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How I Finally Conquered My Never-Ending Tech Reading List

Today, knowledge is more accessible than ever before. Actually finding the time to read it, though? Now that’s another issue altogether.”

If you are a software engineer, I am sure your web browser has, at any moment in time, at least four open tabs of things you will read “the moment you have 15 minutes to spare.” These are personal development materials, deep dives into the technology you’re currently using, and anything not directly related to the task you’re currently working on.

If like me, you are compulsive about open tabs, you are probably going crazy because you’re not getting to read whatever is in those open tabs.

I’d like to take you on the journey I went through getting those never-ending open tabs under control using Notion while enabling my personal development as an engineer through better content curation and reading habits.

Personal development anchors

Time is why we don’t read enough or do enough of the things we want to do. We always have something better or more urgent on our plate.

Therefore, I’ve found it helpful to anchor my personal development to other things I do daily — in my case, my morning coffee.

I’ve found it helpful to sit down with a cup of coffee and learn about something new.

My morning coffee

Additionally, I’ve found that my morning reading has to be “bite-sized,” otherwise it’ll be skipped or dropped mid-read. So when I want to go through more than 10–15 minutes of material, I break it down into a few consecutive daily reads.

Another good “reading” opportunity I’ve discovered is that dead time between meetings, or those five-minute gaps between when I’ve finished a task and the next meeting or while the code is being CI’d.

Different time slots call fits different types of reading. For me, it’s:

  • Short n’ easy — for my dead “in between meetings” time
  • Priority — anything relevant to my current projects
  • Anything else

Now that I’ve found the time to read, all I need is to make sure I have some reading material available at all times. Notion to the rescue!

Why Notion?

In no way am I saying that Notion is the best tool for creating reading lists. It is, though, the tool I found most convenient for “managing” my daily life. The fact that it helps me get ahead in my reading is just an awesome bonus.

I’ve identified that my day-to-day tasks (personal and work-related), projects and initiatives, and reading lists are never-ending, with very little ongoing progress made.

My conclusion was that the sheer amount of tasks is overwhelming, and my projects are so big that they are in a constant state of WIP, causing me to constantly feel I’m “not getting anything done.” Eventually, the outcome was daily mental fatigue. In a constant state of exhaustion, professional growth gets postponed indefinitely.

This brought me to “break down” my life to “bite-sized” tasks and take small daily steps towards the end goal (do I hear someone say “agile”?). Notion helped me get this done with its databases, overall content curation, and notification capabilities with desktop and mobile support.

With the structure provided by Notion, I was able to dedicate more time to personal development.

If you feel like you’re suffering from the same symptoms in your life, I suggest watching August Bradley’s Notion operating system series. I’ve based my methodology on his ideas.

Putting technology to work — the Notion setup

The “problem” I’m trying to solve can be divided to three pillars:

  • Curation — saving all those open tabs of reading material in a centralized, easily accessed place
  • Categorization — organizing my reading material according to type
  • Availability — making sure I have several reading options available for when I have the time

First step — curation — how to get all those articles, videos, and blog posts in one searchable place?

One of Notion’s main features is a Database — a table that stores a variable amount of data.

Notion reading database

To get my articles and videos into said database, I’m using Notion’s chrome extension. with it, you can save a page directly to your database from within the visited page. No more endless open tabs! They are safely stored in my Content Database.

Notion Chrome plugin

Similarly, with the Notion mobile app, you can “share” anything directly to your database.

The second step — categorization. I’m using three types for my article/video/podcast:

  • Small and fast — for those “in-between meetings” dead time slots
  • Priority — things I’ve identified to be of greater importance within the reading list
  • Up next — sets of pages triaged every Thursday to get to the “top of the reading backlog”

Every Thursday, I spend five minutes prioritizing my reading for the upcoming week.

The third step — availability. As mentioned, I’m using Notion for my (personal) daily task management. Therefore, I’ve put the view of the triaged pages within my “main’’ Notion page, the page where I manage my day-to-day operations. I don’t need to look for it anymore, as my reading list is always there waiting for me.

Daily view

Bonus step — Notion supports push notification to your notion mobile app. Just set a reminder on a page, and you’ll be notified you need to do some reading today. I use this rarely — only when I feel it’s been a while since I’ve made some progress and that a push notification will force me to free some time and do it.

Bottom line

I find that in many cases, technology is the solution for many day-to-day problems, even small ones. It can be small automation of an everyday routine or an app that makes data available when needed.

In this case, it was a method to organize data in a way that enables growth, alongside a methodology that helped me reduce mental fatigue and better focus on what’s important.

If you feel you’re falling behind on your improvement, I suggest you try my setup — or any other one — to manage your personal growth. Invest the effort needed to find the time and setup that most suits you — you’re worth it!

Have you devised a better setup for self-improvement? Or getting ahead of your reading lists? Would be happy to hear about it in the comments or on Twitter @cherkaskyb.



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Boris Cherkasky

Software engineer, clean coder, scuba diver, and a big fan of a good laugh. @cherkaskyb on Twitter