I received a recent email that asks:
… I’m having a hard time keeping up with all the reading material I’d like to read/watch and I keep adding links into a huge “Someday Maybe/Reading” project in a “Reading” context that grows and grows, because I’m adding way more than I am able to “pull out”.
So I guess my question would be how do you approach keeping up with all the reading material? Is there something I can do to help me make time for reading more? …”
Great question. I’m still developing how to handle this one myself. Unfortunately, I will say upfront that I do not believe I can fully answer your question. My book list, too, grows faster than it shrinks. There are those who can read quickly, but I am not one of those individuals. Even if I were, there are more books than anyone can read in a lifetime.
Further, “making time” is a matter of renegotiating agreements, something Merlin Mann has called the ultimate ninja skill. Such a question taps into the much larger, “How can we spend our lives doing more of what we want?”
Beyond the careful examination and adjustment of our habits and commitments, I would argue that the growing list is a “fortunate problem” of our time. There was once an era when having more books than can be read was an amazing luxury.
As with much of our work, we must regularly acknowledge loss, including of those things we would have liked to read. Still, we can create methods for arranging our book lists to reflect and support our decisions of what to read, what to place on hold, and what to delete.
For this post, I will focus on book reading and not articles or videos. I tend to separate these from each other, though similar methods can be considered for either.
Method 1: External Book List
Some users recommend keeping a reading list outside of OmniFocus entirely. For example, Tim Stringer of Learn OmniFocus suggests using a Goodreads account. Aleh Cherp of Academic Worklows on a Mac suggests using a text file. Either are excellent ideas and maintain a solid simplicity.
In these cases, you could select one book from the external list and create a repeating task in OmniFocus to read it. This way, you still have your ongoing book reading task centralized in OmniFocus, while keeping the larger list removed from sight.
For example, if you use flags to signify your daily work, your task list might appear as:
Method 2: Internal Book List
I tend to keep my reading list in OmniFocus. The result is similar to above, though with some adjustments. My preferences include the following:
- As above, I aim for a single book task that I am working on until I am done. The other book tasks might be useful in their own projects or folders, but I’d like to be focusing on one in my day-to-day if possible.
- As you are doing, I would prefer to include my booklist in OmniFocus. While it does add to the database, I find that including books within their related projects outweighs any detriments. In terms of task presence, as long as I have a method of hiding the information when it is not relevant, yet keep it quickly accessible when it is, I have organized the information effectively.
- Further, I wish to make the book I am reading on option, not a requirement.
I do have a @Book Reading context:
Within this context are numerous tasks, each representing a book I wish to read:
The @Book Reading context itself is rarely visited. I could create a task to read from it regularly, but then I would be confronted with a large list every time, making it difficult to use as an action-oriented list. Still, a task to regularly review the task could be useful when considering what to keep or remove. For example, a monthly repeating maintenance task could work:
The list is one that is not regularly fully cleared. A context such as this does take on more of the storage tank role. There are definitely contexts and perspectives that I try to clear daily or nearly so. My flagged list is an example of tasks I fully intend to complete daily.
The important thing is that I acknowledge how I use any particular list. We build our systems upon trust. But trust is not a boolean concept. It is not on or off. We can ask of any component of our environments “How do I trust this?” to reveal a more nuanced picture.
To better enable focused action, I select one book from these @Book Reading tasks to read regularly until done. I then convert it into a “Considered task”, by:
- Setting it to repeat daily,
- Changing its context to @Considerations, and
- Altering its wording to include the word “Consider …”
To see how this works in action, let us begin with the daily view. Notice the daily repeating task to visit considered tasks:
Selecting the link presents the considered tasks:
The number of considered tasks is kept low (preferably below five to seven). Therefore, it is generally not overwhelming when seen.
When ready to move on to the next book, I delete the task and change another @Book Reading task to a Considered task. The cycle continues.
In this way, one book remains in progress. It does not need to be read daily as it is a “considered” task. Other books remain hidden from view. However, those other books remain accessible to their related projects or perspectives.