Chaos. That’s how I would describe my old reading habits. With countless library books I’d admittedly never read, plus new arrivals (and old) piling up in heaps on my shelves, not to mention my digital shelves on my Kindle that were hundreds of books deep I don’t have a strategy for actually wanting to read and finish something. No way would I match my reading performance, like reading one book a week for a total of 52 a year, nor would I keep up with my reading for Book Riots TBR, where I work as a bibliologist. and not for my monthly Recommended Reads column, which I write for my home newspaper.
Something had to happen. Something had to change. I couldn’t go on like this.
A few months ago I started planning my reading. It all started with a note in my Notes app. I listed the books I had read so far this month. It was useful to see them all right after each other without any styling with extra bells and whistles that comes with your Goodreads reading page. Just a list of books, nothing more, nothing less.
That inspired me. When I saw the books I had read listed there, I realized that I was motivated to extend this list. Meanwhile, both my digital and physical TBR lists were overgrown like kudzu and getting worse by the minute. My to-read list on Goodreads was way too big to manage. There were books in there that I’d wanted to read a decade ago and knew I’d never get to finish. Just the sight scared me. I needed something handier. And so I started listing the top 15 books I wanted to read in the near future in another list in the grade.
This both inspired me and discouraged me at first. I couldn’t imagine reading all these books in the next few weeks. But, I reasoned, it might be doable for the coming months. And what better way to do that than to plan my reading time.
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Next, I divided the month into different sections, with each week of the month underlined. I then picked a few books a week and settled on around four, as I finish between one and four books a week. As the days of the week went by, I would adjust things and move them around when necessary, such as when a book was taking longer to finish than I expected.
And what was the result of my planned reading experiment?
I read a lot more books.
In August I finished five books and recovered from a reading slump.
And in September I read seven books.
That was more books I read than I averaged for much of the year. It turns out that planning your reading can really help you stay focused and organized instead of being completely overwhelmed by every book I want to read. Planning my reading helped me stay on track and got me closer to my reading practice than before.
Of course, there is a downside to planning your reading.
I love spontaneity in reading and wanted to make sure I still had an element of book discovery when I stumble upon a new book that I didn’t want to read. My biggest fear as I started planning my reading was that I would lose the “joker” factor, where a book I wasn’t expecting turned out to be really captivating, and I would lose everything else I did read stop just to focus devours this one. However, to my surprise, I was able to adjust new books and add them to the schedule without losing my sense of direction.
There is also something to be said for the existential fear of the process. In listing my TBR, which was really just a small microcosm of the books I want to read, I had to face the truth of my own mortality. The simple fact was that I would never finish all the books I wanted to read. One day I will die and this TBR will still not be empty. But that component actually encouraged me through my reading. If I didn’t feel a book, I wouldn’t finish it. There just isn’t an infinite amount of time in which I’ll read every book I want to read. The planning of my reading made this clear. On the other hand, I’ve been more concerned with my reading practice and only really finished the books I really, really wanted to read.
Want to try planning your reading?
If you’re a planning fanatic, planning your reading is easy to fit into your life. I have to admit, I’m a bit of a planning nerd. I’m attached to my paper journaling planner, Passion Planner, and constantly live in a world of spreadsheets with master plans and notes with smaller ones. I tried bullet journaling but couldn’t get into it. That being said, I think combining scheduled reading and bullet journaling would be a great combination. I’m also a fan of just a simple note in the Notes app you prefer. Or. You could start an email draft and continue to add to it that way.
I would definitely recommend scheduling your reading to anyone who really wants to tackle their TBR, complete more books, and read mindfully. Give it a try for a month or two and see how you do. You may find success similar to mine as you read better, faster, and harder.