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Read Smarter, Not Harder

Make your reading more effective with this simple organization technique

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There are countless articles on how to read more and even more on what to read. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the ostensible limitlessness of everything to wade through. Many people, myself included, set ambitious reading goals then quickly fall behind and become discouraged. The cold truth is, it’s hard to dedicate the time to read a vast number of books. Because it can be challenging to find the time to read, getting the most out of what I’m reading has become vital for me. Sure, it feels great to be able to say you read 60+ books in a year, and it’s definitely an accomplishment. But reading a select set of carefully curated books can be just as effective in improving your mind and making you a more diverse and interesting person. 

A lot of my time is spent reading publications, usually online. I consider this to be one of the great things about living in the time of the internet. I can expose myself to thousands of subjects by even more authors with a few clicks on a browser. That being said, reading books still has an important place in our lives, especially in this information overload world where we can get stuck skimming articles for hours. Books require more of our sustained attention and permit us to dive deeper into subjects that we may have just skimmed the surface of when reading an article. 

But, I’m not in a place right now where I can set ambitious reading goals that take up hours of my week. No excuses, I just have other prioritize pining for my attention that I’ve put ahead of reading. I need to enjoy my reading, not feel obligated to do it, especially because I beleive reading is only productive if you take the time to make it productive. Because of this, it’s essential to make sure I’m reading books that are effective, entertaining, and diverse in their subjects. One organization tool that has helped me both increase the amount and breadth of my reading is a “To Be Read” list. 

Usually, “To Be Read” lists are made on a monthly cadence, but don’t be afraid to tailor this to what is most effective for you. I’ve found that if I set aggressive, monthly goals, I fall behind almost immediately and lose all motivation to catch up. 

I personally make a seasonal “To Be Read”. This challenges me without overwhelming me, which is what you want out of your goals. 

To keep my reading diverse, I split my list into six categories. This is singlehandedly the most important part of my “To Be Read” list strategy. By doing this, I ensure that I’m reading a diverse set of books and avoid getting stuck into one genre or subject with my reading. I’ve read more non-fiction and theory than ever before now that I’ve set aside a specific goal to do it. 

I section my reading into the following categories: 

A “Classic”

This is not necessarily a book that’s canonically defined as classic, but a book that has noted literary merit. Sometimes this merit comes from a distinguished literary prize, other times it’s right off the AP English Literature recommended reading list (seriously, there are some great suggestions in there). Lately, I’ve been focused on post-modern South American literature. 

Something Recently Published

 This spot is left for a book published in the last 12 months. I usually also opt for independently published books, which is a great way to find emerging writers. This category helps keep me abreast of what’s going on in the world of literature and exposes me to potential favorite artists that will likely publish more in the future. 

A Non-fiction Book

Evidently, this is a super broad category, so I try to keep my reading diverse here as well. For me personally, it’s really easy to read only self-help genre books if I don’t stop myself, so I make it a rule change the subject or gengre between my reading lists. I might read a self-help book on time management one season, a science book on mycology the next, then a history book on World War II after that. 

Something to Make Me a Better Reader or Writer

I do believe that reading pretty much anything will make you a better reader or writer, but this spot is left for books that are specifically intended to make me a more prolific, analytic, and conscious reader and writer. This can be anything from intense literary theory to a light-hearted writer’s guide. 

A Collection of Poetry

Poetry is so great for getting your creative energy flowing. It helps you look at the world in a new way. There’s poetry out there for just about anyone, no matter what your sensibilities or tastes. 

A “Random Card”

This category is for absolutely any book I want to read. Having this “freebie” card keeps me from feeling burnt out or bored by my specific reading goals. Sometimes this book will overlap with another of my reading categories, sometimes it’s something totally different, like a book of short stories or alternative fiction. Most of the time, this book is chosen as part of a book club, so that I can discuss the book with a group of people. 

I’ll usually read more than the six books that fall into these categories, but this system is set as a minimum and ensures that I’m reading from a variety of genres. This system makes me excited to reach my reading goals and keeps me from ever getting bored. These categories are also not a catch-all for every type of literature a person may want to read – it’s specifically curated for me. I read a lot of fiction because I’m a writer and it’s what I enjoy. If you’re a history buff or a developer, you may want to create different categories to curate your reading around. Like any good organization or goal-setting technique, this reading curation method is easily molded to your needs. 

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