How to Create an Annual Reading Plan (An 8-Step Process)

Last year I read 33 books. 

This year I’m on track to read over 60. Many of them are dense classics. 

What’s the most significant driver of this difference? 


Kidding 🙂

It’s a reading plan. This year I have one, last year I didn’t. 

Sure, my reading skills and discipline have likely increased from practice too, but I think it’s mostly the plan I have to thank. 

A plan gives me goals to strive for. And with exciting, lofty goals comes the drive to reach them and the motivation to read even when I’m not feeling up to the task.  

Today I’m going to tell you how I go about constructing my reading plans. 

Hopefully it’ll help you read more books this year and become more intentional in your self-directed studies. 

What is a Reading Plan? 

A reading plan is a list of books deliberately chosen to help you reach your specific reading goals. 

This plan will supply you with motivation, help you read more books per year, and make you more deliberate in your self education. 

I keep my plan in a Google doc:

Learn the 8-step process for creating a reading plan that helps you achieve your learning goals (and that you actually stick to).

At the top of the document I state my reading goals (2-5 goals is a good range). 

Underneath the goals section I put a heading for each goal. And under each heading I put a list of the books I’ll read to achieve that given goal.  

My reading plans are always in flux. 

Sometimes I’ll create an annual one and then break it into quarterly ones (the one above is a quarterly one)

Sometimes I’ll delete one book and replace it with another that a friend has recommended to me. 

Sometimes upon learning about an interest I have I’ll abandon my reading plan entirely for a month to pursue this random topic or author that’s caught my interest. 

But I’ll always go back to the plan. It’s a living, breathing, changing document that guides me in my reading endeavors, reminds me of why I’m spending 2-3 hours a day doing this activity.

Treat it like a friendly guide that lets you follow your curiosities, not like a master with you on a leash. You’ll have a much better relationship with yourself and your reading if you do it this way.  

8 Steps to Create Your Annual Reading Plan

Below I’ll walk you through the seven steps I follow to create my reading plans. 

Feel free to use these steps to guide your own planning process, but there’s no need to follow it exactly. 

Building a reading plan, essentially your year of self-directed learning, is a deeply intimate and personal process. 

Also, I recommend grabbing a reading journal so that you can record your thoughts and feelings about the numerous books you read this year. 

This’ll help you remember them and form stronger understandings of the material.

1. Take Stock of Your Life Plan

I like to create a reading plan that in some way moves me closer to my larger, long-term life goals. 

Each reading goal being tied to a life goal makes the reading plan feel even more important to me. 

As you make progress on one, you make progress on the other as well. 

For example, if you wanted to become a playwright down the road, you might set a reading goal to study 20 of the best plays ever written. 

If you wanted to become a better leader, you might read 20 biographies on your favorite presidents or CEOs. 

If you thought you might want to switch careers and go into finance, you could test that desire’s strength by reading 15 finance books. 

If you wanted to become remarkably well-read in a particular academic discipline and to gain the respect and intellectual finesse that comes with this deep knowledge, you could spend the entire year reading influential books in that field. 

Kobe Bryant once said something along the lines of everything he did revolved around getting better at basketball. 

That was his biggest life goal. Identify yours and make the books support your rise towards it. 

That said, still leave some room for reading goals that are fun and not necessarily immediately applicable to your present or even future situation. 

You rarely know which books are going to help you most or change your life. 

For example, the person with the life goal to become a better father might get more out of a philosophy classic than the best parenting book around. They might even get more out of a fantasy novel that portrays a great dad character. 

In sum, make your reading goals support your life plan, but remember that the best life plans include goals like exploring your interests, educating yourself, and having intellectually stimulating and fun experiences. 

2. Select This Year’s Reading Goals 

Okay, time to create your reading goals. Having goals helps you select which books to read. I like to pick 4-6 goals, but feel free to create as many or as few as you want. 

For example, this year my reading goals are the following: 

  • Read 10 Charles Dickens novels 
  • Read 10 Bildungsroman novels 
  • Complete the 8-book Penguin European History series
  • Deep read 3 classics – Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra
  • Study 10 of the most influential political science/philosophy.
  • Read Mimesis. 

As you can see, I like to have a nice balance between nonfiction and fiction. 

Plus, I’ve left some room for exploring and following my interests. Only 42 books are accounted for here, yet I plan on reading 60+. 

I want to have the freedom at any given time to read a random book that I come across in a bookstore and piques my curiosity. 

There are so many types of reading goals you could do:

  • Do a deep read of a classic of literature 
  • Read 10 books on one topic, like AI or Russian history 
  • Read your favorite writer’s entire body of work
  • Survey an academic discipline
  • Read 15 novels in your favorite genre
  • Read books that will help you learn one specific skill

A lot of the time I’ll also include a miscellaneous category for the random books I want to read. 

If you want some ideas for goals, check out my article on 10 unique reading goals for your reading plan

3. Decide on a Daily Page Target

Be reasonable here. How many pages can you read per day?

Knowing this number before starting to add books to your plan will help you decide how many books to add. 

Say, for example, your answer is 20 pages per day. If the average book is around 300 pages, then you’ll be able to read 24 books in a year. 

Now you can decide on how many books should go into each reading goal category. 

