Lifehack: Automating Your Reading List

The secret to getting things done is to have them happen when you’re not thinking about them. Automation is the key to keeping bills paid, files backed up, and tweeting new blog posts. It’s also easy to automate your reading list and have the books ready for you, all for free.

Your Local Library

Amazon is on a never ending quest to be the one-stop shop for all things reading. Now it’s trying to replace the library with Kindle Unlimited. But not all new titles are available on that service. The local library is still the best resource for free new books.

At this point I think all libraries have an online book reservation system. The best part is that you can set the date the hold becomes active.

I like to keep ten books on my hold list. If they all came in at once I would be swamped. So I space them out. I have each request set to become active on sequential Mondays. This way I’ll have a new book waiting for me every Tuesday or Wednesday. (Some books have to come from other branches, and it takes a day or so.)

I’ll usually read a genre novel in about two evenings. This way I have a week fininsh the newest one, and have a few days to spare before the next one is waiting. I can schedule a trip to the library every Friday to return a book, and always have a new one waiting.

Here’s another thing I found out about recently: hold requests work for books not yet released. So once a book is entered into the catalog, it can be put on hold. It’s like pre-ordering from the library. This is a great way to “jump the list” for upcoming popular books. To stay on the list for pre-releases, I need to keep the hold active. It will show up when it’s ready, and I’ll adjust my other holds to keep from getting overloaded.

Reading List Management

As useful as the online catalog is, library websites can be a horrible mess. To save my sanity, I keep a offline reading list in my GTD software. This way I know what’s checked out, when it’s due, and what’s coming up next.

I also keep a general reading list that I use to top up my hold list. By having my hold and to-read lists handy, I can plan out my reading before fighting with the library’s site.

GTD and My Reading List

I use a mostly traditional context1 system to keep my reading list tamed.

  • I have a single project called “Books.” This is everything I want to read, have read, and put on hold.
  • The “waiting for” context is assigned to “Library” and the date is the day the hold becomes active.
  • When I get the email saying a book is ready, I change the context to “Errand” because I have to pick it up. I also change the date to the day the hold expires. This prevents a $2.00/day fine.
  • Once I’ve picked up a hold, the context becomes “To read” with a date the book is due back.
  • When I’ve finished reading a book, I change the context back to “Errand” because I have to return the book and pick up the next one.
  • Books I want to read that are not on the hold list are my next actions.

With this system I can keep up on my reading, and not miss any due dates. With a new book coming up every week, I can’t get lazy and let my reading list slide.

Poking around the library is fun. I still do it when I have some time. But I like knowing my book is ready and I can be out in just a few minutes.


  1. Firetask calls them categories, but I’ll stick with the more common name here.