Building a Personal Reading Plan

For many things in life we develop plans. When we travel, we make sure we know where we’re going and where we’ll be staying. In your career you probably have plans as well – such as which positions you want to grow towards and what you want to achieve.

Not many people have a reading plan however.

And this is a shame, because just like any other plan it will help you to set a direction and to maximize the value of your reading and study time.

What is a reading plan?

So what exactly is a reading plan? Simply put, it’s just a basic outline that helps you to navigate a topic that you want to study. If, for example, you want to become a better listener and develop a higher sense of empathy, you would note down all the books you plan to read on this topic. It can also be broader than that: maybe you want to deep dive on a single topic, such as World War II.

You can either develop a personal reading plan or you can follow suggestions of others. For the former you would start by keeping track of a running list of things you want to read. For the latter you can, for example, some of our guides such as: this or this.

Why would you want to have a reading plan?

In whichever way you decide to do it, setting a plan has many advantages. At its most basic level it helps you to set a course and to avoid a situation where you’re constantly trying to find the next thing to read. The course is already plotted, and you can take the path of least resistance by just going to the next book on your reading plan.

Here are some other main advantages of building this reading plan:

Failing to plan = Planning to fail

If you don’t have a plan for something you’re setting yourself up for failure. Good intentions are nice, but very often they are not enough to accomplish something. What you need is a plan, and the discipline to follow through.

Of course, if you’re reading for personal growth you want to avoid this situation. So that is why you start to build the plan. This, in turn, also allows you to ‘discipline’ yourself with reading habits as well. If you know that you want to learn subject X, and that you’ve selected these 5 or 10 books to get you started, you have a goal you can work towards and this can be a form of motivation – or satisfaction, when you’ve actually achieved it.

Planning is the basis for growing and achieving things, and if you don’t, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Reinforces your reading habit

Sometimes it can be difficult to develop your reading habit if you’re constantly searching for the next book you want to read. Especially if you want to delve deeper into a certain topic, you will want to avoid the situation where you stop reading just because you don’t know what to read next.

On the other hand, it’s also entirely possible that you are faced with too many choices. If you want to know more about a certain topic you will most certainly find that there are dozens if not hundreds of books on the topic. This means it can be extremely difficult to make a choice (see: paralysis by analysis). But, if you have a predefined plan, or you’re following a curated reading list then you don’t have this issue.

And by keeping a reading plan you can feed your reading habit. You know which direction you’re going with your study, and you can simply pick the next book on your list.

It helps to tackle complex or ‘heavy’ topics

There are certain books that cover very complex topics or themes. If you commit yourself to learning about this topic and you pick up the first book, you might face some difficulties. Reading about new subjects, or subjects that should be way above your ‘level’, can prove to be very difficult.

But what you will find is that with every book you read it becomes easier. The first book on a subject can be difficult. You might have to look up various words, concepts, people, or cultural references. And that’s fine because it’s part of the learning process.

But as soon as you delve into the next book on your reading plan you will see that it becomes easier. You already have the background knowledge, you already know the basic topic, and so you can go through this book a lot faster than the first one.

Listing these books in a plan or curriculum you want to follow can be a real motivating factor. Especially when you find that it’s becoming easier you will become more motivated to really tack the complex topics, and grow.

Read it, master it (and start again)

Related to the previous point: if you do tackle complex subjects and if you’ve read multiple complementary books on a specific topic, you will gain not only a sense of satisfaction but also of mastery. You will understand the topic better, you will absorb the knowledge, grow as a person, and you’ll be able to apply the things into practice.

Reading deeply is the best way to do this. You start with the first book, but then you continue through the rabbit hole and try to absorb all the knowledge of a specific field. If you want to draw, for example, you should not only read instruction books, but also biographies, historical accounts, and perhaps even fictional accounts (besides doing a lot of drawing obviously).

This process is immensely satisfying and you gain a real sense of accomplishment doing this. In turn, this also reinforces the lifelong learning habit that is essential if you want to continue to grow as a person and don’t want to stagnate in your current position.

So consider your reading plan to be a syllabus; a curriculum that you use not just to master a subject, but also to grow as a person.

How to develop a reading plan?

Developing a personal reading plan is relatively simple. First you need to convince yourself that this is the way to go forward. Remember: this plan will help you with your personal growth, and it’s supposed to challenge you.

There are a few ways to implement a reading plan. The first is highly personal: you build your own reading plan based on the things that you want to read. It doesn’t necessarily need to be thematic. It can just be a running list of books you think are interesting and that could offer value to you (a wish list as it where).

You can also follow a list of award winning books (e.g. Pulitzer prize winners), or read the entire oeuvre of a single author. Or perhaps you find it interesting to research a single historical or cultural period, of which you read all the books you can find on. Say, the Vietnam War.

Of course another good option is to read through curated lists of others as this can be a good starting point for your own. Consider, for example, using our lists in the ‘what to read’ section to get some pointers to get started. But remember when you’re following a list made by others: there no need to stick to it religiously. If you want to add, change, or delete titles to make it fit more with what you want, then please go ahead. You’re reading for you.

Finally, you might want to consider the rabbit hole methodology. For every book that you read on a subject, check the bibliography in the back. Often you can find some really good hints or tips in there for your next read. You could even make it a rule for yourself that for every book you read, you at least find one book in the bibliography that you read next. This way you ‘go down the rabbit hole’. You start with one book on the subject, but soon you’ll be snowballing through the entire literature on a specific subject. And that’s an excellent way to amass knowledge and become an expert in that area.

In the end though, remember that a reading plan is a moving target. You will never be done, and that’s the point of keeping such a list. There will always be something else to study, some other skills to improve, and some way to grow as a human being. So keep track, develop your own list or follow someone else’s, and be sure to put your learning into practice.

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