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Our Reading Lives

How and Why I Schedule My Reading

Sarah S. Davis

Staff Writer

Sarah S. Davis holds a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania, a Master's of Library Science from Clarion University, and an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Sarah has also written for Electric Literature, Kirkus Reviews, Audible, Psych Central, and more. Sarah is the founder of Broke By Books blog and runs a tarot reading business, Divination Vibration. Twitter: @missbookgoddess Instagram: @Sarahbookgoddess

Chaos. That’s how I’d describe my old reading habits. With countless books out of the library that, I admit, there was no chance I’d ever read, plus new (and old) arrivals stacked up in heaps on my shelves, not to mention my digital shelves on my Kindle, which was hundreds of books deep, I had no strategy to actually want to read and finish anything. There was no way I was going to accomplish my reading achievements, like reading a book a week for a total of 52 in the year, nor was I going to keep up with my reading for Book Riot’s TBR, where I work as a Bibliologist, and not for my monthly column of “Recommended Reads” that I write for my hometown newspaper.

Something had to happen. Something had to change. I could not go on like this. 

A few months ago, I started to schedule my reading. It all started with a note in my Notes App. I listed the books I’d read so far that month. It was useful to see them all right after the other without any kind of styling with extra bells and whistles that come with your Goodreads Read page. Just a list of books, nothing more, nothing less.

That inspired me. Once I saw the books I had read listed there, I realized I was motivated to make that list go longer. Meanwhile, both my digital and physical TBR list was overgrown like kudzu and getting worse by the minute. My To-Read list on Goodreads was way too deep to manage. There were books on there that I wanted to read a decade ago and knew I was never going to get around to finishing. Just looking at it gave me anxiety. I needed something more manageable. And so I started to list the top 15 or so books I wanted to read in the near future in another list in the Note.

This both inspired and, at first, daunted me. I couldn’t see my way to reading all of these books in the next few weeks. But, I reasoned, it might be doable for the coming months. And what better way to do it than schedule my reading time?

Next, I broke the month into different sections, with each week of the month underlined. I then chose a few books per week, settling at about four since I finish anywhere from one to four books a week. As the days went by in the week, I adjusted and moved things around if need be, such as when a book was taking longer to finish than I expected. 

And what was the result of my scheduled reading experiment?

I read way more books. 

In August, I finished five books, rebounding from a reading slump.

And in September, I read seven books. 

That was more books read than I have averaged for much of the year. It turns out that scheduling your reading can really help you focus and stay organized rather than be completely overwhelmed by every book I want to read. Scheduling my reading helped me stay on track and brought me closer to my reading practice than before.

Of course, there is a downside to scheduling your reading. 

I love spontaneity in my reading and wanted to ensure that I still have an element of book discovery when I encounter a new book I hadn’t planned on reading. My biggest fear when I started scheduling my reading was that I would lose the “wild card” factor where a book I wasn’t expecting to like turned out to be really engrossing, and I would stop everything else I was reading just to focus on devouring that one. However, to my surprise, I was able to adjust and accommodate new books into the schedule without losing my sense of direction.

There’s also something to be said for the existential angst of the process. When listing my TBR, which was in fact just a small microcosm of the books I want to read, I had to confront the truth of my own mortality. The simple fact was, I would never finish all the books I wanted to read. One day, I will die, and that TBR will still not be empty. But this component actually made me feel more emboldened by my reading. If I wasn’t feeling a book, I wasn’t going to finish it. There’s simply not an infinite stretch of time where I will read every book I want to read. Scheduling my reading made this clear. On the other hand, I took more charge of my reading practice and only actually finished books that were the ones I really, really wanted to read.

Do you want to try scheduling your reading?

If you’re a planning fiend, scheduling your reading is easy to incorporate into your life. I must admit I’m a bit of a planning nerd. I am attached to my Passion Planner paper journal planner and constantly live in a world of spreadsheets with master plans and Notes with smaller ones. I tried bullet journaling, but I couldn’t get into it. That being said, I think pairing scheduled reading with bullet journaling would be a great combination. I’m also a fan of just a plain Note in whatever note keeping app you prefer. Or. you could start an email draft and keep adding to it that way.

I would definitely recommend scheduling your reading to anyone who wants to truly tackle their TBR, finish more books, and read mindfully. Try it out for a month or two and see how you do. You just might find similar success to what I’ve discovered with reading better, faster, and stronger.