Would you like to read more, but never seem to find the time for it?
Then a reading schedule might be the answer to your problem.
By creating a well-defined system, you make sure you read all the books on your list. No more winging it.
Learn what the perfect reading schedule looks like, why you should start small, and how to utilize time blocking.
- Why You Need a Reading Schedule
- The Step-by-Step Guide
- 1. Set a Reading Goal
- 2. Set a Total Length
- 3. Make a List of Books
- 4. Include Different Genres
- 5. Note Down the Length
- 6. Pay Attention to Recommendations
- 7. Download the Free Excerpts
- 8. Note Down the Quality
- 9. Note Down the Complexity
- 10. Order Your List
- 11. Set a Daily Quota
- 12. Calculate Length Per Book
- 13. Set up a Calendar
- 14. Mark Your Reading Material (Optional)
- 15. Time Block
- 16. Don’t Multitask
- 17. Drop Bad Books
- 18. Reread Quality Books
Why You Need a Reading Schedule
Reading is the great enabler.
It will help you understand the world around you, teach you new skills, make you more money, and improve your health.
Why is reading so powerful?
It acts as a shortcut. Instead of starting at zero, you build on the expertise of others. Reading allows you to learn from some of the smartest people on the planet.
Successful people know that.
Thomas Edison owned around 30,000 books. Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most well-read men of his time. Malcolm X famously reinvented himself through reading in prison. Warren Buffett dedicates 80 percent of his day to books.
Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.Napoleon Bonaparte
Yet, most people never capitalize on this superpower.
We are so busy with our 9-to-5 jobs, social obligations, and everyday chores that reading eventually falls by the wayside.
This is why you need a reading schedule.
It systemizes what you read, how to read, and when to read. It takes all the guesswork out of reading. No more, “I should read this, I should read that.” Now, it actually happens.
To be clear — a book reading schedule is not about reading for pleasure. Nobody needs to make sure they read all the John Grisham novels this year.
Rather, a reading schedule makes sure that certain life-changing books get read. These books tend to be on the challenging side of things.
In this sense, a reading plan is similar to a workout plan. To see results, you need to submit yourself to a regiment.
Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.Joseph Addison
The Step-by-Step Guide
Follow these 18 steps to create your perfect reading schedule.
1. Set a Reading Goal
A reading schedule is work, as it forces you to grapple with challenging new ideas.
Therefore, it is important to know your “Why” — why are you dedicating precious time and willpower each day to read?
The answer to that will depend on the person.
Maybe you want to get out of a rut by exposing yourself to books about personal development.
Maybe you are a university lecturer and need to make sure you stay up to date on the newest research.
Maybe you are a developer trying to learn a new programming language, so you can get a better paid job.
Whatever your goal, define it and write it down. An example — “I will read 6 new books on marketing strategies within the next 3 months to increase the revenue of my business.”
Note: The number of books you finish within a time frame depends on your daily quota of pages. For now, postulate a number which we can later specify.
Put your reading goal up in a place where you can see it. Then read your reading goal aloud to yourself every day, to keep on track.
2. Set a Total Length
Determine the total length of your reading schedule. Typical lengths are 6 or 12 months.
If you are doing this for the first time, I recommend choosing a shorter time frame like 3 months or even just 1 month.
It will be easier to stick with your regime if you know it is only for a short time.
If, after that test drive, you want to keep going, increase the time frame for your next reading schedule. Try 6 months, for example.
The idea is to start so small that it becomes impossible to fail. Then build up that reading muscle over time.
3. Make a List of Books
Whenever you come across a book that sounds relevant to you, take a note, so you won’t forget. You can take handwritten notes, use a program like Evernote, or get an app, like the Goodreads app.
It doesn’t matter what medium you use for the initial capture, as long as no new book idea slips through the cracks.
Next, transfer your list to a spreadsheet. I like using Google Sheets.
In the first column, you will note down the title of the book. In the second column, you will note down the author.
4. Include Different Genres
If you keep reading the same type of book, you might eventually get fed up with the tone. Consider throwing in a different genre for variety.
This even works for really abstract subjects. For example, one of the foundational texts for DevOps (the software development methodology) is “The Phoenix Project” — a novel about the basics of DevOps.
Another example would be “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder. You get the history of Western philosophy, packaged as a mystery novel.
