Reading For Busy People

I don’t consider myself a big reader in the traditional sense — I don’t read any fiction, for example. What I do read is work and career related, because that’s my passion. But, reading has been getting harder as my life got more busy (think: wife, job, son), and therefore over the past years I changed my reading habits to account for having trouble “allocating” longer stretches of time for reading.

Here’s my system.

What

I get stuff to read from various sources:

  1. Recommendations from colleagues (for books, articles)
  2. Twitter, Medium
  3. References in other articles and books

To organize my reading “backlog” I have two systems. For anything shorter than a book, I just add it to Pocket, for which I have browser extensions, a desktop app and mobile app installed. Pocket is an OK app, but one thing I’m missing is a feature that allows me to reorder items to reflect reading priorities. This is minor, though.

For books I have a Trello board: here it its current state:

I’ve become kind of a Kanban nut recently, which translates into me even tracking the books to read this way. I’m considering also mixing in articles in Pocket here, but I haven’t considered the extra overhead worth it yet.

On the left is the “To Read” column with all books I’d like to read, ordered by priority. If there’s an audiobook version available on Audible, it’s labeled with a light green label. If I feel I have to re-read something, I mark it with a black label.

The “Reading” column shows the books I’m currently reading. I put a Kanban constraint on this column for 2 items. I’ve too often run into the problem of reading too many books at once and that leads to frustration and lack of reading throughput. Ideally I have 1 “regular” book here, and 1 audiobook (more on this later).

“Completed” is the column with the books I read. This is the list of books I read since I started using this Kanban system. The nice thing about having this column rather than deleting items from the board is the sense of achievement. Look at that, I read 5 books of the past x months (not sure what x is, I should check that).

Improvement idea: add pictures of the book covers here. The more visual, the better.

How

I read in two ways:

Audiobooks
I read audiobooks during travel, shopping and walks. I walk my kid to kindergarten daily, which gives me perhaps 15-20 minutes of “reading” time on the way back. When I go shopping, I listen. When I travel, I listen.

Kindle books
I never buy physical books. All my books are Kindle books (or in rare cases PDFs). I read them all on my iPhone.

I do own a traditional Kindle, but it has the same problem that our good camera has: I never have it with me when I need it. Reading on an iPhone is fine for me. I own an iPhone 6 right now, with a 4.7” screen, but I’m considering a 5.5” iPhone 7 plus when it comes out, because of the amount of reading I do. Would I read in multi-hour stretches, it may be less pleasant, but I don’t do so often, so it’s ok.

When

I read a bit in bed before sleeping, I read sometimes during a lunch break, I read standing in queue in a store, it’s possible I read on the toilet, but I’ll never admit to that. 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there, it adds up. The best time, obviously, is when I travel alone. I don’t have a commute, unfortunately (I live literally 200m from my office).

More!

But that’s not all. I also listen to a lot of podcasts, for whenever I need some lighter content. I also subscribe to The Economist (again, on my phone). These two result in a prioritization issue. When should I listen to a podcast and when to an audiobook? When a kindle book, when The Economist. Choices!

Using this system I get a fair amount of reading done. I do sometimes worry if being “always on” won’t have some sort of bad effect on my brain. So far all seems ok.