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 plethora of teachings coming right from the source of our tradition. I believe applying this knowledge in the present time in a meaningful, responsible, and skillful way is our task at hand. Recommended: The Need for Traditional Astrology by Olivia Barclay.
I do not subscribe to the idea of modern rulerships: that the outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto rule the signs Aquarius, Pisces, and Scorpio. While there may be some associative similarities, these planets do not rule these signs. Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars have been doing just fine as the domicile lords (or rulers) of Aquarius, Pisces, and Scorpio for at least two thousand years. And there is an elegant symmetry to the original sequence of rulership which is totally lost when you hand over domain to the outer planets; sacrificed too is the original meaning underlying the aspects. Also, why limit an outer transpersonal body? There is no need to encapsulate and trap its meaning in a single zodiac sign. See: A Conversation With Robert Hand - The Modern Astrologer With a Medieval Heritage.
I think you can and should read a chart with just the seven traditional (visible) planets, at least some of the time. Many modern western astrologers, imo, get hung up on outer planets too early on. You can always derive a tremendous amount of information from just the visible planets (the wanderers) -- especially via essential and accidental dignity, house rulership, aspects, and so on. After establishing the story and structure with these essential points, moving on to 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. Whether a planet is rising, setting, culminating, or anti-culminating is a physical/visual reality, which determines a planet's terrestrial strength, and so it should not be overlooked. In some cases I use what is known as the Porphyry house system, which 2nd century astrologer, Vettius Valens, mentions using for specific techniques in his Anthology. I also experiment with house cusps as sensitive points with other quadrant house systems, including the Equal House System which specifically emphasizes symmetries and strong aspectual connections with and to the Ascendant.
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 alternative Ascendant! Lots are "planetary pictures" - an important feature of Symmetrical astrology, and are expressions of planetary phase relationships. These symmetrical sensitive points, potent and mysterious, marry astrological thought through the ages, and, to me, feel timeless.
I also contemplate the actual constellations and fixed stars to some extent. And 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 study and sometimes work with asteroids, and the Transneptunians (TNPs): Cupido, Hades, Kronos, Poseidon and company. They are not at all imperative in my view, but they can add embellishment and nuance, and very particularly, sometimes eerily, describe character and situations.
Finally, I find the twelve letter astrological alphabet (Aries = Mars = First house, etc.) to be 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. (One can 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). I do recommend Deborah Houlding's book: The Houses: Temples of the Sky, as well as articles on Skyscript, and this article by Chris Brennan: Origins of the Significations of the Houses. Also see Demetra George's: Astrology and the Authentic Self: Integrating Traditional and Modern Astrology to Uncover the Essence of the Birth Chart.
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