Hear the word ‘blogs’, and your mind immediately shifts to those with pithy, shallow content.
Blog posts that seem stuffed with keywords.
Blogs designed to optimise your ‘conversion’.
That hit you with pop-ups telling you to key in your email for a free BONUS!
Gosh, we’ve had enough of those, haven’t we?
Before touching on what blogs to read, let’s chat about how not to read blogs.
Because you know that feeling – when you read a blog article, and you wonder,
What was that about?
Did I just waste 8 minutes of my life on that LOUSY article?!
Sometimes the question isn’t about whether you read… but how you read.
But I don’t have time to read!
Right, you’re a social worker.
Of course you don’t have time to read.
You would be sick of reading at the end of each day.
Why read more?
How do you even read more?
Here’s a question.
You read those Instagram captions? Or those Facebook posts? Or those long ‘forward-me!’ messages on WhatsApp?
Yup, you’re a reader.
You might just be reading things in the wrong way.
How NOT to read online articles
This is tongue-in-cheek, and you may laugh… but here goes.
- Scroll through articles whilst sitting on your toilet bowl (oh come on, we’ve all done that, just don’t drop your phone in)
- Scroll quickly through online article, reading the introduction, headers, and ending.
- Look for the nice graphics, and witty captions, in the article
- Switch between online article, WhatsApp, and Instagram notifications that come in
- Go down the rabbit hole of reading ‘suggested/recommended articles for you’, filled with sensational stories
Mind you, I’m guilty of all this.
That’s why I wrote this. Because online articles can be a treasure trove of insight for social workers, if we harness it well.
If you look in the right places.
Why it’s so hard to read online
It’s the illusion of doing something productive.
Ever got to the end of the article, and thought,
Um… what did the article say?
You might be tempted to go the News app to feel that you’re doing something productive.
It’s an illusion, isn’t it?
When was the last time you applied something from what you read online?
If what you’re reading doesn’t give you fresh insight, isn’t applicable, then why read?
Maybe it’s to make up for the time you spent scrolling through social media.
Don’t read to bluff yourself.
Read to gather insight, apply something for your life, and grow.
It’s very distracting
Remember the days of the paperback book?
Yup, the one you use to look smart.
You know, the one where the title is big and bold at the front.
You take it up the train, so that everyone can see how sophisticated you are.
Yup, I’ve done that.
Took the Sapiens book by Harari up the train, and barely even took a word in.
The point is, in a paperback book, there are no distractions.
Just paper and ink.
No flashing ads, no pop-ups, nothing.
Online is different.
It’s optimised to disengage.
How does online content make money to pay their staff?
By getting you to click on their ads.
You can keep ignoring them. But even actively ignoring them does take up headspace and attention.
You end up distracted and paying less attention to the article.
DING! Bzzzzz…. PONG!
How do you focus if everything around you is trying to get your attention?
Here’s a question:
Are you the master of the phone, or is the phone your master?
It’s called a smartphone for a reason.
Before you go ‘duh!’, here’s a story.
In 2016, I moved to Nottingham.
It was the first week of the autumn semester. It was cool outside, and students were having picnics on the lawn.
Outside my room, I could hear people laughing, sharing jokes, and having fun.
This was what university was about, right?
Nope, not for me.
Where was I?
In my room, on my phone, sending WhatsApp messages to my friends in Singapore.
Going down the contact list, and trying to contact everyone.
Before long, it was dark, and the lawn quietened down.
I got up from my bed, looked up from my phone… and thought:
Was this why I traveled 10,000 miles? To be friends with my phone?
My phone had become a master.
And I was not going to allow that to happen.
Today, ask yourself, who’s the real master?
Why should you still read online?
Writers are forced to convey more in less.
Due to the short(er) attention spans of readers online, writers have to hook readers faster, cut to the chase quicker, and punch you left, right and centre with their point.
There’s no time to waste.
Literally! Every second you spend (and don’t spend reading) is measured.
You get more in less.
Writers sell insight, not information.
When you are competing with a mammoth, sentient being called Google, you better up your game.
Offering information that Google can throw up is no longer valuable.
It’s the insight that matters.
No longer are writers giving you information, but they are giving you insights about that information.
Insights that transform how you see things.
How to read better online
Understand your reading style
I’m still old-fashioned.
For me, there’s a surreal feeling of having a fresh book in your hands. Feel the cover, run your hands down its spine, smell the freshly inked pages…
I hate online readings.
But it’s a reality we have to face, isn’t it?
- Do you prefer online, or offline readings?
- When was the last time you applied something from what you read? Why did that happen?
Earlier, I mentioned how you might read to bluff yourself that you’re doing something ‘productive’.
But actually, you’re just waiting for the next WhatsApp to come in so that you can reply.
So your mind is physically reading, but not present. Not giving its undivided attention.
Remember how school had a ‘reading period’?
Oops, I’m betraying my age here.
But the time in the morning where you were given some newspapers, magazines, and told to read?
I might have used it to finish my homework. But I hope you took something away from those times.
Like reading periods, schedule time to read.
Scheduling time is about being intentional.
Whenever it is, make it regular, and put it in your diary.
Put in your Pocket
Pocket is a brilliant desktop and phone app that stores articles you find interesting, for your next reading period.
