Managing and Working Through That Ever Growing Reading List

Jim BensonApplications, DesignPatterns, Featured10 Comments

Books are Life

Books are Life

If you are anything like me, you will have a monster reading list.  Do you manage it?  Do you focus on a few books at a time?  If not, maybe you should, to better enjoy that fiction or help manage your reading based learning?

Problem – Too Many Books, Not Enough Time & Bad Habits

I have a lot of books waiting to be read thanks to a nasty ‘1-click’ habit with Amazon, I also have a decent amount of quality reading time due to a lengthy commute, yet I just can’t read them all soon enough, and the list keeps growing.  Part of the problem is that until recently I had a bad habit of picking up books, reading a few hundred pages, getting distracted by another book,  and before I know it I have five books on the go, which is plain silly.  The result was a load of books I have finished, and a load I have touched on, yet not fully focused upon and completed.  I asked myself – “If only I could drop this wasteful habit and focus on completing a few books at a time, the NET result would be different, namely, more books read and better understood over any period of time, with less wasteful unfocused reading and rereading”.

Solution – Enter the ‘General Reading Personal Kanban’

Funny name for this pattern right?  Why not just “Reading Personal Kanban”?  Well, I’m going with this one on the basis that I think  there are two types of reading we do, an end-to-end style (General Reading), and for those that use various learning techniques, like a SQ3R, a SQ3R Personal Kanban’ pattern is in the works, so expect a post soon.  In the meantime, ‘General Reading’ can encompass anything factual or fictional, and I personally tend to carry one of each type of book with me.

The root of the problem is one of focus and priority.  If there is one thing I have learnt about Kanban is it can be used, amongst other things, to address these two subjects simply and directly.  Below is an example based on my current reading list, using a great tool called AgileZen:

Manage that reading list with a Kanban

How does this give focus and priority?  Quite simply.  The Kanban describes the process from left to right of first prioritising the reading, reading and then finishing books.  Each step, bar the backlog and the completed step, has a work in progress limit (WIP).  This WIP limiting is the aspects that enables the narrowing of the prioritisation, then tight focus on the act of reading – I like a WIP of two so I can have a factual and a fictional book on the go.  To complete a book, we pull a book off the backlog through the process to add to the flow of books being read over time.  You can read more on Kanban in general and why it works elsewhere on this site under Primers.

My own General Reading Personal Kanban forms part of my overall productivity system, which I am writing about here.

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Jim BensonManaging and Working Through That Ever Growing Reading List

10 Comments on “Managing and Working Through That Ever Growing Reading List”

  1. Tonianne

    RE: “I like a WIP of two so I can have a factual and a fictional book on the go.”

    Paul, if this whittles down the 17 titles currently taking up residence on my night stand, consider yourself a genius.

    I cannot wait to try this.

  2. Emilie

    I have the same problem. I’ll try this to focus and spare my back (I’m currently carrying 3 books in my bag every day…)

    What is your definition of done for “Should” and “Ready” columns ?

  3. Pingback: LeanWorking » New Article On Personal Productivity Contributed To

  4. Jason Yip

    I actually prefer reading multiple books at the same time. The sequential reading I find to be more boring and therefore less conducive to learning.

    1. Jim Benson

      Hmm, Jason, if you read an infinite number of books simultaneously would you then be infinitely smart?

  5. Paul Eastabrook

    I guess learning is a different case to the one I’m describing here. This particular pattern I would recommend for reading that is sequential and concerted. Fiction is a good example. For learning there are probably lots of techniques people use, I’ll do a post soon on the SQ3R technique.

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