Updated: Sunday, November 21, 2021

It’s that time of year where everyone seems to reflect on the year and set goals for the one to come. Looking back over 2020, I’m struggling to remember anything concrete that I can say I did for myself that improved my life in a meaningful way. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had career successes this year, my daughter turned two years old and is the light of my life, our family and friends are happy and healthy given everything that has occurred this year. I’m not saying that nothing good came out of 2020, as I think this pandemic has made me appreciate what I have more than anything else has in the past. I am however having a hard time coming up with ways in which I have grown personally throughout this year. I want to change that in 2021.

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A Full Shelf

I have a pretty good sized bookshelf in my home office which is mostly filled with books. I’ve collected these books throughout the years, taking them with me as I’ve moved, without much thought as to why. Obviously the intention of buying a book is to read it, however I find that it rarely happens in my case. What usually occurs is that I’ll see a book recommendation on Twitter or some blog post, click through to Amazon and excitedly click ‘Buy It Now!’. Soon enough the physical or digital copy will be at my disposal, and I’ll sit down and read the first few chapters. Then the book will sit idly on my desk (or in my Kindle library) for weeks. One day I’ll decide that my desk is too cluttered and needs some reorganizing, so I’ll move the stack of lonely books to my bookshelf where books go to never be touched again. This pattern has become so apparent, that I even made myself a promise this year that I would not buy any new books until I had fully read at least the majority of those that I already own. As you can imagine, I broke this promise.

It seems that have become a collector of books rather than a reader of them. Buying a book and putting it on the shelf does nothing but to create the illusion of having read it. It might make my serotonin spike to find out about a new book and click that ‘Buy’ button, but it does me no long term good to collect a bunch of books and pretend that I have gained the knowledge that they contain.

Developing a System

As stated above, I want to change this in 2021. I am committing to finishing the books I already own, and even re-reading those that I have already read while ensuring that I actually retain the information that they contain. My plan is to read 26 books this coming year, which equates to finishing a book every 2 weeks. While this may pale in comparison to others who have written about reading 100 or more books a year, I feel that this is an obtainable goal for me at my current stage in life. Maybe I’ll end up crushing this goal and end up reading 50 or more books in 2021, who knows, but the bar is set at 26, anything else will be a bonus.

I’m currently in the process of reading Atomic Habits1 by James Clear which states that it’s better to define a system rather than a goal when trying to create a new habit, as a goal without a system is just a desire with no plan for action. Therefore my system to read 26 books this coming year will be to dedicate at least 1 hour every morning before work (more on the weekends) to read.

Given the average person reads 50 pages per hour and let’s say the average book is 300 pages, this means I should be able to read at most 60 books in a year if I stick to my plan:

$$50\ \text{pages per hour} \times 7\ \text{hours per week} \times 52\ \text{weeks} = 18,200\ \text{pages}$$ $$\frac{18,200\ \text{pages}} {300\ \text{pages}} \approx 60\ \text{books}$$

You may be wondering why I’m committing to only read 26 books this year instead of 60. I chose to cut the number roughly in half for the following reasons:

1. 300 pages is just an average, some books may be much larger or require more concentration, taking longer to complete.
2. Life does not always go according to plan (as we can all attest to this year). Things may come up so I might not be able to always complete my 1 hour of reading every morning.
3. This will likely not be my only personal growth project this year. For example I’m thinking of trying to learn another language, which will definitely take up spare time.
4. I want to ensure that I not only read the books on my list, but retain the information in them as best as I can.

Retention

I don’t feel like I always retain the information that I read (or listen to). I’m sure many people feel this way, but I especially seem to have a hard time remembering what it is that I have just read. Sometimes I’ll get two-thirds of the way through a chapter or section and not remember the context around what I am reading. Even more regularly, I’ll finish a book and then realize I couldn’t give someone a good summary of what it’s about if I had to.

In order to try to fix my retention problem, I plan to write down the major points of what I read in a digital notebook. My wife got me a Rocketbook Fusion2 for Christmas, which is combination of a reusable physical notebook and digital storage system. Basically you write in the Rocketbook with a special pen and then you can take photos of your writings using the Rocketbook app which creates a digital copy and allows you to easily export your notes to your favorite cloud service.

Over the years I’ve tried many different ways of taking notes from the simple pen/paper Moleskin approach, to typing notes directly using platforms such as Evernote, to the esoteric Vim based approach. All of these have had their positives and negatives, but what I’ve found is that they all fall short in some way, since what I really want is a system that is:

1. Portable - If I’m on my work computer I don’t want to have to install a piece of software in order to take notes and sync with my existing notes on my personal machine.
2. Guilt Free - This may seem weird, but I sometimes feel guilty writing in ‘nice’ notebooks such as a Moleskin. This is probably mostly because I have ugly handwriting, but I also find myself questioning “Is this worth writing down and taking up space?”, likely due to the finite nature of a physical notebook.
3. Flexible - Sometimes I want to write notes, other times I need to doodle or draw. Digital notebooks such as Evernote don’t easily allow for this kind of flexibility without third party tools.
4. Organizable - What paper notebooks gain in flexibility, they lose in organization. I don’t want to fill up my already full bookshelf with old notebooks. Nor do I want to have to skim through physical pages looking for something I wrote down years ago.

The Rocketbook seems to solve all of the issues that I’ve had with other note taking systems, so I plan to use it to help me retain what I have read during the next year.

My planned reading/note taking process looks like this:

1. Read a chapter at a time or as much as 1 hour will allow
2. While reading, highlight or take notes of passages that I want to retain
3. At the end of each chapter, copy my notes into my notebook and write a couple of sentences summarizing what I read
4. Scan the notes using the Rocketbook app and export to Evernote, tagging appropriately

I think this process will help me retain more of what I read than if I were to just read the books by themselves. Even if I never reference some of these notes again, the process of highlighting, copying and summarizing should help solidify the major points in my brain. It has the added benefit of allowing me to quickly recall these notes when I need to via Evernote’s search feature.

After I finish a book, I plan to tweet out a couple sentences summarizing it or just noting my thoughts. Hopefully this way of ‘working in public’ should motivate me to finish the 26 book challenge while also documenting my thinking at the time.

Bookend

Hopefully at the end of 2021 I will look back and know that I grew personally through reading. If you’d like to see what I’m reading, check out my Goodreads and follow along on Twitter. Also if you have any book recommendations please let me know, I’ll add them to the list in case I’m able to complete my goal early.

Do you have any personal projects or large goals that you want to complete in 2021? If so give me a shout! I’d love to hear about them.

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