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I jumpstarted my productivity in 15 minutes – and you can, too!

ReadingIt was early January 2014. The Kansan plains were covered in a crunchy layer of frozen grass, the overcast sky giving little indication that the ice would soon melt. Staff at Swindoll, Janzen, Hawk & Lloyd – a small accounting firm – were eager to step in from the cold to start their day. But this day would start differently than others. No one opened their laptop. No one phoned clients. No one crunched numbers. Instead, everyone, from partner to administrative assistant, had their heads down in a nonfiction book of their choice. They read uninterrupted, untethered from technology, for 15 minutes. You see, this firm had taken the first step in a journey that would evolve from an experiment into a successful on-the-clock reading program. And that reading program would evolve them too. 

Admittedly, The First 15 reading program took some time to get off the ground because, although everyone agreed to the merits of reading, no one had time for it. That’s when Chet Buchman, managing partner and eventual architect of the reading program, suggested paying for people to read on the clock. “You can’t control what people have going on at home…but you do have the ability to influence what happens when they’re on the clock.” 

Only 10% of the firm read on a consistent basis at the program’s launch. In the last year, however, staff members read over 439 books, adding up to just over 76,000 pages. They read only nonfiction books with real life, real world application. It’s an exercise that Buchman and his partners state has contributed to a marked increase in productivity, revenue and morale.

I was skeptical when I heard these claims. Don’t get me wrong: like many of you, I watched Reading Rainbow as a child. I get that books are cool – that they serve a real purpose. I was just having trouble connecting increased revenue and productivity to the act of reading. If anything, I thought it would cut into a firm’s bottom line. So, I decided to test this out myself. For two months, I etched out fifteen minutes from my busy schedule to read self-help books, inspirational autobiographies and collected essays on anything from technology to an insanely poetic 17th century rumination on something as seemingly banal as urn burials.

Here’s what happened.

Increased focus

The first three or four days were rough going. Cutting my technology cord brought me significant anxiety. I’m sure you know the type: feverishly responding to texts and emails, unable to ignore news flash notifications, always searching for the next best meme. That was me, and maybe it’s you, too. But it doesn’t have to be. Like me, your fledgling days in The First 15 may cause cold sweats and unexplainable heart palpitations. But, also like me, you’ll get through it, even if you need your colleagues to steal your phone while you read. And, in less than a week, you’ll find, as I found, an exponential increase in focus. My mind stopped racing hither and thither. I didn’t bounce back and forth between the task at hand and emails, checking stocks and stalking my favorite celebrity chefs’ Instagram stories.

Confidence in communicating

The more I read, the better I became at communicating. Simply by devoting more time to the consumption of ideas, I felt less apprehensive using language to express my own – both in writing and in speaking. Previously, I’d kept quiet in meetings. I feared I’d forget my words – that I’d fumble my way aimlessly through sentences, unable to properly string words together in a meaningful way. Now, by reading the stories of others, I’ve become a storyteller myself. Moreover, I’m able to pull anecdotes and facts from the books I’ve read to support my own ideas.

Improved memory

Do you remember that movie Still Alice, starring Julianne Moore? It’s about a woman with early onset Alzheimer’s. After watching it, I was sure I suffered the same affliction. Of course, it couldn’t be that – with a smartphone doing all my remembering for me – I’d allowed my memory muscle to atrophy! But, as it turns out, that’s exactly what had happened. Reading, especially if it’s relegated to just 15 minutes a day, forces the brain to pick up where it left off the day before. It’s forced to up its memory game. I found this tremendously beneficial. As mentioned, I grew more confident speaking, no longer fearing I’d forget simple words. Plus, I went from a networking zero to a networking hero, with a new knack for remembering people I met – and some facts about them.

A new, improved addiction

Ultimately, 15 minutes a day wasn’t enough. I didn’t want to wait a day to finish a thought, an idea, a book. I wanted to keep reading and filled any rare moment of downtime by reading a few more pages. And I got faster at reading, too, which meant I consumed more ideas, more anecdotes, more data. I went to bed at night with a book in my hand instead of an iPhone, and I’ve truly become a better person – and employee – because of it. I’m doing more work, better work, and I’m bringing innovative, cost-cutting ideas to the table. The AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) has adopted The First 15 reading program, making email templates and other program tools available to PCPS members. The program truly improved my performance and can do the same for you.

Brock Faucette, Manager, Corporate Communications, Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

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