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Short version - if short on reading time (!), just answer this:

My question is about ways to (a) prioritize, and (b) manage time at work to catch up on reading material and documentation that is or may soon be directly related to the work that one does.

When and how to do this effectively? During work time? At lunch? Or off-the-clock entirely? As occasional overtime? Is there a rule-of-thumb on the proportion of the working hours that may be spent 'catching up' on relevant reading?

Long version:

For instance, sometimes a manager emails the team with a link to a document (e.g. a policy brief or part of legislation) and suggests to read it/become familiar with it. However, it is not explicitly stated when the members of the team should do the reading and how much time such activity can take as a proportion of a work day/week.

As another example, we have been instructed earlier to sign up for several listservs for discussion by personnel in our organization and partner sites around the region. There is quite a bit of activity on these lists.

The specific work of any individual on the team usually revolves around smaller-scope tasks requiring very specific details, which may be gleaned from the materials we are sent by the management, or a combination of various more and less technical documentation on the intranet or on the public websites the organization uses to disseminate final drafts of policy and technical resources.

In brief, there is a LOT of available material for perusal. Careful study of even a fraction of the content that is potentially related to our work (or may be relevant in near future) would require a systematic commitment of significant time (at least 5-10 hours per week, but easily more). What to do.

I have often wondered if there are any best practices out there on how to manage work time to be able to catch up on the relevant reading and thus expand one's 'big picture' / contextual understanding of how concepts, practices, and structural elements of the organization connect, but doing so in a way that does not sacrifice productivity with regard to the immediate tasks at hand, where such broad familiarly may not directly contribute to completion of task X, Y, or Z.

This issue may be especially salient for someone who is a relatively new employee, and sees reading time as investment in gaining better understanding of the intricacies of the policy and technical 'space' of the workplace. The issue is how to effectively fit that in with all the other "output-producing" tasks one is assigned on a day-to-day basis.

Perhaps this is part of the problem - reading is often only indirectly related to the quality or quantity of one's immediate work output. But is often useful in order to gain expertise and increase productivity gradually over time, become more knowledgeable and effective in general. How to reconcile the press for short-term productivity with the press for long-term knowledge building in a broader sense?

Or is there a dynamic pattern, where the proportion of time one spends reading "around" the subject might ebb and flow as one's tenure at the organization increases, as one's experience with wider variety of projects increases and the scope of responsibilities expands?

Any suggestions from those who believe they are able to effectively navigate this issue?

Note: This question is related but not identical to Is it okay to work on personal projects in my spare time at work?.

  • Is this the most useful thing you could be doing? If not, stop and go do that. Your own time does not exist to perform work tasks too worthless to do at work. – Nathan Cooper Apr 22 '15 at 23:39
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That's really a matter of what your department's priorities and schedule are, what your own priorities are, how you work best... I tend go either take a solid block of time (after making sure I can meet my other obligations) , or try to work it into periods when I'm waiting for a build or test to complete or for other input from elsewhere... but sometimes doing some reading/practicing on your own time makes sense, and sometimes you have to tell your boss that you need help setting priorities because you really don't think you can do this plus everything else you've been assigned without missing a target date.

In other words, you manage it exactly as you would any other part of your job.

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