Astrology is ambient. Like the latin meaning of the word: it is all around.
I approach astrology by working with it every day. And I am deeply interested in its origins. Due to many recent translations of ancient texts, we have available to us for the first time a huge number of teachings coming right from the source of our tradition. I believe interpreting and applying this knowledge in a responsible, meaningful, and skillful way is our task at hand.
At the moment, I am immersed in a deep study of BaZi—Chinese metaphysics, a.k.a. Four Pillars Feng Shui Astrology. In the future this will serve to enhance my work as an astrologer complementing techniques and approaches outlined below.
Some technical specifics:
I use the sacred seven (visible) planets as zodiac sign rulers, and do not subscribe to the very recent idea of modern rulerships―that the (invisible to us) outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto rule the signs Aquarius, Pisces, and Scorpio. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn have been doing just fine as the domicile lords (rulers) of Scorpio, Pisces, and Aquarius for at least two thousand years. Most notably there is an elegant symmetry to the original sequence of rulership which is totally lost when you hand over domain to these trans-Saturnian planets. Sacrificed too is the original meaning underlying the aspects. While there may be some associative similarities between the outer planets and their proposed sign relationship, I think it is actually a disservice trying to limit these transpersonal bodies. To encapsulate and trap their meaning in a single zodiac sign feels forced, trivial, linear, mechanistic. See: A Conversation With Robert Hand - The Modern Astrologer With a Medieval Heritage.
I think you can and ought to read a chart with just the seven traditional (visible) planets, at least some of the time. Many modern western astrologers get hung up on outer planets, imo, too early on. You can always derive a tremendous amount of information from just the visible planets (the wanderers) ― especially via accidental and essential dignity, house rulership, aspects, and so on. After establishing the structure and story with these essential points, moving on to the outer bodies (including asteroids, etc.) makes sense as they can offer quite specific additional information.
I tend to use the Whole Sign House System for topical purposes, but take special note when planets are "advancing" or "retreating" around the actual angles. (Technically this means I use both Whole Sign and Quadrant houses.) Whether a planet is rising, setting, culminating, or anti-culminating is a physical/visual reality, which determines a planet's terrestrial strength, and should not be overlooked. In some cases I use the Porphyry house system, which 2nd century astrologer Vettius Valens mentions using for specific techniques in his Anthology. And at the moment I'm experimenting with house cusps as sensitive points in several Quadrant systems, like Alcabitius, Regiomontanus, Placidus, and Meridian.
I use midpoints, the 360 and 90 degree dials, planetary pictures, and some other Symmetrical (aka Uranian or Cosmobiological) tools and methods. This is atop a traditional Hellenistic, Persian, Early Medieval, Indian (Jyotish), and modern psychological perspective.
Note: the Lots (commonly called the Arabic Parts, i.e. the Part of Fortune) are one major unifying component between systems and astrologies throughout time. The Lots are older than Hellenistic astrology, probably Babylonian or Egyptian in origin, and utilizing them was of chief importance to all Hellenistic and early Medieval astrologers. Modern astrologers too, due in large part to the lunation cycle work of Dane Rudhyar, employ the Lot of Fortune and sometimes the Lot of Spirit. The Lot of Fortune itself even offers us an alternate Ascendant! Lots are planetary pictures―an important feature of Symmetrical astrology, and are expressions of planetary phase relationships. These sensitive symmetrical points, potent and mysterious, marry astrological thought through the ages and, for me, feel timeless.
I work with essential dignity, especially as it pertains to planetary interchanges through configurations (aspects) and reception. I utilize and note triplicity, trigon lords, Egyptian bounds, as well as antiscia, declination, parans, planets in phasis -heliacal risings and settings (planets and fixed stars), planetary stations, and divisional charts like twelfth-parts (dodecatemoria). I also contemplate the actual constellations and fixed stars to some extent.
I sometimes work with asteroids, and the Transneptunians (TNPs): Cupido, Hades, Zeus, Kronos and company. They are not at all imperative, in my view, but they add embellishment and nuance, and very particularly, sometimes eerily, describe character and situations.
The outer planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) are a lot like asteroids from my viewpoint.
Finally, I find the twelve letter astrological alphabet (Aries = Mars = First House, etc.) to be far too simplistic and often misleading. For a deeper understanding of the signs, houses, aspects, and planetary meanings associated with them, I think it is best to begin your study with the Thema Mundi (hypothetical chart of the world/teaching tool). *One may also consider the symmetry in the sign-based decanates of the zodiac. This is not often discussed, yet it reinforces the potency and significance via the geometric symmetry of the seven traditional planets as rulers.
The Houses: Temples of the Sky by Deborah Houlding (also see articles on Skyscript)
Introductions to Traditional Astrology and Traditional Astrology for Today: An Introduction by Benjamin Dykes, PhD
The Planetary Joys and the Origins of the Significations of the Houses by Chris Brennan
Astrology and the Authentic Self by Demetra George
Articles @ Seven Stars Astrology
Preferred Timing techniques:
Zodiacal Releasing (as outlined by Vettius Valens, 2nd c.e.)
Dasas and Bhuktis (from the Indian system)
Annual and monthly profections
Solar arc directions
Valens' Quarters of the Moon
Minor planetary periods