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Why you should have a reading list

I’ve always read a lot. My habit of carrying a book every where began in elementary school. I read Jane Eyre in snippets in between lessons in sixth grade, and it still made a big impression. (More on that in the video.)

But it was only as an adult that I began tracking my reading, a habit that has made me a better, more intentional reader.

Jeopardy! started it. A contestant said she’d read 1,000 books over a decade, and I scoffed. That didn’t seem like that many! (Spoiler: it is.) I’d never kept track, I told my husband, but I bet I read at least 100 books every year. (Spoiler: I don’t.) So, in 2008, I started a list in the back of my planner. That first year, I read 65 books. The second year, 101. Year three, 88. My annual average is 106.

Tracking began as a way to see how my reading stats compared to other people, but has become an intensely useful and personal tool. Trying to get to 100 books a year, I gave myself permission — finally! — to skip books that weren’t entertaining or educating me. Realizing I read most when I was overwhelmed — for example: 110 books in 2014, when we made big job decisions and moved — I set parameters to make sure I wasn’t using books to avoid life. Scanning my list regularly, I make sure I’m reading a wide variety of authors from different places and backgrounds. And I mark my favorite books, so I’m always ready with a book recommendation — or two, or three, or as many as you'll take

My lists still are decidedly low-tech, handwritten in the back of my paper planners each year, separated by month. It's my preference. 

But I have friends who use spreadsheets. And there are dozens of apps that can helpGoodreads is the most obvious and popular choice — you can set reading challenges for yourself! — and I've also had fun on Litsy. A friend aptly described it as the lovechild of Goodreads and Instagram. 

The first advice financial planners give to people wanting to save money is to create a budget to track spending. Your reading list is like a budget. If you want to read more, tracking the books you're already reading is a great way to start. You'll see what books bog you down, what authors or types of books you gravitate toward, and when you have time to read. You might be surprised by how much — or, as I was, how little — you're actually reading.

And you'll be able to set a realistic reading goal moving forward.