All through my student life, I hated the thought of reading books because reading my coursework was all that I ever did. I used to wonder how people can waste their time reading novels and books that are hundreds of pages long. What fun can it be staring at a piece of paper? My mother, on the other hand, has always been an avid reader and I would very often see her with a book in hand. It was my cue and the perfect opportunity to trouble her by asking, again and again, mom what are you reading mom what are you reading till the time she started shouting at me and made me run away.
But after 10th class, I made some friends who at least got me interested in reading my school textbooks and it helped me perform better academically. So from not wanting to read anything, I went to read my coursework and books related to my coursework. When I reached college, I got exposure to scientific journals and started enjoying scientific reading because it was a good source for solutions to my practical problems on the work front. It helped me find formulation techniques, analytical testing methods and other things that were needed for my project work as well as little bit of help that I gave for my father’s company related to formulation and analysis.
So from proudly saying in class XIIth that the biggest book I’ve ever read is the illustrated version of The Wizard of Oz that to a hardbound copy of it I started saying that I don’t read books I just read my coursework and scientific journals.
When I started working in 2005 early on in this beginning of my career I met a very interesting person, a foreigner who was heading the India operations of a multinational corporation, and we were discussing possible synergies and possibilities of working together.
During this conversation which was kind of like me giving an interview, the gentleman asked me “so what books do you read” and I quickly answered “I don’t read any books, I used to read my coursework and now I only read technical literature and journals related to my work in the lab.
The gentleman stopped in his tracks, and he looked at me as if I had abused him. Staring at me, he said don’t ever say this to anybody, no one will want to work with you if they realize that you do not read, and you are reinventing the wheel to learn and do everything that you have to do in your professional life.
I quickly responded to him that who has the time to read books nowadays we are all so busy with work and I don’t think I can ever find time to read those thick books that people are carrying all around. To my rebuttal, he quickly pulled out his blackberry and introduced me to an app called audible. He told me that he is also very busy and often travelling all over the world but he makes the best of his spare time by listening to books which he is not able to find time to read.
Being the technophile that I am I was fascinated by the idea of audiobooks and the fact that there was actually a website where I could go and download audiobooks for all the leading authors across fiction, self-improvement and whatnot.
At the end of the meeting, the same gentleman requested me to put together a business plan and share it with him so that he could further present it to his team and take forward our collaboration.
I being a pharmacist had never written a business plan and was a bit lost on how I’m going to go about doing this. I decided to take my friends advice and went to audible and searched for books on how to write a business plan. To my surprise I managed to find a book with the exact same title. In fact, I found three or four of them. I quickly went through the reviews and decided on one of the books, signed up for the audible subscription and downloaded my first audiobook.
I was quite apprehensive about how it would be of any help to me to listen to a book and I did not believe I would be able to implement much. But to my surprise, the book was quite instructive and helped me put together a nice looking crisp business plan (my first business plan!).
As soon as I finish the business plan it struck me that maybe I could find similar solutions to other problems and practical challenges that I was facing every day trying to run a business for the very first time.
One of my biggest challenges at the time was in fact time management. I was struggling to manage my time properly and was feeling overwhelmed with the large number of tasks that I had. I was often forgetting what I had to do and was completely incapable of prioritising my tasks and getting them done.
A few days earlier in my search for a technology-based solution to managing my time I had found a task management system, an open source software which claims to be based on the famed getting things done framework developed by David Allen. In fact at the end of the page a download link was there to the book on Amazon.
I had seen the link clicked on it and gone through the reviews and all the praises the people had for the book but never dared to buy it because I thought I would never be able to read the book. I think it was about 400 pages long. But now I had found audiobooks! I quickly jumped to audible.com and searched for getting things done. To my relief there was an audiobook available and I quickly downloaded it and started listening to it.
I found the advice given by David Allen to be extremely practical and holistic. The best part was that he has actually made a step-by-step guided system for people to follow to better manage their time and prioritise their work. I think this was sometime around 2006, and I’ve followed his system to date (though not completely).
So with the book on how to write a business plan and getting things done I had got a taste of solving my problems by reading (listening to actually) books. Immediately I started searching for solutions to other challenges that I was facing like marketing, finance, sales, leadership and whatnot.
Pretty soon I was looking for books that had not been converted into audiobooks and I had to buy myself a Kindle to be able to access these books (and also because it is a wonderful gadget to have) and sooner than not I found books that were not even on Kindle and eventually I had to buy myself the thick 400 page paperback books that I so despised!
Now I feel in fact I’m proud to say that I have become a selfish reader and I read only things that can help me solve problems that I’m facing or learn about challenges that I’m facing in my life.
Over the years I have read a lot of books and tried to implement so many things that I learned, some worked and some did not but overall I feel that reading has reinforced a lot of good habits that I had learned over the years from my father and family members and my teachers and more importantly taught me so many new approaches to handle day-to-day work and challenges.
You can check out my reading list for some interesting books to get you started – My Reading List