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« Thoughts on the Long List - A Better Way? | Main | Top 10 Advantages of The Long List »

How to Get a Book Read (Revised)

In March this year I wrote a piece on how to get a book read. Although the technique mentioned there proved reasonably successful, I’ve since been using one which seems to work better for me.

It’s very simple. Imagine you have a pile of books. Starting from the top of the pile, look at the books in turn until you come to one which you feel like reading now. Read it for as long as you want to, then put the book in top place on the pile.

The next time you feel like doing some reading, repeat the procedure. If you feel like reading the book at the top of the pile again, read it. If you don’t, look at books in turn until you come to one you feel like reading now. As before, replace the book at the top of the pile.

What I find usually happens is that I latch on to one book that I select most times. That is of course until I finish it. Then another book will take over pole position.

This can be applied to many situations other than a pile of books. Books on a shelf rather than in a pile work just as well of course. And so do books on Kindle, which automatically shows the last book you read at the head of the list. You can use it for movies, whether a pile of DVDs or streaming videos on Amazon or Netflix. Try it for magazines, particularly if you have to read them for professional purposes.

The above suggestions are not comprehensive. Use your imagination to think of other uses of the technique. Restaurants, walks, types of exercise? What else?

Reader Comments (21)

October 12, 2017 at 5:08 | Registered CommenterSeraphim

Yes, well spotted. And so was the article I recently wrote about The Panic List. I nearly said they were ways of using AF2, but decided it would take too long to explain what AF2 was for those who didn't already know (i.e. just about everyone) and there wasn't much point in doing so anyway.
October 12, 2017 at 13:10 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Why not just put the book titles on the long list, and let the usual process deal with them?
October 12, 2017 at 21:22 | Unregistered CommenterNenad

You certainly can do it that way if you want to. Personally though I might have twenty or more books I want to read and to put them all on the long list would simply clutter things up.
October 12, 2017 at 23:28 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
So it basically encourages dropping stuff if you don't like particularly like it? I've always struggled with this and push through until I've finished reading it.

Interesting though and looking forward to using this.
October 13, 2017 at 23:32 | Unregistered CommenterYoyorast
I'm using a version of this technique to clear out my closet. I have two rods - top one for shirts and the bottom one for suits and pants. Since the left side of my closet is kind of a pain to get to because of the door, I spend 95% of my time using clothes on the right side of my closet. Now, when an article of clothing put back into my closet, I hang it up on the far left. Then I force myself to touch the furthest right item when choosing what to wear. If it is just not appropriate for now, I move it to the left. However, and this is where the clearing out happens - if it no longer suits me or fits, I put it immediately into the donation box. It may take a few weeks or so, but I will have made a decision on all of my hanging clothes by then. Some stuff I haven't touched in years!!
October 24, 2017 at 15:17 | Unregistered Commentertomcal
Mark, you are genius - it is the simplest an the most intelligent approach I've ever heard! I push myself to finish that top book everytime, but for what reason, really, if there is something better you feel inspired about right now?!

As for me, I keep "the pile" as online todo list, because it physicall it could be kindle, paper book, pdf or other doc on PC which is not yet on kindle and just names of recommended books by someone.

As a list of todo is 200+ books, I also move the book closer to the top (-25% of positions) as soon as someone whom I respect recommend it.
October 26, 2017 at 12:53 | Unregistered CommenterMikhail Subach
Inspired by this, I'm trying a new Long List method - Simple Scanning, but starting from the bottom of the list each time, and scanning up. So far, I like it. It's helping avoid my biggest weakness - starting lots of projects and never finishing anything.

This way, my main project and most important tasks get the chance to be hammered every time through the list until they're finished - very like a book at the top of Mark's pile.