When you chance upon something interesting, store it away like a squirrel.
Don’t try to carve time away from your casework, to focus on something different.
Read it when you have time.
With that, here are my favourite blogs.
I’ve classified them into the following categories for social workers interested in different aspects of work.
- Organisation development
- Singapore perspectives
Okay, I’m not married.
And I’ve read Lori’s books – ‘Maybe you should talk to someone’, and ‘Marry him – The case for settling for Mr Right’.
If you were ever stuck in your own relationships, or in the relationships between couples, Lori is the one to go to.
Her blog offers witty advice on how one can build better relationships between couples, between yourself and your client, and between you and yourself.
Ever encountered clients who want you to tell them what to do?
They often go:
What should I do?
What can I do?
How do I…
What would you do if you were in my shoes?
Well, therapists try not to tell people what to do.
Cue Guy Winch.
He gives practical exercises, to practical problems, you and your clients might face.
Like self-esteem. Or grief. Or a poor sense of identity.
Some of the exercises he’s given are incredibly helpful to giving someone practical handles to resolve their pain.
For example, someone might face poor self-esteem.
In his book ‘Emotional First Aid’, Guy Winch shares about how he encourages clients to write a letter celebrating themselves.
Their qualities and how they have shown it in the past.
I love you because you are so compassionate. Despite not having to, you volunteer weekly with those with special needs.
At the end of the day, there is a limit to how much one can go in exploring one’s emotions.
Sometimes, practical actions will help one to get out of the rut.
Greater Good offers evidence based practices to wellbeing.
From compassion, to empathy, to mindfulness, Greater Good offers resources like videos, podcasts, and even a happiness calendar to follow!
Recommended to me by Brené Brown in her book, Rising Strong, Greater Good offers useful practices you can suggest to your clients during your next session.
Or you can even use it yourself.
Running a great business, and running a great social service agency, isn’t all that different.
Yes, you might say one is aimed at maximising profit, whilst the other is non-profit.
Wherever you are in the organisation, at the apex, or at the bottom, you shape the organisation.
You shape the culture.
You shape its development.
The question then, is how will you do that?
Jim Collins offers a series of primers into his frameworks for how organisations become excellent.
How great businesses fall.
It’s instructive for the social services, wherever you are in your development.
Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.Jim Collins, business philosopher
We all need a little pick-me-up sometimes.
Brené Brown is a licensed social worker, who does research into vulnerability and shame.
In her blog, she shares about how to overcome difficult issues like perfectionism, shame, and vulnerability.
In the resource hub, you will also see beautifully designed quotes that remind you about why you do what you do.
Office of the Director General of Social Welfare (Ministry of Social and Family Development, Singapore)
Kudos to MSF for persistently sharing insights for social workers to use over the past few years.
Their resources, in the form of beautiful infographics and letters, offer practical steps you can take to improve your social work.
As always, the focus is not on reading, but on applying.
If you want a thought leader in issues related to the elderly, end-of-life care, childcare, and water, this is it.
Lien’s work pushes the boundaries and encourages you to see what is possible, rather than what is.
They focus on advocacy through thought leadership, sponsoring research into fields such as elderly care, and reimagining childcare for those with special needs.
They also sponsor projects, such as Kindle Garden, a mixed pre-school for those with and without special needs.
Reimagine social impact.
If you’re keen to read into Singapore’s research, read the Research Nexus.
It’s an online repository of research made by Singaporean academics at the faculty of arts and social sciences in NUS.
Whilst much of the research articles are hidden behind a paywall, the news there offers an insight into interesting fields that are being explored.
One of those is that of the experiences of Singaporean children subjected to divorce procedures.
How do they feel?
How do they move on?
A note though, my experience has been that the research comes out once every few months. You might want to go that once every month, rather than once every day.
If you’re prepared to face unfettered, harsh realities, read Teo You Yenn.
Her book ‘This is What Inequality Looks Like’, offers a sincere and honest look at the state of inequality in Singapore.
Some critics have said that she offers too much criticism, and not enough solutions.
We collectively create the solutions, by first looking at the problem.
Daring to look at the problem.
Here, Teo You Yenn, shares work about her research into inequality, gender, and poverty in her blog here.
Academia.sg aims to bring Singapore scholarship to a wider audience.
If you studied in university, you know what I mean.
The ivory tower of researchers, dissociated from the masses, can be rather disengaging.
You read their work, and you wonder,
How is this supposed to help me, as a social worker? As a practitioner?
Well, academia.sg offers a way for you to engage with the research being produced, ask questions, and apply it.
I must admit.
Kwan Jin Yao, the founder of socialservice.sg, was my idol when we were schooling together.
We were from different batches. But you already heard of the things he was writing and saying.
Socialservice.sg is focused on last mile research translation.
In simple terms,
How research can be applied in social services.
Jin Yao offers his perspectives on how research can be used to inform and intervene in practice.
Great if you’re bored of traditional, academic research articles and hope to get bite-sized, digestible articles.
At the end of the day, reading can only bring you that far.
It’s the application that matters.
You can scroll through this entire list, see something you like, mix and match…
But use it.
Don’t just read it, let it come into your brain, and let it flow out again.
Use it to inform and intervene in your work.