I hadn’t even thought about.