Books, Books & More Books! Organizing Your Reading List

My reading list had taken on a life, or should I say lives of its own.

The list that at one time was neatly maintained in Notes on my iPhone had spilled over into Toodledo,  a couple of visual reminder piles beside my bed and reading chair, and a number of newly downloaded books sitting in my iBooks and Kindle apps.  There were plenty of reminders to read, but no great way of selecting what to read.  I would pick up a book, typically whatever was most shiny at the time, start to read and immediately think, “Oh, I should be reading that other book because it relates to a project I’ll be doing,” or ” What am I doing, I need to finish my book club book?”  I was starting but not finishing any number of books.  It made my husband, a voracious and focused reader, laugh but it just left me frustrated.

I needed to organize my reading list so I could actually focus on working my way through it, instead of flitting around between any number of different books that caught my attention.  I know that flitting is one of the ways my ADHD shows up, but I also I knew from experience that having a plan could make all the difference in the world.

In any organizing project, the first step is to gather all of the like items.  For me this meant gathering all of  the book titles.  At first I was a little overwhelmed at the thought of this because there were so many, but I approached this like I would when working with a client by picking a starting point, for example the book titles listed in the Notes app and transferring them one by one into Toodledo, which is where I decided to capture my list. Once all of those were captured, I progressed through each of the above noted capture points.  In going through that process, I was able to immediately let go of some of the titles, with the easiest to jettison into the void being titles no longer of interest to me, such as War and Peace (Really, what was I thinking when I wrote that one down???)

After compiling this list in Toodledo I looked up every book on Amazon and determined if it was something I was genuinely interested in reading.  In making this determination, I considered the following:

  • Was the topic of the book of current interest to me?
  • How would reading the book support my goals at this point in my life?
  • If I was on the fence about a particular book I would check out the reviews and see what others thought about it.

Asking myself these questions and reading reviews helped me prioritize my selections.  Toodledo uses a number system to prioritize tasks or items:  -1 through 3 ,with 3 being the top priority.  I adopted this system using the following parameters:  Important and time sensitive reading was assigned a 3, or 3 with a star, depending on time sensitivity.   Reading I wanted to get through in the next twelve months was assigned a 2.  Books I want to read at some point in the next couple of years or that I’ve read and want to re-read were assigned a 1.  Books that sound interesting, but that I’m not willing to make any sort of commitment to at this point were deprioritzed with a 0 or a -1.  It is likely that some of these will drop off of the list in the future as I continue to evaluate my priorities.

This process ended up costing me most of an afternoon, but what it has given me in terms of a renewed purpose in my reading life, is priceless.   My list is still long, but it has structure and it provides direction.  I know that finishing Anna Karenina is on top of my list because I want to finish it for book club later this month.  I also know that reading On Writing Well is next in line and why that is so.  It’s refreshing to not  have to wonder about what to read next.  Like any system it will need to be maintained and modified, but it’s a much needed start.

These same basic organizing principles can be applied to your reading list, or any area of your life for that matter.   How do you keep on top of your reading list?  I’d love to hear!







3 Responses to “Books, Books & More Books! Organizing Your Reading List”

  1. Andrea January 6, 2013 5:11 am #

    I came across an interesting post over at Lifehacker today titled “Can I Learn to Read Faster and Get Through My Backlog of Books?” I’m hoping some of the techniques can help me work through my list a little faster! Maybe they can help you too. Check it out at

  2. Melanie Dennis February 2, 2013 12:26 pm #

    I like as well. I read a lot so I am always trying to gather book ideas from others. You can organize books create shelves like to read, read, topics of interest to you, and “so bad I couldn’t finish it”. Definitely going to check out te lifehacker site to get more books on my virtual read shelf.

    • Andrea Sharb February 3, 2013 1:06 am #

      Melanie, I know a number of people who really like Goodreads. Thanks for the reminder about this app. For purposes of simplicity, I prefer to keep all of my lists in one place, Toodledo. That’s what makes organizing so fascinating – there are so many different ways to accomplish a similar goal and each one can be “right”. The key is to find the right system for the right person. Happy reading!

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