(A look at my 2017 “currently reading” row on the bookshelf)

Why You Should Steal My Two-Book Approach for Reading More in 2017

A workable plan for devouring more books on an annual basis

Last year I failed big-time.

My goal on Jan. 1, 2016 was to read 60 books (#60booksin16) by Dec. 31. I fell way short.

By my best guess I read somewhere between 35 and 50 books last year.

That places my effort somewhere between sad and pitiful.

The problem wasn’t the idea. The problem was the lack of a workable system.

Reading books has always meant a lot to me, going back to my pre-teen days when I came home from school and read my parents’ encyclopedias instead of doing my homework.

In college, I enjoyed reading books so much that visiting the library was a brutal distraction.

I wanted to read all the books, not study schoolwork.

But in recent years, I’ve gotten away from book reading, resorting to using blogs, magazines and newspapers as the primary vehicles for learning.

This had to stop.

Blogs, magazines and other forms of ephemeral literature are great for keeping track of day-to-day affairs, events; they’re poor vehicles for the level of deep learning and analysis I enjoy.

What’s more, this former journalist resents how most blogs are opinion pieces masquerading as expert analysis.

Something had to give

At MozCon 2013, Seer’s Wil Reynolds implored the crowd to read more books, saying he’d been doing the same and found it a great way to get out of the echo chamber and learn from people in disparate verticals.

(At MozCon 2013, Wil Reynolds handed out books to attendees who brought him a problem to solve.)

So serious was Reynolds that he brought $1,500 worth of books to the event and handed them out to the crowd.

During his talk, Reynolds credited Distilled’s Will Critchlow as one of the people who’d recommended many of the books the former brought to the stage that day.

A few minutes later, I encountered Critchlow in the restroom washing his hands and embarrassed myself by asking for his reading list.

He was gracious enough to grant my wish via Twitter.

I read several titles from the list and finished the year off strong.

In 2014, I resorted to setting a total for the number of books I’d read by year’s end, settling on #40in14.

I fell short but not by much.

In 2015, the goal was 5o books; I fell short once again.

By 2016, it was a full-on pattern.

The culprit wasn’t lack of time; it was lack of focus.

The year I graduated college, I read more than 200 books, in large part by spending entire Saturdays in local bookshops. In the years that immediately followed, I averaged at least 75 books a year, reviewing many of them for the newspaper I worked for at the time.

Three things made this possible:

  1. I kept a book with me everywhere I went.
  2. I read very few blogs.
  3. I devoted time to book-only reading, usually first thing in the mornings.

I went back to basics

In late 2016, realizing I’d fall short of my seemingly realistic book-reading goal, I knew I had to develop a process that enabled me to find success, not simply leave it up to chance.

I reached back into my mind to discern what had worked in the past, why it likely worked and how a similar effort would work in 2017.

What I came up with is a process that incorporates elements from the past along with a couple of new twists that should make everything stick together over the long-term.

#1: I’m reading two books at a time

I’ve long been a fan of reading paperbacks, in large part because they are so portable, making them easy to carry and read while waiting in line at the grocery store or restaurant, or while seated at the doctor’s office.

While reading a paperback isn’t always practical, I’m making sure to have a paperback on hand for outside-the-home travels, in addition to the separate hardcover title I’m reading at home.

This ensures I can read on the fly, and as a bonus I’m always reading two books at one time.

#2: I’ve cleared ‘currently-reading’ space on the bookshelf

Normally, I keep two stacks of books on the floor beside my desk: one for titles I’ve read, another for titles I’m planning to read.

While it’s great to see what you’ve read, I’ve noticed it can quash the anticipation element I so often feel when thinking about consuming new titles.

For 2017, I cleared off an entire row on one of my bookshelves. On the left side of the row are books I’ve read. They are lying down. On the right side of the row are books I’m about the read. They are standing up.

I stare at the right side of the shelf continually while working in my office.

#3: I’ve established book-only reading times

My workday typically begins at 3am or somewhere thereabouts and extends to 7:30pm. By the time the evening rolls around, my eyes are done from staring at a computer screen all day.

Now, beginning at 7:30pm each night, I have analog-only time. No computers, phones or other electronic devices.

It’s book-reading only time until I retire to bed.

#4: Tracking what I’ve read via an Excel document

I’m also putting the old “What gets measured gets managed” philosophy to work by keeping track of everything I’ve read via in Excel doc.

Each Sunday I’m expected to enter the title, author, publisher and any notes for the book I’ve completed earlier that week. By Monday am, I have to start a new book.

There cannot be a “hole” on the schedule from the prior week.

#5: Incorporating what I read into blogs

I loved being a book reviewer, in part because it meant I never have to buy a book again, owing to my relationships with publishers.

I also appreciated that it ensured I was always learning something new. Additionally, it added a freshness of perspective to the content I wrote.

Today, I’m making certain to include nuggets of wisdom picked up from the books I’m reading to better inform what I write.

The new system is working well.

I’ve been able to clear one book per week, with plans to soon up that total.

The best part is having a scalable framework that is portable, easy to accomplish and has carryover in so many areas of my work and personal life.

What about you? What’s your system for getting more books read in 2017?