I Used Agile to Read 82 Books in 2017. Here’s How

In 2017 I managed to read over 80 books. It is a personal record – I never read more than 30 books in a year before, and I realised that we can easily read one book a week. It does require some organisation, triggers and reminders, but it is also enjoyable and rewarding.

It started with my best friend, Diana, telling me to join the goodreads reading challenge, at the beginning of 2017. The challenge is only for yourself (your friends see it, but they can only like and comment). You can already create a reading list for the entire challenge if you like (and if you’re like me, with over 400 books waiting to be read).

I set 52 books as my reading objective in 2017, I read 82. Here’s my method:

  1. I set an objective I thought was too ambitious. With the goal in sight, I knew where I was every week and adjusted my reading to reach my objective. So don’t think 12 books, go double.
  2. I replaced idle time spent on Facebook with time spent on Kindle or iBooks. I spend a lot of time commuting, waiting for transport, waiting in line to purchase stuff, waiting for people, and so on. Often, because I’m not sure how long I need to wait, I’d spend this time on Facebook, Twitter, email and so on. I made a conscious decision to open Kindle or iBooks instead and read. Try to win those 2-3 extra hours of reading every day.
  3. I made a goodreads list – reading-next – where I added books I want to read in a logical order (connected by topic, author, or theme). This a living artefact, always updated after finishing the current book. Make your own reading list and constantly update it.
  4. I don’t read only non-fiction, or only fiction, and I don’t read one book at a time. This is what made it all possible for me. I used to start a book and keep at it no matter what, even for months. But a lot of times a book is hard to read just because it’s of no direct use to you at that moment. So instead of spending a lot of time to finish a book, read something that excite you.
  5. If I absolutely wanted to read a book and it was a difficult one (hard to read, topic not too interesting, too technical), I made of habit of reading at least 10 pages every morning. I ended up reading 20 anyway, so I could finish that book in a month or less. My mind is the clearest in the morning, so it’s the best time to learn. 10-15 minutes every day will bring you at least one extra book per month.
  6. I started to read faster. If you don’t know how to do that, Jim Kwik has a technique that you can benefit from. What I realised is that, if I’m entirely immersed in a book, I don’t need to read every word. I can read the paragraph and get the point of the author, but I don’t need to read in-depth to understand the idea. This applies for non-fiction books only, if you speed-read fiction books you’re missing the point (to enjoy them!). I need to be able to focus on the book, any distraction will interrupt the flow of reading. Give speed-reading a try on your next book.
  7. Talking about rest, I’m not always in the right state of mind to read books. Sometimes I’m tired, sometimes I’m not in the mood or my brain is clogged. The good thing is that literature is no effort to read (unless you’re reading Shakespeare :)). On the contrary, it relaxes and calms me down, so I didn’t have any “reading breaks”. If I’m very tired, I switch to Romanian (my native language). Try literature, and try reading in your native language if you’re too tired.
  8. Last but not least, daily updating my progress on goodreads  is very satisfying for me. Checking lists or completing tasks releases dopamine in your brain and motivates you to do more. I love lists (I’m a big fan of Evernote and Notes), so goodreads just gave me the push I needed to keep going and reach my goal. Give goodreads a try and add me as a friend while at it.

TL;DR: don’t force yourself to read one book at a time, go with the flow, read what you feel like reading (fiction or non-fiction); read faster, your brain can take it; use goodreads to set a goal, track progress and see your friends’ book suggestions.

My approach is a mini-agile framework. This is why

  • weekly sprints and goals (1 book per week)
  • inspect and adapt (finished the book, decide what to read next based on ideas from this book)
  • flexible backlog (each week changed my to-read list based on current book)
  • if one book didn’t work out, I’d read another to reach my goal (pivot)
  • I had a visual board to track my progress (goodreads)
  • definitely need to improve my estimation skills 🙂
  • I’ve been testing each book (experiments, improvement with my teams)
  • always kept customer’s needs in my focus (I was quite satisfied with my approach) 🙂
  • I could keep a constant pace throughout the year
  • I didn’t do any daily huddles with myself, but did have regular checks on my progress
  • I didn’t do retrospectives with myself either, but did improve my reading approach based on learnings

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