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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

How That Stack of Old Magazines Can Boost Your Career

I’ve always been a magazine lover.

From the time I could read chapter books, I’ve subscribed to a handful of magazines at any given time—from Highlights and CRICKET in middle school to, these days, Fast Company, Wired, The New Yorker, Real Simple, and InStyle. I read them like books, cover to cover, using the loose subscription card as a bookmark.

Naturally, at any given time there’s a teetering pile of dog-eared magazines on my coffee table, read-through and ditched. But I’ve discovered over the years that old magazines can actually have a useful afterlife, if you think inventively.

Here are four suggestions for creative and useful ways to reuse that stack of magazines you've read but just can’t seem to get rid of.

1. Start a Magazine Trade With a Co-worker

I’m always looking for fun ways to connect with co-workers I don’t work closely with on a daily basis. Something I’ve done at my past three jobs is set up an informal magazine swap with a colleague who gets different subscriptions than I do. It’s a great way to initiate a relationship with someone you don't really know yet, it’s good for the environment (“recycling” can be more than filing your paper products in a blue container), and it’s a cost-effective way to read even more magazines. Thanks to my current setup, I get to read People StyleWatch, New York, and Entertainment Weekly gratis.

2. Get Ideas for Blog Posts

Sometimes I find it really interesting to look back at a months-old issue of a magazine and browse through the article headlines to stimulate ideas for blog posts. Once the topics are no longer timely, they serve simply as brainstorm-boosters. For example, if an old article discussed the top 10 startup companies to watch in the following year, reading the piece halfway through that year might prompt a post about how your industry’s top startups have fared compared to their anticipated prospects. Or, if you see a feature on a street artist’s work from the previous year, it might inspire you to take your camera outside and seek out intriguing wheatpaste, graffiti, or installations for a photo essay. If you write a blog either at work or on your own, it might be useful to file magazines you’ve read into a small library that you can turn to when you feel creatively tapped out.

3. Create a Career Inspiration Board

Working with visuals can be incredibly helpful for getting in touch with your emotions and crystallizing your goals. So turn your magazines into real life Pinterest boards: Grab a pair of scissors and go through your stack of magazines cutting out any words, phrases, or images that inspire you, motivate you, or make you feel happy or content. When you’re finished, pin or paste the cutouts on a bulletin board or poster as a bright, visual catalogue of where to steer your career path.

4. Use Them for a Writing Exercise

Even if you’re not a writer, doing writing exercises every now and then is great—they get your brain juices flowing and help prime you for original thinking on any project. Here’s one I love: Flip through your discarded magazines to cut out objects, scenes, or figures that intrigue you, and file them into these three separate categories—people, places, and things. Store them in three envelopes, then when you have a spare 15 minutes, grab one cutout from each envelope and use the combination of a person, setting, and item as a writing prompt to spark your creativity.

What have you used your old magazines for?

Photo of magazines courtesy of Shutterstock.