As an adult living and working in the 21st century, you’re bombarded with a constant crush of escalating demands.
Your boss wants you to do more at work, your spouse wants you to do more at home, and your kids need you to give more of yourself.
More, more, more!
Most of us feel an obligation to heed this call for excess and find ourselves buried at the bottom of an endless to-do list that grows taller every day.
It’s clear that we need to reduce our commitments — not likely — or become more productive.
The problem is, even the best task-tracking tools and organization techniques won’t help much if you don’t also work on your mindset. Without an internal change to the way you approach problems, a rut is inevitable.
Fortunately, inspiration for innovation is all around, and one of the best sources is also one of the most accessible: fiction.
It may sound unreasonable to suggest adding more to your schedule — reading novels and short stories — could improve your productivity, but you’re missing a wonderful opportunity for improvement if literature is not part of your life.
Because, if you’re not reading fiction on a regular basis, chance are …
1. Your Ideas Are Stale
If every day unfolds just like the one before it, your imagination has slipped into hibernate mode. Sliding into that rut may be comfortable and keep your life’s machinery chugging along, but it will never allow you to improve.
Only by embracing new ideas can you discover more efficient methods for getting work done. Fiction of all kinds takes your mind into areas it would normally avoid and helps you make mental connections that carry over to the real world.
Walter Mitty won’t teach you how to finish your reports earlier, but he just might spawn the daydream that will lead to your next breakthrough.
2. You Lack Empathy
You can only do so much on your own, either at home or on the job, and recruiting others to help in your cause requires strong communication.
The most effective way to build a productive dialog is to truly understand the points of view of your co-workers or family members, and then to demonstrate that understanding in your conversations. This type of empathy will break down barriers to collaboration faster than any type of brute force, and it’s a skill you can cultivate by exposing yourself to a wide range of world views.
Every time you pick up a novel, you slip into some one else’s skin and gain an appreciation for his situation. And, even though you may never encounter a “real” character like Jay Gatsby or Boo Radley, reading their stories is great practice for developing empathy.
3. You Can’t Focus
With every email message that pops into your inbox and every “urgent” problem that your boss lays on your desk, your mental focus becomes a bit more frayed.
When you’re working on that big proposal for the Smith account, your mind wanders to the monthly report you have to get done by Friday, and there is always a list of system problems or customer complaints just waiting for you to address.
In short, you can’t concentrate.
Reading fiction is one of the best ways to begin building your ability to shut out other distractions and focus on one task for an extended period of time. To try this out, pick a long novel you’ve wanted to tackle for awhile and commit to finishing it this month. Giving yourself a deadline will force you to schedule reading time, and you will be amazed at how focused you are during those precious hours when you can retreat from your busy world.
4. Your Writing Is Weak
Written communication has always been key to success in business, and that has never been more true than now, when email is the lifeblood of so many companies. If you want to accomplish all you can, you must be able to express your ideas and needs in writing.
Beyond email messages, though, effective documentation of policies and guidelines to shepherd your organization is crucial if you expect everyone to operate a full capacity and toward common goals.
In order to become a better writer, you need to read great writing as often as possible. Only by finding examples of what we can become, and then working toward those ideals, are we able to improve in any area of life. Literature is our best repository of exemplary writing.
Reading fiction won’t turn you into a human dynamo on its own, but you severely limit your potential and productivity if you don’t devour novels and short stories on a regular basis.
If you’re ready to boost your effectiveness at home and at work, crack open a book — or an eBook — and start expanding your mind.
Adam Hughes is an author living in rural Indiana. You can find more of his writing, including his free look at parental influences in literature, “101 Life Hacks from Famous Literary Fathers,” at AdamHughesWriter.com.