There was a time I purchased books on impulse. This didn’t seem like a bad thing at the time, because reading is valuable, right? The problem was that I never got around to reading many of those books, and those books took up space while depleting our household bank account. When my wife and I moved across the country, I had to make the decision to store away certain books that were valuable, but not immediately needed, and the even harder decision to get rid of many books I knew I’d never read.
This past Spring I went on a quest to figure out how she and I could combat the organizational chaos in our lives living on one income. As part of this journey, I re-discovered Getting Things Done® (GTD®) and the power of keeping actionable lists to get our thoughts organized and out of our heads, but I also began to discover organizational principles that go deeper than any one system. I discovered that there is a profoundly fleshed out framework for understanding organizations known as “Lean Thinking” that explains the apprehension I felt about having too many unread books.
There are many, many books and resources available on Lean Thinking, but in a nutshell Wikipedia explains it this way:
Lean Thinking is a business methodology which aims to provide a new way to think about how to organize human activities to deliver more benefits to society and value to individuals while eliminating waste. The term Lean Thinking was coined by James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones to capture the essence of their in-depth study of Toyota’s fabled Toyota Production System.
The core ideas relate to delivering value and eliminating waste. Lean Thinking developed originally within a Japanese manufacturing context with the Toyota Production System, and a key component was identifying 7 types of waste (known as “Muda”) and eliminating them ruthlessly. It’s why Toyota vehicles have insanely high levels of quality and insanely low cost levels. These wastes that often appear in value-creation processes include excess transportation, inventory, motion, waiting, over-processing, over-production, and defects.
The problem with my unread books was that I was not getting value from them, and I was wasting time, energy, money and space on my impulse purchases. I discovered that by using Lean Thinking and GTD in conjunction, I could develop a much more sane, cost effective, and conscience appeasing approach to reading. This approach now involves the following.
- I put any book that captures my interest on a list. I use Amazon Wishlists split out by categories to capture anything of potential interest so I won’t forget them, but I know I will never read most of the items that go on these lists.
- Certain books will jump out over time as having high value. I will now see if these are available at the library. If they are, I have a separate “Books at Library” list. It is desirable to eliminate unnecessary spending as part of my own waste removal, value maximization efforts. If they are not at the library, I simply put them on a “Books to Buy” list. This list is split out into “Books to buy Used” versus “Books to buy Premium.” What this means is I’ve checked to see if there are good prices on used copies. Sometimes there are, sometimes there aren’t.
- I now (usually) only check out or buy a book I’m immediately committed to reading. The exception I have made is if I find a used book for 99 cents on Amazon. I have purchased a few of those without having the immediate capacity to read them. The jury is still out on whether this will be wasteful activity in the long run.
This process has brought great sanity to my reading experience. I identify the value of any book I want to read and only check it out or buy it when I have committed to reading it. I have not held to this 100%, but my rate is much higher than it was, and therefore I have much less wasted inventory to deal with.
All that is to say this: there are a few particular books that have surfaced on my lists that I have a desire to read. It will be interesting to see if these books remain desirable for me to read in, say, 3 months, but for now these are books that seem worth exploring and possibly tying into this site via book reviews over time.
The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr
“Drawing on studies that underscore how tightly our sense of happiness and personal fulfillment is tied to performing skilled work in the real world, he reveals something we already suspect: shifting our attention to computer screens can leave us disengaged and discontented.”
The Shallows by Nicholas Carr
“Is Google making us stupid? When Nicholas Carr posed that question in a celebrated Atlantic essay, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the internet’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?”
The Organized Mind by Daniel Levitin
“The information age is drowning us with an unprecedented deluge of data. At the same time, we’re expected to make more — and faster — decisions about our lives than ever before. No wonder, then, that the average American reports frequently losing car keys or reading glasses, missing appointments, and feeling worn out by the effort required just to keep up.”
“With lively, entertaining chapters on everything from the kitchen junk drawer to health care to executive office workflow, Levitin reveals how new research into the cognitive neuroscience of attention and memory can be applied to the challenges of our daily lives.”
Brain Chains by Dr. Theo Compernolle
“What is your most important tool to be successful as a professional? Your brain!
What do you know about your thinking brain, that’s useful for an optimal intellectual performance? Next to nothing!
The sad result: a majority of knowledge workers unknowingly ruin the performance of their magnificent brain, and obstruct the matchless potential of their brain-ICT collaboration (Information and Communication Technologies, like email and smartphones). ”
As luck would have it, all of these books can be checked out from the library except for Brain Chains, so the only thing holding me back from getting them is…time.