Beating Down Your Book Backlog

It’s easy to accumulate an endless pile of things you intend to read: books, magazines, and articles. Getting through a backlog is simple, but not easy. Here’s how to do it.

Stever Robbins
4-minute read
Episode #227

Beating Down Your Book Backlog

My office is full of piles. Piles of articles ripped from magazines. Piles of books, including Pride, Prejudice and Zombies, The Survival Guide for the Zombie Apocalypse, Zombies Versus Ninjas, and so on. (Can you tell I have a thing for zombies?) The problem is that I haven’t actually read any of these books. A well-meaning friend will look me in the eye and implore with great urgency, “Stever, you absolutely have to read Why Civilization Will Fall Within 5 Weeks.” I rush right out to buy the book, not only because my friend recommends it, but because hey, it came out two weeks ago, so there are only three weeks left on the clock! Surely reading that book is the best way to use those three weeks.

Once all these books start piling up, however, they keep piling up. Fortunately, there are 4 things you can do to make it through your book backlog:

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Tip#1: Realistically Assess Your Backlog

Start by figuring out how much you can expect to read. It’s easy: just get out a book, start a timer, and read 5–10 pages. Then divide the time it took by the number of pages to find out how much time it takes you per page. If you spent 15 minutes to read 10 pages, it took 15/10 or one and a half minutes per page.

Now frown slightly, and stare at your pile of books and magazine articles. Estimate the number of pages. At 250 pages per book, with 20 books in my “someday I really will read this, I promise!” pile, that’s 5,000 pages. Multiply by the time you calculated. Five thousand times one and a half is 7,500 minutes it will take me to go through that backlog. That’s 125 hours’ worth of reading. If I read only stuff from the backlog for an entire hour a day, it would take three solid months to make it through the backlog.

Tip #2: Put a Lid on It - Block Off Your Backlog

Now gather together your entire backlog in one physical place. That’s your new “backlog zone.” You can see it all in one place. From now on, don’t add anything new to the backlog zone. The only thing that you can do is reduce the size of it until it’s gone.

If you find yourself tempted to add a new reading item to the backlog, you have to get rid of an item in the backlog of the same or longer length. Or you have to get rid of the new reading item. But growing the backlog isn’t an option. You haven’t gotten through it so far, there’s no reason to believe adding to it will magically give you the time to read that additional item.

In short, you may finally have to throw out that copy of Clearing the Clutter you’ve been planning to read for the last 10 years. Instead, just check out the Domestic CEO’s podcast for tips on easy de-cluttering.

Tip #3: Add a Penalty for New Books

Now get real. Ask yourself if there’s a snowball’s chance in Heck that you’ll actually spend that much time reading. If not, you’re keeping your backlog for psychological reasons. Maybe you’re trying to prove something to your 2nd grade teacher, or make up for the years you spent as a cheerleader when you really wanted to be studying particle physics.

Have your significant whatever help you keep boundaries.

Of course, you and I both know that you won’t respect the boundaries of your backlog. So make an agreement with someone, say a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, wife, spousal equivalent, or polyamorous family unit. Or teenagers, if you have them. Every time you add a book to your backlog, they get $10. You can bet they’ll be watching your backlog like a hawk, generously, selflessly helping you keep to your commitment.

Tip #4: Make Steady Progress

Finally, go back to your calculation. You have 125 hours’ worth of reading to do. Decide when you want your backlog to clear out. If you decide 120 days, that’s about an hour a day you’ll have to read. If you decide a year, or 365 days, that’s about 20 minutes daily. Put it in your schedule and start reading.

Like anything else, this is a commitment. You need to block out time for it, which means taking the time from some other area of your life, like your bird watching hobby. For every yellow crested cockatoo you leave abandoned and lonely, you’ll remove one book from your backlog. Tragic, on one hand, yet oddly satisfying on the other.

Now it’s time to jump to it and start dealing with that backlog. And remember, it’s made of paper. If society really does collapse in 5 weeks, you can always use those books as kindling until you’re devoured by the cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. Everybody wins!

This is Stever Robbins. If you like my podcast, please visit my iTunes page and leave a stunningly positive review. This podcast is a labor of love, and the more you can help spread the word, the better we can make it.

I help successful people create space in their lives by getting through their physical and mental backlogs. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life! 

About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.