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Reading Books The GTD Way

I had a little stump-the-coach moment working one of my practice clients on the phone last night, and I'd like to hear others' thoughts in it. She was describing her office to me (no digital camera) and she mentioned her stack of books-in-progress. She was right on when she suggested they should probably go in their own location that doesn't contribute to clutter, but is readily available, but she wanted to know how to "trigger" reading them. Hmmm. That one got me thinking about my own book reading system, and whether it adheres to David Allen's discipline (AKA GTD). The answer: No.

As I mentioned earlier, I love using a portable Read/Review folder for non-book writings, but I realized that my current approach to books does not involve Next Actions. Instead, I was relying on two things: a) my habit of looking for a book to read when I needed one, and b) using the books themselves as triggers. Thinking about this made me realize that I'm not satisfied with the progress I've been making, partly because reading them is work. (I'm talking about reading for education, in which I take notes, think about what I read, and will want to change my behavior as a result - install a new habit, adopt a new technique, or create new Next Actions.) I've read a few interesting GTD-based solutions for blogs and news, but I've noticed fewer specific to books.

The solution? A straightforward application of Allen's principles, esp. breaking it down, and asking "What's the next action?" - My next action should be something like "read pages M-N of book X" (where the number of pages is small enough to make the action reasonably concrete), and, because the project ("read book Y") presumably involves two or more steps, I should also add an entry to my "Projects" list. Happily, I found similar advice on the GTD forums (Using GTD to manage reading books):
1. Write down every book you're currently in the middle of reading -- not every book you own or plan to read; just the ones that currently have your attention.

2. Decide which one would be best to finish first.

3. Make the page you're currently reading in that book your next action (e.g. "Read GTD pg. 118"), not arbitrary quotas like "Read Chapter 12."
I'd use a greater page range, but the advice is sound, and the technique, the author says, "cuts through the haze like magic".

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...

Reader Comments (4)

Excellent suggestion! I had never thought of applying GTD to my reading. I do have a pile of books I want to read to serve me as a visual reminder. The end result is that they add to clutter and I am also intimidated by them.

Besides that sometimes I end up reading bad books (I absolutely must read something before I go to bed!) simply because they happen to be there and NOT in my pile of "worthy" books. The process is the same as when we so a low priority action simply to avoid doing the high priority action we know we should be doing.

Thanks for the suggestion Matt.

September 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterHuber

Thanks for the comments, Huber. I was doing the same thing - a pile that never got worked on, and reading lower-quality books due to availability. Regarding doing a low priority action to avoid a higher priority one, I comletely understand - I do the same. I just read some great tips on this, and I'll try to post them soon, but if you have any tricks, I'd love to hear them.

September 26, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell


I think GTD way of reading is great but there's one small but. If you have to read the book till some deadline then the next action would go to the calendar with X pages per day as must to do :)


Eugene Borisoff.

August 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Excellent point, Eugene. Thanks very much!

August 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Cornell

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