September 22, 2020

Book Tracking in Notion

A few years ago I got serious about reading again. That might sound weird, but hear me out. I've always enjoyed reading for enjoyment, however high school and college burned me out. During my 4 years of college I read the Harry Potter series and once I finished that I basically stopped reading novels for the next 15 years. 

In 2005 I started really diving into podcasts. I started watching a ton more movies and writing on this blog. I also started reading a ton of online content. There was no more time in my life for reading novels. 

I bought a Kindle around 2010 and downloaded a bunch of classic literature onto it. I never read those books. I filled my Kindle up with online articles that I'd saved to Instapaper. I used it as a device to read web content... which is totally against the point of a kindle. 

Starting in 2015 or so I set a goal to read a certain number of books each year, but I would usually finish woefully short of my target. I was still trying to read classic literature or force my way through other fiction books that just weren't grabbing me. 

At the beginning of 2017 I read Deep Work by Cal Newport. It was the beginning of my exposure to a ton of nonfiction books. I started seeking out "best books I've ever read" lists on YouTube or on the web. I found lists of favorite books from all sorts of successful people. I had to have a way to keep track of it all. I needed a way to organize and prioritize the books I wanted to read. I created a kanban board in Trello and tagged books that were available at the public library. 

My Trello board was fine, but it still had a lot of friction. I debated on moving everything to a spreadsheet in Excel or Google Docs. Then a couple months ago Notion expanded their free tier and I knew I was going to test out the app with my book tracking database. 

I first created a database that allowed me to easily capture the books I wanted to read and categorize them in all sorts of ways. I was able to easily track data around when I start and finish reading each book. I can easily open up each row of the spreadsheet into a separate page and capture any notes that I want to make as I am reading the book. 

The "Book Vault" is a database of all the books I want to read.

I have also created a "Book Tracking" page which gives me thumbnail views of the books I am currently reading as well as the books I have recently finished. I can switch these to several other views that I have created if I want to look for items in my backlog that I want to prioritize to read next. 

I have been really happy with this system. It is serving me much better than my Trello board did and has way more features that a simple Excel spreadsheet could offer. 

There obviously is a bit of administrative work to keep up with the database, but that will be the case with anything like this. You have to feel like you are getting out of it more than you are putting into it. In this case, I definitely feel like I am getting a lot out of it. In these last several months I have read more books than I have in any other year of my life. I also feel like I am getting more out of my reading. My note-taking system for ideas from books is evolving and maturing. I feel like I am compiling a tangible set of knowledge from reading these books, and that motivates me even more. 

I am still learning Notion and I hope to make my book tracking database even fancier. I have started playing around with relationships between tables and have started logging the inspiration or influence that led me to read each book in that way. Still, I feel like I am only scratching the surface with this powerful tool. 

I want to be intentional about not overcomplicating this system. I am sure I will continue to dive down the Notion rabbit hole, but I want to make sure I don't lose sight of what is important. I don't want to waste a lot of time building unnecessary features in my book tracking system. I could be using that time actually reading. 

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