For example, you might allocate four books to your political philosophy reading goal and six to your study of Philip Roth’s works.   

I like to write a little number on the reading plan next to the category to show this: 

Now that you have the number of books you want to read this year, you can start finding them and filling out your list. 

4. Create Your Book List

This is easily the most fun part of building a reading plan. 

You get to search the web, or a local small bookstore, for books that will help you reach your reading goals. 

I spend a lot of time looking at pre-made reading lists or university syllabi to find the right ones for my plan. 

For example, if I wanted to read the core political theory books this year, I’d google “comprehensive exam reading list political theory” and find something like this Columbia reading list for its political theory graduate students:

Then I’d select some titles that seem particularly interesting to me. 

You could also google things like “best books on {topic}” or “{author’s} greatest novels” to do research. Google is your friend here. 

If my goal was to become well-read in English Literature, I might pick 20 novels from The Guardian’s 100 best novels written in the English language

During the list building process, I also always end up including some titles that are top of mind and that I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. 

At the end of this step, you should have all of your books planned out and written in your document under the right categories. 

5. Tally up the Total Pages 

This is a step I like to do to make sure that my plan is realistic. 

Go figure out how long each book is and write it down next to the title. You can do this on Amazon books. They always list the page count. 

Then, add up all the page numbers to find your total. 

Next, divide that by 365 and you’ll know how many pages per day you have to read to get through all of these books. 

If the page per day number is a lot higher than the daily target you set in step three, you might have to remove some books. If it’s a lot lower, add some. 

If it’s only 5-10 pages higher than you planned, consider challenging yourself and just increasing your daily reading target. 

The reason I do this slightly obnoxious step is because I don’t want to create a reading plan that sets me up for failure. 

I don’t want there to be a voice in the back of my mind saying “you know you aren’t going to finish all of these books right?” It’ll demotivate me. 

6. Create a Reading Schedule 

Decide when and where you’re going to do your reading every day. This will help you make reading into a daily habit. 

By consistently achieving the goal of reading at say 8 AM every morning, you’ll build up your discipline as a reader. Soon it’ll happen naturally. 

Here’s my schedule for the summer: 

By no means does your schedule have to be as many hours or sessions of reading as this. It’s part of my job to read, and it makes me a better writer, and I’m obsessively curious, so I tend to do a lot of it. 

But I didn’t used to be so consistent. It’s taken me a long time to work my way up to reading for around 3 hours per day regularly. 

I still miss the mark sometimes if my day gets too busy. Sometimes I go over 3 hours. It really depends, this is just something to hold me accountable. 

For a newer reader, even just 20 minutes a day is going to produce tremendous intellectual results if it’s hit consistently, day after day. 

If you’re already hitting or exceeding these numbers, that’s impressive — enough said. 

7. Start Reading & Adjust Your Plan as You Go

Now you can start reading your books! Maybe you have an order in mind, maybe not. I like to always be reading one fiction and one nonfiction at a time. 

Keep in mind that like any plan, a reading plan is constantly being revised as new information comes to light.

For example, when I read The Secret HIstory, I was so enamored with the book that I changed my plan to incorporate more of Donna Tartt’s novels.  

I had to remove some classics to make way for her, but it’s well worth it. It’s usually worth it to follow your curiosity when it comes to self education. 

On another note, as you read, mark the books you’ve completed in some way. Tracking and seeing your progress is motivating. 

I do this simply by highlighting the book title in green in the document once I’ve completed the book. If I’m currently reading the book, I highlight it in yellow. 

It’s satisfying to see the page slowly but steadily turning green. 

8. Record Your Reading 

Consider keeping a reading journal where you jot down your reactions to each book: 

  • How it made you feel; what you liked and disliked
  • The main takeaways
  • The key themes
  • Whether you would recommend it
  • How the book changed you
  • Why you think the author succeeded or failed to achieve their goal

This way you can look back on it and see all the wonderful books you’ve read and how they impacted you. 

Writing about the books you read will also force you to think more deeply about them, thus giving you a stronger understanding of the book and its ideas and stories. 

Not to mention, you’ll have something interesting to say about them if someone asks for your thoughts. 

Consider also creating a commonplace book where you collect the most wise and beautiful quotes from the books you read, and perhaps even your reflections on them. 

Why Develop a Reading Plan?

A reading plan helps you achieve your learning goals. It motivates you to read, since you’ll know that each book on the list was selected for a serious purpose, and since you’ll have high yet achievable reading goals to aim for, preferably ones that are tied in some way to your life plan.  

Bottom Line: Reading Plans

Reading plans, like any plan, are hard to stick to unless you truly believe that the plan will pay off in the way you want it to. 

Therefore, I recommend spending some time making this plan. Do some research on each book. Make sure it’ll help you reach your reading goals. 

Perhaps even make a draft of the plan then let it sit for a week. Then come back to it and see if it still excites you. 

In Ultralearning, Scott Young recommends spending 10% of any self education project on planning. 

Also, as a final note, don’t feel so bad if you change the plan many times. It might be a work in progress, and that’s okay, as long as you’re still reading and exploring your interests and making progress on your learning goals. 

Reading is a key activity of almost every self-learner — learn what else it takes to be a successful autodidact in my 7-step guide How to Become an Autodidact

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