Why You Need a Reading Plan (and how to develop one)

Chris —  January 14, 2013

For the last three years, I’ve spent time in January creating a reading plan.  The list guides both my fun reading and on going education for the year.  It’s time to create your own, and here’s why:

1.  If you don’t make a plan, you won’t do it.

There are two conspirators keeping you from reading.  The first is that you don’t have to do it.  Unless you are in school, no one is going to make you do it.  The second reason is that life is just too full of easier, more passive activities.  Reading, even the most mindless fiction requires more work than watching television or surfing the web.  Making a reading plan is like a morning runner laying out their clothes the night before: because you’ve put the effort in beforehand, you are more likely to carry through when the time comes.

2.  The world is changing.

We live in a world of constant change.  Reading is both the best way to understand it, and to transcend it.  By reading regularly in your field, you are more likely to stay on top of things.  By reading classics and work outside your field, you think beyond the tyrannical urgencies and focus on what’s timeless. A reading plan will help you gather the resources you need to do both of those.

3.  Reading Plans create a Syllabus for Life

You had a reading plan back in college, but it was called a syllabus. Syllabi lay out what a class will teach you and how.  Creating a reading plan is like making a syllabi for life.  When done well, a good reading plan answers the questions “what do I want to learn?” and then lays out how.

When you are ready to develop your reading plan, you need to ask a few questions:

What books have you always wanted to read?

Have you ever wondered why it seems like everyone else quotes Shakespeare and Dickens and Elliot?  Have you ever wondered exactly how Apocalypse Now was based on Heart of Darkness or what Dune had in common with The Lion King?  Put a few pieces of great literature on your list.  Don’t get too ambitious, or you’ll overwhelm yourself.

What are some fun books?

Reading isn’t always about education.  Sometimes, it’s just about killing time in the airport or winding down after a long day.  When you build your reading list, add a few that just seem like they would be a good time.  For me, it’s usually a cheap sci-fi novel.  For you, it might be a mystery, romance or even young adult fiction.

What are some books in your field?

Your reading list is also your key to personal and career development.  While you may find a lot of good information in blogs and podcasts, the long form nature of books allows for thorough arguments, that explain both theory and application.  Build up your list by asking your boss and co-workers what they are reading.  If you can’t find specific books on your field, look for classics on topics like business leadership, sales or personal growth.  These apply to whatever job you have.

Making and sticking to a reading list is tough work.  Here’s a few tips and tricks to help you make and stick with your list:

Write it down

Keep a running list of the books you want to read.  I use Goodreads, but you can do this with a service like Evernote or just pen and paper.  Every time you see or hear about a book you want to read, add it to your list.  You may want to develop a secondary “someday” list for things that seem interesting, but less urgent.

Join a club

We’re more likely to stick with things when we do them with others.  Reading with others can be particularly rich, because it gives you a means to think more deeply about what you’ve studied.  Someone else might find something to love in a book you hated, or point out a meaningful quote you missed.  You can find groups through your local independent bookstores, services like Meetup or you can just start your own.

Talk about what you learn

Whatever you are reading, don’t keep it to yourself.  If it applies to your job, share about it at work.  If it changes the way you like about life, share that wisdom with others.  Reading a lot is a key to being “cocktail party smart”, that is knowing just enough to have meaningful conversations with anyone, no matter what you do or don’t have in common.

Here’s my reading plan for 2013. What’s yours?  How have you benefitted from having a reading plan?

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