* This article is originally published on Democrat & Chronicle, a USA Today network.
I love reading books. I always ask people what business books they would recommend. And I used to brag about how many books I’ve read. Probably after hearing my “I’ve read so many books” speech for the millionth time, a friend responded, “Good for you. What did you do then?”
I have to admit it was an embarrassing moment for me. Because I realized what he actually meant was “You spend so much time consuming information, but how much of this knowledge have you applied?”
When I glanced over the books filling my bookshelf again, I couldn’t stop thinking “What exactly did I do? How much of the information have I applied?”
That’s when I decided it’s time for me to stop reading books (for now).
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” -Mike Tyson
I should have known better!
At a speech I gave earlier this year, I started the conversation with brutal honesty: “You see, many people go to seminars, workshops, bootcamps and jot down 30 pages of notes so they feel great ‘knowing’ all this new information. But then they go home, and what happens? Nothing. They go to the next one after the next one after next one.... ”
We could learn every business tool known to mankind and analyze tactic after tactic— but nothing will happen unless we do something.
I just didn’t realize how this could be applied to reading books.
It’s easy to sit back and read business books, spending a few hours reading what took 10 or 20 years of education, experimentation and life experiences to learn. We feel like we are learning.
But until you start doing, it’s pointless.
I like asking people to take action in my blog posts. The action can be as simple as signing up for my newsletter.
In the last couple months, I’ve showed people how to deal with email overload, how to waive bank fees ...It seemed like many people were inspired, but how many have acted to make a change?
It makes me want to bang my head against the wall when a software developer talked about how he wished to earn $200K/year, but when I asked what he planned to do to make that happen, he told me how he’d “been busy” and “didn’t have time to do anything.”
The Uncomfortable Truths
Earlier this year, during a conversation with Sitima Fowler, CEO of Capstone IT, I mentioned that I had a few project ideas and asked her to share her honest feedback.
She said, “It’s great to have ideas or set goals but what have you done? And what are you really going to do?”
I bet most people don’t like hearing this question because it cuts right through all the fancy ideas that are so fun to write down and forces you to confront yourself.
Indeed, when I thought about what I had done, I had no answer.
All of us have been there.
We can brainstorm as many good ideas as we want for years but it doesn’t lead to anything until we stop and act.
Of course, I still have more ideas planned than started.
Alas, I finally got out of my chair and did something. A few days ago, William Rose, Chairman and CEO of Datrose wrote back to me:
Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that we don’t need information.
We do, because it allows us to prepare and learn. But obtaining information alone will never lead to the result you are looking to achieve.
Why Even Smart People Are Sucked Into Endless Information Consuming
If consuming more information alone doesn’t lead to results, why do we do it?
No doubt that sometimes we actually need to learn more.
But more often than not, we do it because consuming information allows us to feel like we’re making progress without the risk of failure.
According to Timothy Pychyl, a professor at Carleton University, we avoid taking actions when feeling fear or dread, or have anxiety about, the important task awaiting us.
In other words, we don’t take actions because we want to avoid criticism, or failures that may result from those actions.
How to Start Taking Action?
I like reading, and I tend to read for hours without doing anything. So here are a few things I have applied personally to help me balance the information/action ratio.
Step 1. Plan ahead what you want to accomplish when you consume information.
I can’t count how many times I read books just to stack more knowledge, how to improve social skills, how to start and grow a business, what to do when the zombies come, etc.
Not all of them are relevant to the results I want to get in the next 6 months. So now I select books based on my personal goals and that instantly eliminated most of the “interesting, but irrelevant” information.
Step 2. Set a time limit before you start reading.
Time tends to get lost when you really enjoy a book. So I set a time limit for reading before I get started. That forces me to stop consuming and think about the “one thing” I can do today.
Step 3. Pick “one thing” you can do today.
Normally, there will be at least one takeaway from a book, I like to pick the one thing that’s easiest to act one and can get the quickest results. As soon as you see a quick result, it’s easier to act again.
My challenge for you this week is simple: take action on one thing.
If you’ve struggled with social skills, follow this guide today.
If you’ve been wanted to do more exercise, take a 20-minute walk today instead of searching more tactics on the Internet.
If you’ve planned to reach out to someone, pick up the phone and make the call today instead of planning to do it “someday”.
If you want to take action together, sign up for my newsletter and I will see you there.