Organizing Your TBR: Make a Reading Cycle List


I have a lot of books, and sometimes, trying to choose what to read next feels overwhelming. I will get in a rut where I only want to read romances; or I’ll be in a book hangover because whatever I just read was so good; or I’ll read three or five or seven books in a row that all end up being terrible, and that makes every book like a potential waste of my reading time.

But picking out a specific set of books to read next, such as a monthly TBR, has never seemed to work for me. Sure, I’ll read a few of them while I’m excited about the pile, but getting down to the last one or two, I’m often feeling an itch to pick out something else.

This year, though, I’m juggling quite a few goals, and I wanted to spend less time wondering what to read next, so I created the Reading Cycle List. It’s not for specific books–its for categories of books!

I’ll be up front: this isn’t going to work for everyone, especially people who identify strongly as mood readers, ie, they have to be in the right mood to read something and/or they choose their next book based on their mood. This is going to be much too structured for you guys, mood readers. Keep doing your thing.

For others, this is going to seem like a fair bit of hassle, and up front, yeah, it’s heavy on organization. But I’m into that. I love checklists. I love the feeling of accomplishment, that little zing, when I mark something off.

So, we’re going to use me as an example, but the point of this is that it’s totally customizable to your personal goals; you just have to think about what you want to prioritize.

I started with my two numerical goals: Mount TBR, for books I own, at 100 for the year, and Virtual Mount TBR, for library books, at 48. The ratio is conveniently close to 2:1, so I started my cycle list like this:

  1. A book I own
  2. Another book I own
  3. A library book

But that’s really vague, and it doesn’t factor in my more specific goals–the PopSugar Reading Challenge, wanting to finish all the books I got in 2016, a strong desire to start knocking old books off the top of my TBR, working on the many series I’m in the middle of, and reading/reviewing all the indie books I have.

To give myself room, I doubled the cycle list to six, and slotted in more specific goals.

  1. The next book on my TBR that I own
  2. Something from 2016
  3. A library book
  4. The next book from a series I’ve started
  5. An indie book
  6. Another library book

I’ve kept the 2:1 owned/library ratio, and the categories that obviously came from books I own already got slotted in place. I’m still missing a spot for PSRC, and I’ve picked out a lot of those tasks already from the books I own. So let’s add another three to the list.

  1. The next book on my TBR that I own
  2. Something from 2016
  3. A library book
  4. The next book from a series I’ve started
  5. An indie book
  6. Another library book
  7. A book for PSRC
  8. Another book from 2016
  9. Another library book

Since I had a free spot, and a lot of books still to go through from the massive amount of freebies I picked up when I discovered the “free” bestseller lists on Amazon that year, I doubled up on that one, but later in the year when I run out, those spots can disappear, taking the third library book with them, and I’ll go down to a six-category cycle.

When I’m starting the cycle, it’s easy. I look at my nearly 800-book master TBR on Goodreads, and I start at the top and go down until I find the first book on it I own. Then I read it.

Next, I look at my acquired-in-2016 shelf, and I pick something. Yeah, okay, I have to decide on a book there, but from a much smaller pool than simply all the books I own. And if I really don’t want to have to choose, I can apply the same principle and take the first on the list.

After that, it’s a library book. I’m working my way down my master TBR for those, as well, subject to their availability from my library–I’ve been utilizing both the county- and state-wide inter-library loan systems more so far this year than I did in all of 2018. If I have more than one library book out? I read the one I have to return first, because that’s just sensible.

For the fourth category, I’ve got more than a couple series going, but once I decide which one to work on next, the book’s chosen for me.

And so on.

By doing some prep work, I can make steady progress on my reading goals and never feel the crushing weight of choice paralysis.

Let me reiterate: this is not going to work for everyone. Some readers are probably going to look at this and think I’ve gone off the deep end, micro-managing my reading to the nth degree. And even the ones who want to try it probably aren’t going to build themselves a nine-book cycle like I did; that depends on how many reading goals they have and how neatly they can work them all together.

But it’s done wonders for me in the six weeks I’ve been using it–I read twenty books in January! (Yeah, I did finish one after I posted my wrap-up for the month. I should have waited.) Part of that was foul weather giving me a lot of reading time, but part of it was definitely my lack of waffling about what to read next.

Sound interesting? Give it a try, see how it goes.


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