We've all been there; reading through those dense, technical how-to books (that cost a fortune, by the way) self-teaching our way through Excel, web design, wireless networking, setting up a business on eBay, etc.

They're not exactly the latest James Patterson novel, now are they? However if you go into any Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore; you'll notice a huge chunk of floor space is taken up by technology titles.

So for those small to midsize business owners who can't afford to send themselves or staff to proper training conferences, learning to digest the occassional technology manual is a necessary part of business.

Here are some tips to make it as painless and as effective, as possible.

1. Compare publishers and the formats of the books. Which one is easiest to read, with the most step-by-step tips? There are countless books on wireless networking. You don't have to buy the first one you see and live with it.
2. Don't just read through the book. Work through the book. Even if it's not laid out like a workbook; stop and actually work with the application or hardware in question in chunks as you are reading up on them.
3. If more than one person in the office is also boning up on the same technology, band together and form a reading group. Two heads are better than one and it's a good way to discipline each other to keep studying.
4. See a book that looks great according to the outside covers, but it's in shrink wrap? Tech publishers are notorious for doing this. It's very frustrating. Try looking up the same title on Amazon and looking through their sample pages scanned into their site. Don't buy a book before checking out the inside.
5. Assessing the book: look at the table of contents and make sure it's covering the topics important to you. Flip through the book and look at how information is laid out. Is it readable? Are their step-by-step examples of specific tasks? Is it current with the version of technology your company is using?
6. Some technology manuals come with a CD-ROM that offer tutorials. It's a great complimentary tool, if you use it!
7. Other complimentary tools: Working your way through a tech manual is just the first step. Practice, practice, practice with the technology in question. Take notes, for quick reference. Write up questions, as you read. You can go to your IT person or IT message boards for answers.
8. Share what you've learned. Write up the most salient points and pass them onto your co-workers. Show them new tips and tricks that you've learned.

File this under "things to do during the summer slow down".... stay tuned for more on that.