Winning Against Your Reading List

Killing your reading list
A nice warm Sunday afternoon, I wanted something cold to drink and a good book to read in my garden. I glanced at my pile of books beside the door, the books I grab to read in the train to my office, a pile of 8 books. Then I remembered I had a few books in the library I wanted to read, another pile, 10 books. As I went down and put them all over the table, I realised I had a few books more in the computer room, 3 books. And what!? My iPod Touch holds some ebooks, too. Add 6 more to the 'Things I wanted to read soon' list. I give up, no reads today, I'm writing a blog post. This post.

Too many books, maybe, but as an avid reader, I enjoy reading, fiction or non-fiction. Also, a lot of these books will teach me something useful about writing, time management, languages or just be an enjoyable read in a Sunday afternoon.

Discovering The Book Depository (affiliate link), a place to buy online cheap books with free international shipping has turned my reading list from bearable into devilish. The ease of buying books online, where you don't see how heavy they are, or how many are you really purchasing is an evil creation! A good evil, at least... But now I have an enormous reading list to tackle.

The only way to tackle such a big list is to plan ahead, and keep reading. Of course, keep enjoying the reads!


The principle of divide and conquer is already a common concept. But how can you apply it to your reading lists? The answer is simple. You need two lists:

A list for your leisure time books, the ones you want to read - All books mixed, as long as you are the one who wants to read but are not forced by external pressures to read them. Novel, self-improvement, cooking.

A list for your work related books, the ones someone else wants you to read - In the case you are your own boss, think about your working self as another person, without succumbing to mental illness if possible. This covers manuals, tutorials, articles if you are not leisurely interested in them.

Know yourself, know your enemy

In the previous step we started the know yourself part, as we divided our lists in two: external and internal. Not it is time you finish your self-knowledge journey by classifying the lists.

For each item, assess how much you want to read this book. For this, you may make a table with entries like interesting, urgent, useful ranging from 1 to 10. You have to also keep in mind the toughness of the reading. For this, you can use just a simple piece of paper, a spreadsheet or an online book list keeper like 22books.com. You can even do it in your head, if you have good memory.

Now you will have a clear overview of what do these books mean for you, so you can start acting on them. But now comes the latter, know your enemy.

For this step, just pick each book and add another column to the previous table, with the page number (or paragraph number if it is a blog post). Thus you now know how long will they take, more or less.

You are ready to hunt now.


Now it is time to start the fight. Sort your books according to overall score in the previous table. Theoretically, from this you would get the book you should read soonest, overall. It can work, but there are times when you need some light reading, or want something interesting or are in a creative mood and want new tools. Thus, you can either pick the best overall score or pick the best score for categories. In case of a draw (or books very close in rating), pick the shortest/easiest. This is so because in my list, the shortest may be my Teach yourself Icelandic (BookDepository affiliate link) which is short but hard, and I can't read it straight but by chapters.


Now it is time to wage war. Start reading the book you feel more likely to enjoy now. Read for as long as you want. Stop and do whatever else. Repeat every time you want to read, with a caveat: always read the same book for a category. Thus, you won't be reading more than 3 or 4 books at once, non-stop. Also, keep always one e-book or easily portable book for short idle moments (waiting on queue or for your order, public transportation).

Your list will slowly, but surely decrease. When you add new books, shuffle your list without changing what you are currently reading. It is fundamental that you keep focused on your current book and don't exchange it for another. Focus on finishing, one at a time (or 2 or 3, try not to pass the 3 books at the same time barrier). Of course, don't rush and enjoy your reads!

Of course don't forget The Rights of the Reader (affiliate link, you can download a poster for free in Walker Books page here).

Related posts:
Luck favours the procrastinator (guest post in The Friendly Anarchist)
Time boxing: you will work like never before
Time management systems
Love thy tools to maximize your productivity
Book review: How to be #1, by Vince Lombardi
What the 'broken windows theory' has to say about productivity

Written by Ruben Berenguel