When I take a break from a project, I don't have to read through the whole of the list before I can work on it again (and maybe get distracted by something fun but non-essential early in the list which I persuade myself is standing out). I start with the tasks that I have been doing most recently, which will usually be the most important ones.
October 27, 2017 at 11:45 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
And five minutes after posting, I saw Seraphim's comment. Of course, all I've done is rediscover AF2!
October 27, 2017 at 13:10 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
And five minutes after posting, I saw Seraphim's comment. Of course, all I've done is rediscover AF2!
October 27, 2017 at 13:10 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
If I want to combine this with RAF, should I just enter "Read book" in the list, and just follow the process described in this post?
November 9, 2017 at 0:52 | Unregistered CommenterYoyorast

<< should I just enter "Read book" in the list, and just follow the process described in this post? >>

That's how I do it, yes. Regardless of what system I'm using to process the main list.
November 9, 2017 at 12:05 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Can you do this with anything as long as you keep track of the last thing you did?
February 22, 2018 at 2:48 | Unregistered CommenterYoyorast
I’m doing good his now with the top shelf of my bookshelf. It’s about half full with books now but if it ever gets full I will just file the oldest in the category position it deserves for books I’m not engaged in reading anymore.

Yoyorast: yes you could do this with anything. Well perhaps it won’t be effective with certain things but you will never know unless you try, right? Did you have anything in mind?
February 22, 2018 at 20:38 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Alan Baljeu: I was thinking of doing this with windows folders, but it would be tricky to put the last thing you worked on at the top, as custom sorting is not supported.
February 22, 2018 at 20:51 | Unregistered CommenterYoyorast
You can sort by date, provided you are talking about sorting the files within a folder. Folders themselves don't reliably get redated.
February 23, 2018 at 2:46 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
I've set my OS to sort & group all items by "date modified," and it is really convenient. Virtually everything I want to open is within the first 5 items of the appropriate list. I find that folders get sorted right into the mix most of the time (sorted by the most recently modified item inside), with occasional hiccups. This works great on my Mac at home and almost as well on Windows at work. Except, on Windows I end up having to click the "Modified Date" column heading often to restore the order, or to get it to stop clumping the folders together separately from the files. But at this point it's muscle memory and very easy.

It also helps to keep very few folders, and most of my files now begin their life in ~/Downloads, even files I create myself unless they clearly belong in an already-established project folder. Most don't become important enough to file anywhere special, so they stay in Downloads and rot until I delete a bunch off the bottom. The few that I need to keep more organized are easily dragged to a project folder once it becomes clear that I'm going to care about them. I keep only a few folders full of projects: Working, Reference, and Archive. Each sorts its own project folders likewise by modified date, and the items within the folders too. I can't believe how much time I used to waste organizing these folders and files, wondering what categories made the most sense, etc.

I have filed items on a shelf in my office this way too, and I love it. I simply file *EVERY* item in the top-left position. Most of the time, I took the item from the top shelf anyway, so as I reinsert it, it shifts the others along to the right into its former spot. Occasionally, the item was not from the top shelf, so I need to move an item off the end onto the next shelf. There is usually room for it to squish in, but even more occasionally I might need to move an item off the end of the 2nd shelf, etc. When the bottom shelf fills up, I remove at least half of its items and figure out what to do with them. That has happened maybe a few times in several years. It helps to keep small or oddly shaped items in magazine bins, and I allow myself to tuck things into spare room in one of these bins liberally to avoid forcing other things off the end. If I had a lot more things, I might set up a few shelves with very broad categories.
February 23, 2018 at 3:14 | Unregistered CommenterBernie
I have been filing pretty much everything in "My Documents" in OneDrive for years, sorted by "date modified" new-old. Occasionally I create a folder for ease of sharing, but this is very much the exception.

This also works pretty well for Outlook Tasks for some of Mark's methods.
February 23, 2018 at 9:17 | Registered CommenterWill
Bernie, sometimes it is uncanny how much we think alike. I organize my files in almost exactly the same way. New creations start their life in the Downloads folder sorted by Modified Date, then I move them to Working, Reference and Archive folders if I decide I need to keep them around. If I don't move them, they sort to the bottom of the list and get purged from time to time.

The only difference is I call it "Projects" instead of "Working". LOL
February 23, 2018 at 15:53 | Registered CommenterSeraphim
Seraphim, perhaps I am secretly your alter ego. Has anyone ever seen us together? I think not. ;)
February 24, 2018 at 3:21 | Unregistered CommenterBernie

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