Rethinking my book management process - Can a TBR list work?

matthias on 2014/01/22

I got back into reading this year. I’m talking about reading books here - I always read articles for school/work and I don’t think I ever stopped reading blogs / forums and other stuff on the internet either. However, I feel that in order to understand what a topic or person is all about, it’s not enough to read endless posts in “The 3 most important facts you need to know about XY”-fashion. The other reason was that I got a Kindle this year and it made it so much easier. There have been more reasons, but this post isn’t about that.

In this post I want to discuss how I have been struggling organizing my reading. I take notes and write summaries of books that I found really interesting and I’m reasonably happy with my post-processing. I might write something about this in the future, but for now, I’m just going to refer to this excellent article: http://www.farnamstreetblog.com/how-to-read-a-book/

On the other hand, I have been struggling keeping my TBR (To-Be-Read) list current. This made it difficult to efficiently select the next book when I had time to actually read one. This additional friction then often lead to me doing something else or over-thinking what to read or just lead to a long random internet research that significantly extended my list and thus aggravated the problem. An article that shared this experience is here: http://somanybooksblog.com/2013/10/01/why-tbr-lists-fail/

Thinking back about this, I believe the main flaws of my process were

  • It lacks prioritization. And it offered too much choice. This lead to real cases of decision fatigue and prevented me from just getting going.
  • It doesn’t track how I found out about a book. This meant that I would look at the books on the list and couldn’t remember why they were there in the first place - and often I would end up just deleting them.
  • It doesn’t track abandoned books. I often found reviews about books later that lead me to abandon them entirely. However, this only saves time if I can reasonably track what I had abandoned so I don’t add it back later on.

So the obvious question is: What am I going to do about it? At this point, I think the most promising approach is to track the books using caliber in a prioritized (incl. an abandoned priority) fashion. I have been using caliber already, but not extensively. I have also been prioritizing sub-tasks from other projects or categories in this manner and it has worked quite well. I shall give an update once this gets off the ground. If you have tips for me, let me know 🙂