Aside from the grim weather and Christmas tree removal (so sad!), I love the start of a new year for its goal-setting, habit-making (or breaking) aspirations. Yes, I am guilty of setting unattainably high financial or health goals and failing less than a month later. But I’ve also set more “fun” goals that I have stuck to—and that have still made me feel amazing about myself. My favorite is setting reading goals at the beginning of each year.
A Pew Research Center survey conducted last year found that about a quarter of U.S. adults did not read a single book (in whole or in part) in the last year, meaning that many people are missing out on not only the joys of reading, but also the health benefits.
It is certainly not always easy to find the time or motivation for reading books. However, it becomes significantly easier when you make a plan. It may take a little bit of trial and error, but I’ve found that the following steps make reading many books in a year more than possible:
01. Setting realistic reading goals for the year
Before ever putting pen to paper and getting carried away with lofty ideas concerning how much you want to read this year, it’s important to open your calendar and take a few things into consideration. Are there certain months or weeks during the year where you are particularly busy and would have little to no time for reading—for example, busy weeks of work, holidays, a wedding, or a major life event (such as having a baby)? Write those down—take each one into consideration.
There is nothing more discouraging than setting a goal and not reaching it; so, it’s essential that your reading goals be just as realistic as your health and fitness goals. Do you have time for a book a month? A book every other month? Two or three books a month? Take the time to thoughtfully consider the amount of books you’d realistically like to complete, and give yourself the permission to be flexible.
02. Breaking your list into different genres or seasons
After you determine how many books you’d like to read over the course of the year, it can be fun to break that number down into different genres or types of books you’d like to tackle.
Last year, I decided to vary my regular fiction reading (both classic literature and new-release fiction) with a mixture of parenting, health, and self-help/spiritual books. This helped me to read more books from unfamiliar genres without burning myself out, since I always read a fun fiction novel in between the sometimes “less fun” books.
It’s also important to note that if setting any number of books is stressing you out, then you don’t have to pick a number! You can choose to focus solely on different genres you want to explore—for example, deciding that you are going to read only American history nonfiction books and historical fiction novels this year. Another fun way to do this is to determine your book selection based on the season, or time of year—reading only Christmas-themed books during the holiday season or only books with a summer setting during the summer months, for example.
03. Setting up a method to track your books
In order to keep up with your reading plan over the course of the year, it’s essential to establish some method to track every book you read. Giving yourself that concrete sense of accomplishment will really help you keep up momentum throughout the year. There’s the old-fashioned pen and paper method. I once attempted to keep a separate reading journal, including my own summaries and reviews of the books I read, but it lasted only a few books. While this level of dedication may work for some people, I learned that I needed something simpler. So I made a “reading list” at the end of my paper planner in the notes section.
Creating a simple Google spreadsheet is another easy way to keep track of books—with the added bonus that it lives forever online, making it easy to reference past years (especially when you create a new tab for each year). Whether you use paper or an online spreadsheet, I recommend making separate columns for the title of the book, the author, the genre, the month you completed it, and a simple rating out of five stars.These five simple steps take only a minute to record, and they serve as a good reminder of the kinds of books you’ve read and whether or not you enjoyed them overall.
For those readers who want to step up their game and join a community of readers online, there is a plethora of different apps and websites that allow you to create and save your book list and goals, as well as discover other books based on your interests, rate and review books, and discuss them with other readers online. Goodreads is the largest platform for readers, but you can also check out sites like LibraryThing, Libib, and Riffle and determine which platform is the best fit for you. Sharing your reading lists and goals with a whole community of readers can inspire and motivate you to complete your goals!
04. Making it fun by including incentives or joining a reading group
As is the case with all goal-setting, it is often helpful to create small incentives or rewards for yourself in order to help you stick to your reading plan. These can be as large or small as you want them to be. As someone who loves to collect 10 more books before I’ve finished the two in front of me, telling myself that I can buy a pretty new book after I’ve completed the books I’ve picked out for the next three months is a great incentive for me.
To make tackling your reading goals even more enjoyable, find a book club to join—or start one! Not only will reading alongside others motivate you to keep reading, but you will also benefit greatly from having people with whom you can discuss and dissect the book. If a book club sounds too intimidating or time consuming, you can also join different reading clubs or online forums for book discussion and other reader’s reviews of a book (Goodreads is, again, a good place to do this).
A yearly reading plan is more than another list of things to accomplish over the coming year. It is a way for you to challenge yourself as a reader, motivate yourself to explore new genres or books you don’t typically read, and have fun doing it!