If you are primarily reading fiction, throw in some literary theory. Terry Eagleton is highly entertaining. So is Camille Paglia.
Mix it up to keep your reading schedule motivating.
5. Note Down the Length
Back to our spreadsheet. In a third column, note down the number of pages for each book.
If you don’t own the book yet, go to Amazon to check its length.
But realize that the total number of pages is not equal to the number of pages for you to read. The actual text might be preceded by testimonials, a table of contents, a preface, drawings, etc.
So try to find out how many pages there are for you to read. You can usually do this in the Amazon preview of the book.
We will later use this number to calculate the number of days needed for you to finish this book.
6. Pay Attention to Recommendations
In a fourth column of your spreadsheet, you will now note down where you came across the book.
Did a friend recommend it to you?
Did an author you respect mention it during an interview?
Did your favorite professor in college talk about it?
The reason for this — high-value people usually recommend high-value books. This will allow us to filter for these books later.
7. Download the Free Excerpts
For each book, download the free excerpt available in the Kindle store.
We will use this to evaluate the book during the next step.
If you don’t own a Kindle, you can just use the free app for Android or the iPhone.
Or you can get the free desktop app, as you are probably working on your reading schedule from your laptop.
8. Note Down the Quality
Take a look at the free excerpts you just downloaded.
Just skim them for 2–3 minutes each, don’t read them all the way. The point is to get a feel for their quality. Is this a book worth spending time on? Will I enhance myself by reading this book?
Evaluate each book using a simple 3-tier system:
- A — one of the best books on the subject
- B — a decent read, some value to be gained
- C — not worth spending time on
Note that quality score down in the fifth column on your spreadsheet.
9. Note Down the Complexity
Now we will use a similar process to evaluate the complexity.
Again, just spend 2–3 minutes on each title. This time, you want to get a feel for the mental energy you will have to spend on a certain book.
Use the 3-tier system again:
- A — easy to understand
- B — more challenging
- C — difficult to read
Note that difficulty score down in the sixth column on your spreadsheet.
10. Order Your List
Let’s now prioritize the titles on your reading plan.
For that, we will use all the criteria we previously defined. Here is how I do it:
For me, the most important criterion is quality. I only want the best books on my reading list, the ones that educate and inspire me. Life is too short to waste time on mediocre ideas.
For that, I will sort my spreadsheet by the quality column first (column 5).
Also, I will check out my recommendations’ column (column 4). If someone I trust recommended the book, it gets preferential treatment.
The second criterion is complexity (column 6). Certain books are more difficult than others. If I will be busy the next few weeks, I’ll choose something easy. If I’m on vacation, I will schedule a more ambitious title.
Third, I consider the length of the book. Longer books tend to create more resistance. So I try to alternate longer and shorter titles, to stay motivated.
Having sorted my list, I assign each book a priority. Use a seventh column for that. Your first title gets number 1, your second title gets number 2, etc.
Now, order your book list by column 7. This is our reading order. To finalize your reading schedule, we will now add start and finishing times.
11. Set a Daily Quota
Decide on how many pages you will read per day.
My recommendation — start very small. This way, even on busy days, you will be able to complete your daily reading schedule.
5 pages is a good starting point.
Once these 5 pages feel effortless, increase your daily quota to 6 pages. Give that some time to solidify, then go up to 7 pages. And so on.
Your goal is to not break the chain. Because the longer you stick to your daily quota, the easier the habit will become. If you want to learn more about this dynamic, check out my article on the 21/90 rule.
12. Calculate Length Per Book
Depending on your daily quota, you can now determine how long you will need to finish each book on your reading schedule.
Let’s say book 1 has 155 pages.
If you decided to read 5 pages per day, and you start on January 1st, you will be done by January 31st.
Note the start date down in column 8 and the finish date in column 9.
Book 2 on your reading schedule only has 70 pages, as it’s an essay. So, given your start day of February 1 and your daily quota of 5 pages, you will be done by February 14th. Again, note these dates down.
Continue these calculations for all the books on your reading schedule.
Make sure to adjust your calculations whenever you increase your daily quota.
Also, adjust your reading goal (step 1) to reflect your calculations.
13. Set up a Calendar
To make your reading schedule more transparent, it’s a great idea to mark down the stretch of time needed for each book in your calendar, like you would for a vacation.
