Instead of Designing a Reading List for 2019, Why Not Resolve to Do This?

It’s that time of the year again, where people review, make resolutions, set goals and plan for the next year. One of the questions that comes up is planning one’s readings.

This blog post is a slightly adapted (but still unpolished) response to a question on the productivity guild, “How do you handle readling lists?”

The concept of an absolute, global “reading list”, which is what most people have in mind when discussing “reading lists” is counter-productive. If one were to try to live by it, one would (typically) not do great work. This saps cognitive energy and morale. “Reading lists” need to be relative to criteria. Criteria change.

Academics are some of the best information management role models, because they consume copious amounts of information, are super pressed for time, and tend to be rigorously driven by cognitive needs (building new knowledge, teaching and solving problems). They read some of the highest quality information produced by humanity. They spend their lives assessing the intellectual work of students and colleagues.

Contrary to what one might believe, academics are not necessarily very skilled at using technology, but there’s no evidence that those kills correlate with academic performance, which doesn’t mean there’s no link between the two. But it does suggest that they find simple ways of dealing with something very complex (readings).

In my two Cognitive Productivity books], I described several concepts and other tools that are helpful for discovering, selecting, delving and mastering information.

The biggest challenge people seem to have is evaluating knowledge resources (for each stage of processing).

As I’ve often noted on this blog, there are four major evaluative concepts:

  • caliber,
  • utility,
  • potency and
  • appeal (CUP’A).

Each of these criteria is surprisingly complex.

Utility is relative to goals and projects. “Readings” normally need to be organized by projects. Bookmarking tools unfortunately lack integration with project/task management software (like things). But there are hacks one can use —some of which my books describe.

Utility is relative to goals and projects. “Readings” normally need to be organized by projects. Bookmarking tools unfortunately lack integration with project/task management software (like things). But there are hacks one can use —some of which my books describe.

Bibliography managers (like]) enable you to store the same PDF in multiple topics, some of which can be project oriented. You can also create multiple reading lists in Papers, say one per project.

Caliber is the objective quality of the information.

One principle for managing one’s information-processing is that if a web page is worth delving, it’s normally worth converting to PDF, and delving with the best PDF reader. Academics read mostly PDFs.

Another principle is that bookmarking a web page doesn’t mean one should read it. By bookmarking a web page, you can come back to it later if you need to. If not, fine.

Being able to return to high caliber potential readings that are potent and pertinent to a project is important. But projects change and close.

As I’ve often said here, beware of the “appeal” criterion.

Keep in mind when assessing recommendations about how to manage readings whether their author is making distinctions such as the ones described above. Also consider whether their advice stacks well against cognitive science; or is it just based on their personal experience and opinion? Most productivity research, even in the rare case where academics comment on it, is not grounded in cognitive science. What works well in one role or discipline (e.g., law or computer science) might not work that as well in another (e.g., journalism).

Also, research funding agencies need to spend way more money on research on personal information management (which is the technical name of the research area we are talking about here)—because there is a lack of it, and it’s very important to society. So, if you care about cognitive productivity, lobby your member of parliament or representatives for research funding on cognitive productivity research.

Here’s a grant proposal for example.

An alternative to reading lists for 2019

So, rather than try to design a reading list for 2019, why not resolve to apply these seven principles

I. Self-governance

  • Principle 1: Lead Yourself with Knowledge
  • Principle 2: Manage Your Cognitive Life Mindfully

II. Productive Processing of Knowledge Sources

    1. Assess Analytically
    1. Surf Strategically
    1. Delve Deeply

III. Mastery

    1. Practice Productively
    1. Apply Knowledge

Those principles are drawn from Cognitive Productivity with macOS®: 7 Principles for Getting Smarter with Knowledge book?

Regardless of your choice, I wish you “Bonne année.” (have a great year)

Published by

Luc P. Beaudoin

Head of CogZest. Author of Cognitive Productivity . Cognitive productivity consultant and public speaker. Adjunct Professor of Education & Adjunct Professor of Cognitive Science, Simon Fraser University Co-founder of CogSci Apps Corp. See About Me for more information.

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