I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, mainly because of the stigma attached to them. A New Year’s resolution is usually vague, bombastic, and has an expiration date of about January 17. I do, however, believe in setting goals. The difference is that a well established goal is sustainable, sets a course, and gauges progress. Goals should be measurable (“exercise 30 minutes per day,” not “exercise more”). Goals should be something you can drive instead of something outside your control (“save $1,000,” not “get a raise”). Goals should be aimed at improvement over where you are or have been, and they should balance realism with growth. If you have never been a runner setting a goal of “run a marathon” would be improvement, but not realistic. A goal of “run two 5K races this year” would be growth and in the realm of possibility.
With these thoughts in mind, how should you consider setting reading goals?
1) Set Realistic Goals
Reader, know thyself. If you set an unrealistic goal you will give up by February, and then you’ll face eleven months of disappointment and low-grade guilt. If you’ve read three books since high school setting a goal of twenty-five books this year is dumb. Shoot for three; it would match your grand total since before you could legally vote. If you read fifty books last year you might want to aim for sixty this year. Or you might need to consider another aspect of goal setting all together.
2) Set Quality Goals, Not Just Quantity Goals
The goal of setting reading goals is to read better, not just more. (Or is to read more better? Grammar is hard.) Improvement could be in what you read rather than how much. Or the voracious reader increasing quantity might actually decrease the value of your reading. It might add pressure and make reading less focused, enjoyable, educational, and fulfilling. So your goal needs to be something that brings new life, learning, and experiences to your reading.
3) Stretch Yourself
Goals are for growth, and growth demands being stretched. If you read thirty crime novels last year reading forty this year is not growth, it’s gluttony. It isn’t stretching yourself; it’s wallowing. Set goals to encounter something new – new genres, new authors, new eras. Push yourself out of your familiar habits and areas of comforts into something new. Read history if you love novels. Read poetry if you love biographies. Read novels if you love theology. Read leadership books if you love philosophy. Read theology if you love romance. Whatever the new direction is, make a goal and follow through.
4) Measure New Things
The easiest thing to measure is not always the best way to determine progress. Counting up the number of books you read may tell you that you’ve grown as a reader or it may tell you exactly nothing. Consider measuring different things, setting different types of goals. Set daily or weekly time goals for reading. Measure page count (especially valuable if you’ve set your sights on large volumes). Set goals of which authors to read for the first time. Set goals for different genres to read in. Measure the number of books you read aloud to your children. Take notes from each book or collect quotes.
If our aim is to be better readers, not just more rapacious ones, we should craft our goals accordingly. But a goal is only as useful as our ability to work toward it, so here are some tools, resources, ideas, and practical steps you can utilize to meet them.
Goodreads is like a playground for book lovers. It allows you to set goals, track your progress, interact with other readers, make wish lists, discover new titles or authors, leave ratings and reviews, see how others review books, and it even connects directly with Kindle if you’re into that sort of thing. Goodreads is both fun and useful and an ideal environment for those who want to be better readers.
Evernote is both a website and a mobile app that is ideal for storing ideas, quotes, lists, and photos, and organizing them in whatever manner works for you. If you want to collect quotes from books, you can drop them in Evernote. If you want to jot down that book you heard mentioned on NPR, you can drop it in Evernote. If you are inspired to write a book you can keep your notes and outline in Evernote. It is a really handy tool for keeping track of ideas and building on them rather than just letting them drift into the past.
If you’re the more analog type you can do all the same things you do in Evernote in a notebook of some kind. I am partial to Moleskine notebooks, but it truly doesn’t matter. The main idea is that if we write down our interactions with books we will remember them better; writing engraves those things just little deeper in our minds.
Share What You Are Reading
Social media is good for more than just griping about politics and multi-level marketing sales pitches. It is the perfect place to share what you love about what you are reading. You can do the same on a blog. Or you can join a book club—or you can start a book club. Listen to a podcast, or start one, about reading. You can set your goals with a friend or with a dozen friends. The point is that sharing what we are reading is valuable both for fulfilling goals and for enjoying books more. It’s how we discover new books and how we help others do the same.