Knowledge is power.
With the appropriate knowledge, we can do almost everything (if we except near-impossibilities, like flying with the force of our bare arms).
Since antiquity, humans have been downloading knowledge into their brains by using magical devices.
These magical devices are… books!
You know, they make so many things possible.
Learning all about a given civilization, great person or organization, in order to extract lessons and operational best practices? Possible.
Acquiring state-of-the-art knowledge about any field like nutrition, psychology or statistics, to take better decisions? Possible.
Becoming more effective, optimistic, influent, deliberate, creative? Possible.
So books are extremely powerful resources, that you must use adequately to reach your goals.
However, there are tens of thousands of books out there. How to choose among all of them?
If you are like me, you’ve got a huge reading list.
Looking at your 39-books reading list is like opening your to-do list in the morning and seeing 32 undefined, unstructured and unprioritized tasks.
It’s stressful and overwhelming: « Dammit… So much stuff to do… OK, I’m just gonna check Facebook and Youtube for a minute. Just a minute! »
And 20 minutes later, you’re still screwing off.
Does that lack of clarity remind you about something?
This is why I created a method that will allow you to effectively plan your readings: One list to rule them all.
Let’s start with the first list.
1. Operational list: the end justifies the means.
Here’s a definition of military strategy: the coordination of military capabilities deployed so as to reach a given political objective.
The political objective is one of your key objectives in life.
The military capabilities are the resources that you use in order to reach this objective.
Among these resources, you need knowledge that you will find in books.
The key is to rationally align your resources (books) with your most important objective.
For example, if your primary objective in life is to become an electrical engineering expert and you only read books about Dark Ages Chinese calligraphy, you don’t allocate your resources adequately with regard to your goal.
So take 5 minutes and think about your most important current goals. Becoming excellent in your job? Launch an innovative project? Lose 10 kgs?
Dominate the world?
Once it’s done, examine that goal closely and find out the mix of specific skills and fields that will give you the best chances of success.
This mix will determine your choice of books for the first list.
For example, if your goal is to gain 5 kg of muscle, you just have to purchase a few books about muscle training and nutrition. And obviously, execute.
If your goal is to create a start-up, it’s less straightforward. You’ll have to read the best books about start-up inception and growth, but also read about additional skills like marketing, sales, design, project management, pitching, finance, etc.
So you’ve got your first list.
It’s your operational list, the optimal weapon that you use directly in order to reach your primary objective.
There is no ambiguity. Every time you read a book from this list and follow through on it (we often forget this critical step!), you do concrete progress in the direction that you chose.
2. Expansion list: future belongs to generalists.
Business author Peter Drucker had a remarkable habit. When he was a young journalist, he wanted to broaden his knowledge. So he decided to learn about many fields.
To avoid dispersing, he created a system he used until the end of his life.
Every 3 years, he chose one field like economics, law or Japanese art.
Then, he spent 3 years studying that field intensively.
Doing so enabled him to acquire relative expertise status in many different fields. He also discovered new disciplines, new approaches, and new methods. 1
You can also deploy a similar system. You don’t necessarily have to spend 3 years on every subject, but why not allocating one year to each subject that you like?
Take a few minutes to choose a subject that you find interesting (the idea is not to be masochistic and to force yourself to study a subject that you hate) and which doesn’t seem to have an immediate instrumental utility.
You are into botany (or the Napoleonic wars, or robotics, or 19th-century English literature, or astronomy), but you never took the time to study it seriously, because you have more urgent things to read?
Now is the time to indulge!
For this year, you’ll add to your list the most excellent books about that field.
This will be your expansion list. Thanks to this, you’ll become a relative expert in that field within one year. Next year, you’ll pick up another interesting subject. And so on.
Throughout the years, like Drucker, you’ll become a generalist who masters the fundamentals of many different subjects.
You will broaden your knowledge spectra in a huge extent which will let you:
- find more inter-connexions between unrelated fields and improve your creativity
- develop a better understanding of the world and reality and act more effectively.
3. Diversification list: reading for fun.
We have seen how we could read in a very deliberate and systematic way:
- list 1 (operational) – books that directly enable you to move aggressively toward your current objective
- list 2 (expansion) – books that laser-focus on one field of your choice for one year
This is all good and well, but it lacks a bit of spontaneity and fun, isn’t it?
If you walk around in town and see a book that seems awesome, you can’t say to yourself: « Nope, this book doesn’t serve goal #1, moreover it doesn’t fit into my target field of the year, so I won’t read it! »
If your favorite politician or philosopher releases a book, you may want to read it.
If one of your mentors has been insisting for 6 months that you should read a given book, you probably need to read it.
You can put all these books in your third list: the diversification list.
This will add some pleasantness and variety to your reading experience, and stretch your mind even further.
If you maintain your triple list and review it every time you’ve finished a book, you have a triple guarantee.
- The operational list ensures that your readings are congruent with your first current goal. Gains are immediate.
- The expansion list forces you to systematically acquire relative expertise in a new field every year. You’ll capture gains on the middle to long term.
- The diversification list maintains a bit of spontaneity in your readings and allows you to read the books that you feel like reading, or that others advised to you.
I’ll conclude with these words from Seneca:
[The] reading of many authors and books of every sort may tend to make you discursive and unsteady. You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind. Everywhere means nowhere. When a person spends all his time in foreign travel, he ends by having many acquaintances, but no friends.
On discursiveness in reading, Letters from a Stoic: Epistulae Morales Ad Lucilium.
If you like my method, you can use the template I prepped for you: Download One list to rule them all.
- to use it with Google Drive (free), click on the link, then click on File > Make a copy
- to use it with Microsoft Excel, click on the link, then click on File > Download as > Microsoft Excel