You can use a digital solution like Google calendar. If you do, create a subcalendar called “Reading Schedule.”
This way, you can view all your regular appointments and reading projects together. Or you can hide a certain calendar for clarity.
Alternatively, get an all-year paper calendar and put it up on a wall. Again, mark down the stretches of time reserved for each book.
The great thing here — for each day you read your 5 pages, you can put a large red “X” up there. It really helps with keeping the chain going.
14. Mark Your Reading Material (Optional)
If you want to, you can mark the stopping points in your book. Assuming the book started on page 5, the marker for day 1 would be on page 10. The marker for day 2 would be on page 15. And so on.
This is a good trick as you can focus on the reading, instead of wondering, “Am I already there yet?”
You can do this in advance for all of your books, or just your current book. Or just do it each day right before you start your reading session.
I like the last option best. In case you change your daily reading quota, you won’t have to re-paginate all your reading materials.
If you are using paperback copies, use a pencil or a post-it. If you are using a Kindle, use digital bookmarks.
15. Time Block
You got your reading schedule in place. Now you need to make sure the actual reading gets done.
The key is to time block. Reserve a certain period each day for reading.
For example, you might decide to read your 5 daily pages every day from 2 pm to 2:30 pm.
Put that reading interval in your calendar, just like you would an appointment.
Plan for a 50 percent buffer. If it usually takes you 15 minutes to finish your 5 pages, plan for 30 minutes. If it takes longer that day, there won’t be a problem.
It can be a good idea to read in the morning, when you are still fresh. That makes it easier to tackle challenging new ideas.
You can also read during downtimes, e.g., if you commute to work using public transportation. But make sure to get noise-canceling headphones, so you can focus.
The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.Attributed to Mark Twain
You might eventually get to a point where you time block several sessions per day, e.g., one in the morning at 7 am, one after lunch at 2 pm and another one after dinner at 9 pm.
This is how you work your way up to a weekly reading schedule, one where you consistently read one book or more per week.
It’s absolutely doable. If your quota is 20 pages per session, that is 60 pages a day or 420 pages per week.
16. Don’t Multitask
It is tempting to get more done by using audiobooks. This way, you can listen to a book while driving to work or doing the dishes.
I would still advise against it.
Studies have consistently shown that multitasking does not work. Our brains are not capable of focusing on two things at once.
If you attempt to multitask anyway, you won’t absorb the information as thoroughly. This means you won’t be able to apply it.
Also, the rapid switching back and forth between tasks leads to major productivity losses.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with siting in a chair, listening to an audiobook on your headphones, and doing nothing else. That is like a short monk mode.
17. Drop Bad Books
A reading schedule is meant to make sure certain important books get read.
But it doesn’t mean you should finish a bad book, just because it accidentally ended up on your list.
By paying attention to the initial selection process, that shouldn’t happen often. But when it does, be ruthless.
As soon as you realize that you are reading a crappy book, stop. Update your reading schedule to reflect the new dates, then start the next book. Do not waste any more time reading something subpar.
For this to work out, always have the next book on your list available. If you are using a Kindle, you can order books ad hoc electronically. But if you prefer paperback copies, make sure to order ahead.
I know this advice will rub some people the wrong way. I used to be one of these people. I felt like I had to finish what I have started.
Also, I felt a certain reverence towards books — someone had deemed them worth publishing, so they must be good.
Now I realize that was misguided. Our time is limited. When we choose wrongly, we need to course correct right away.
Also, I am less in awe of the publication process. Media products are just like any other products — some are bad, most are mediocre, a few stand out. There is nothing magic about them.
Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some for to be chewed and digested.Francis Bacon
18. Reread Quality Books
It seems counterintuitive. But a reading schedule is ultimately not about the number of books you read. In truth, it is about sifting through the mass of books out there to find the few gems.
And once you find such a gem, you should reread it regularly.
For example, I have read “Getting Things Done” by David Allen so many times, you would think I’d be tired of it by now. But every time I read it again, I discover several new aspects.
The same goes for Harry Browne’s “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.” Bob Black’s “Abolition of Work.” Or anything by Camille Paglia.
I would rather reread these books until the end of my days than constantly add mediocre titles just to be able to say “I read 50 new books this year.” That is not the point. Finding the few books that have the greatest effect and applying them is.
Quality over quantity, always.