How to get the most out of every book you read

Millions of books at your fingertip

I was not a reader two years ago. The last book I read from cover to cover was XXXXXX, an historical novel for kids. That was 10 years ago.

Increasing my work-independence in 2018 and 2019 motivated me to prioritize self-organization and productivity. In those two years alone I read 40+ books on habit building, personal organization, productivity and learning. It is not so much about the sheer number of books I read, but about their applicability and relevance to that period of my life.

We live in an unprecedented time:There are an estimated number of 130 million books in the world*, of which a growing amount is available right at our fingertips. You would need around 1000 lifetimes* assuming you don’t do much else then reading, not counting in the new books released every week.

How can we use this privileged position in order to use reading as the primary learning skill to arm us for career and life?

The key success factor is to filter and prioritize as early as possible in the process. In 2001 the Agile Alliance formulated the Agile Manifesto*, including 12 principles to guide teams working in agile projects.

"Simplicity - the art of maximizing the amount of work not done - is essential." - 10th principle of agile project management

I always wanted to "do it all". Maximizing the work not done is the antidote, filtering the noise and separating the important from the insignificant. With millions of books at your fingertip and only one lifetime worth of reading, applying the principle of maximizing the amount of work not done will help you to spend your time wisely.

The following paragraphs are my take to combine the essence of this principle with other project management methods to create a system to identify, organize and prioritize the books you want to read.

Identify - How to find good books.

Exploring alternatives is the first step of every research process. In the so-called diverging phase, we check whether the first books we came across were really the once most beneficial to our project. In this phase it does not matter whether you are searching for books on a specific topic or are trying to establish a reading habit on a broad range of topics. The approach of diverging and subsequent converging stays the same.

When I picked up reading again three years ago I really had no idea where to start. I might have had two or three books in mind, but really I was lost.

Most public figures post their "best reads of the year" or "the books that change me most" online. Checking the reading lists of e.g. Barack Obama and Tim Ferris were the ones which provided me with my first reading list. They overlapped so that I ended up with 20-30 unique books.