My book reading workflow

9 min read

I have been reading since childhood and never did I realise that a book reading workflow is a thing that I would one day develop. As a child, things were simple. I could always make time for books. Books took priority over most other things in life. But as grown-ups we no longer have that freedom, flexibility and those long periods of uninterrupted time. With other responsibilities taking preference over your favourite hobby, having a workflow in place starts making sense. Neither was my workflow intentional  nor did it emerge instantaneously. I guess it just evolved over time from an amorphous set of undefined and random activities to a well-oiled set of definite steps. Let’s find out what they are.

Want to Read

What gets measured gets managed.

This is a quote made famous by the legendary management guru Peter Drucker in his book, The Practice of Management. It has become of my maxims in my self-improvement journey. I keep in mind this quote everytime I want to develop a good habit. Running? I measure how many minutes I ran. Diet? I measure my weight regularly. Building a meditation practice? I keep a daily log of my meditation times.

Measuring something is the first step to improving your performance at it. So if your goal is to read as many books as you can, an imperative is to start by tracking your book reading.

There are multiple ways to do it. You can simply use a notepad and keep a list of books that you are reading or are planning to read. If you want to be more thorough, you can add start and end dates to track how long it took you to complete a book.

I use Goodreads to plan and maintain my book reading workflow. LibraryThing is another site that I recommend for tracking your books. The difference between the two? If you want a social experience, I would recommend Goodreads. If you want a private library, then LibraryThing is, well, your thing. I started with Goodreads, moved on to LibraryThing for a while and then switched back to Goodreads. I like the uncluttered interface of Goodreads better. I would suggest you try out both these websites and make your own choice. Trello is another excellent task manager that I dabbled in for some time. It has a card and board based layout that can mimic the book shelves in Goodreads or LibraryThing. A task manager like Trello works when you just want to track your books and are not interested in the metadata that both of these websites provide.

Ideally I would prefer to plan out in advance my entire book reading list for the year. But it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you come across a good book while randomly browsing the library or your neighbourhood book store. Sometimes you come across a book being recommended in the book that you are reading. And down you go exploring the rabbit hole.

One useful suggestion. While selecting books, do not simply go by the blurb or even reviews. Make a point to browse through the book and see if it appeals to you. One of my first steps whenever a book catches my eyes to quickly go through the Table of Contents. Be it in the book store or on Amazon’s website, this is a must before I add the book to my workflow.

Whenever I find a book that seems interesting, I add it to my Want To Read shelf on Goodreads. This becomes the pool of potential next reads. If you’re really serious about maintaing a steady rhythm in your book reading workflow, I would suggest you to sign up for the Goodreads yearly challenge. This is another nifty feature of Goodreads that lets you set a target for the number of books that you think you can complete in a year. You see, what gets measured gets managed.

Currently Reading

On your marks

Once I’ve decided on which book to read, I set up a reminder in my to-do app a week down the line. Although I try to complete reading the book much faster than that, a weekly reminder helps as an outer limit.

One or many?

There are people who like to read more than one book at a time. They can switch effortlessly between the two stories, plots and characters. I’m not a good multi-tasker. So I prefer to read one book at a time. Pairing books while reading has its own pros and cons. On one hand, having an alternate book to switch to (especially in a different genre) is a good way to keep away from monotony. On the other hand, it can also leave you divided for attention. This is especially evident while reading non-fiction when it helps to be completely focused on the material. Neither of these approaches has a significant advantage all the time, so I leave it up to you whether you want to read multiple books at a time or focus on a single book.

Once I start reading a book, I move the book to the Reading shelf on Goodreads. Also I regularly update the page that I’m currently at on Goodreads regularly to keep myself motivated on my progress.

Read

I highlight my books profusely. I like to be able to refer to these highlights without having to go through the entire book again. So if the book that I read was on my Kindle, I extract the highlights from my Kindle account and copy them to Evernote which is the tool that I use to store all my notes. This also ensures that I have a copy of my highlights and notes with me in case one fine day the book (and its highlights) disappear from my device.

If it is a paper-based book, it is not as simple as copy and paste. It requires a couple of steps more. Earlier I typed out all my highlights directly into Evernote but I have seen that it takes a lot of time. Instead now with the advent of excellent voice recognition technology, I can simply dictate my highlights and notes. To do this you have a lot of options currently. I’ll quickly describe a few of them:-

  1. Swiftkey (or other smartphone keyboards) – Swiftkey has been my preferred keyboard on my smartphone for years. With its excellent prediction technology and its customisable layouts, Swiftkey is a better option than any other keyboard app. It also has an option to type text on your phone using speech recognition technology. Open your favourite note-taking app, press the microphone button and you can simply dictate your notes and highlights as you read. Please note that this service uses Google’s speech recognition service and your speech is processed on Google’s servers.
  2. Otter.ai – This is another program that is fast gaining popularity and is also very accurate in its speech recognition. The free version of the service gives you around 500 minutes of speech recognition every month and I think that is is more than enough for the average reader. Otter.ai also uses its own infrastructure to process your speech on their servers.
  3. Google Docs Voice Typing – If you use Chrome as your browser and have a Google account, then you can also use Google Docs (that is the online version of Microsoft Word) to recognise speech directly into the editor. Again this uses the Google infrastructure for its speech recognition.
  4. Dragon Naturally speaking – This is one of the oldest speech recognition software available today. It has improved over the years and is probably one of the best speech recognition programs available for Windows (and other platforms). Of course this software is not free and will cost you a few bucks. But be reminded that you will probably have to train the software in order to get a decent level of accuracy from it.
  5. Online transcription services – There are a lot of transcription services online where you can hire a person to transcribe your audio for you. A couple of websites that provide this service includes fiverr and craigslist. But I wouldn’t recommend going so far as asking someone to type out your notes and highlights. First there will be a considerable turn around time for getting your transcribed text sent back to you. Secondly, in this day and age of Alexas and Siris, voice recognition has become a trivial problem. With powerful and accurate software available in the palm of your hand, there is no reason why would want to go through this approach for an incremental improvement in accuracy.

One final point in this section.

Enter Calibre

Purist book lovers swear by this software that allows you to organise your e-book library on your own computer. It can easily convert between multiple formats giving you the ability to read on your favourite app or e-reader. But that is one more reason why I like Calibre. I’m not ashamed to admit that I hate DRM on my e-books just as much as the other guy. I often de-DRM the books that I have bought to keep a reference for my personal use. Just like I own my paper-based books for ever and am not simply renting them, I believe that I should have life-time (and transferable) ownership of digital books as well. Because this is a grey area and laws are different in each country, I would suggest you to do your own research before de-DRMing your e-books. Of course, if you’re going to share your de-DRMed books online then you’re stupid and you deserve the penalties. No way do I condone or encourage that.

Wrap up

As I come to the end of the book and close the cover, there are a couple of steps left to do. First is to rate the book on Goodreads so that I can get more accurate recommendations in the future based on my ratings. I also try to write out a review of most of the books that I read. This helps me to summarise the book before I shelve it in the Read category. It also helps other people to make their purchase decision for their next book. After all that is what this blog is all about, right?

So there you have it. My three step workflow for reading books. Hope you liked it. How does your own workflow differ? Is it shorter and simpler than this? Or is it much more elaborate? Do let me know in the comments section.

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