How I filter books and (try to) control impulse buying

Sep 22, 2019 | Posted by Cristina in Past Newsletters

The text below was first sent to our newsletter subscribers, in August 2019. If you enjoy it and want more, subscribe here.

I talk a lot about how to read more and build this life-changing habit, but I never shared how and when I buy new books. I get this question a lot and avoided answering it because…well, I have a whole system in place, and I’m not convinced this is the best! 🙂 I’ll just describe it and let you decide if it’s helpful.

Throughout the year, whenever I see a book I might like / need to read one day, I just ‘dump’ it to my Amazon wishlist, without any filtering. I don’t care about how much it costs, if it’s paperback or hardcover, if it can be delivered to my country, or any other details. The only thing that matters is that I know it’s added to a huge list where I can easily find it later. Without any other filters.

Until 2017, most books I bought were recommendations from entrepreneurs who are also curators and content creators, such as Tim Ferriss, Ryan Holiday or James Altucher. These are folks who inspired me to read more books (and not only those written by them) after I discovered their blogs, newsletters and podcasts.

In the past two years, thanks to The CEO Library I’ve created my own stream of high quality recommendations: I interviewed 250 people who are among the best in the world at what they do, but they weren’t sharing anywhere the books that impacted them most, they never talked about what they learned or how they applied those lessons.

For example: I’m curious to find out what books influenced the best PR and marketing people in the world because I want to get better at that skill, so I made a list of experts and reached out to them, asked what books they’d recommend to those who want to pursue a career in that industry, and bought and read them all afterwards. This is way cheaper (and faster) than if I went back to school.

But I digress, so back to when and how I buy new books: once or twice per year, I go back to my huge wishlist, take a good look at the books I added there, and create a separate, way shorter list with the books that I’ll finally order (and try to only read those until I place the next order, 6 months later).

This usually happens in mid-November, so I can make sure the package arrives by Christmas. I also place a second order in early May, just in time for my yearly beach holiday dedicated solely to reading. I do most of my reading during the winter and summer vacations, so that’s why I came up with this timing.

Throughout the year, I usually have more than 150 books piled up in my wishlist (there are at least 10 new interesting books coming out every month, plus a lot more recommended in our interviews), but I filter them until my final list is 20 books or so.

The moment when I add a book to that wishlist I’m really excited about it and I’d probably start reading it right away. By forcing myself to buy books only two times per year, I let enough time pass – this is a great way to filter if I really need to read that book or it was just an impulse, perhaps influenced by great marketing or procrastination. Yes, procrastination: whenever I’m right in the middle of some difficult project, I’ll suddenly develop weird deep interests in totally unrelated subjects, such as extreme weather or why Singapore is so successful, and devour everything ever published that’s related to them. True story 🙈

I try to buy a mix between books I need for short-term goals (with the purpose of developing certain skills) and books I use to disconnect, entertain myself or just grow new neurons 😛 So that means anything from science-fiction, biographies, and non-fiction books related to experiences or industries I might never encounter first-hand.

The books for short-term goals are things I need to read “just in time” as opposed to “just in case” I ever need them – something I learned from Tim Ferriss: in order to handle information overwhelm. Tim will only read (or re-read) something when he needs to focus on that information and apply it, otherwise, he’ll just stockpile on decaying memories.

This is just the main system, one I have in order to avoid any impulsie (and expensive) buying, or wasting money on hyped-up books that I don’t need or aren’t that good.

In practice, of course, I’m only human 😀 so I have my own share of money thrown out the window, on books I might never read or enjoy, and I’ll feel guilty for buying them (also, please don’t buy me books for my birthday! I’d rather offer friends access to my wishlist, it’s way easier :)) ).

Here’s an exception from my system: after speaking at various events, such as conferences or workshops, I’ll reward myself with a new book. Across the street from my office there are two bookshops I love, including one with new books (that cost at least twice as much than if I were disciplined enough to stick to my system and order them online *eyes rolling*). It’s hard resisting the impulse to go in there and just buy whatever looks interesting at that moment. Also, if my coach recommends me a book, I’ll go and buy it right away, cause I’m sure it will help me.

Another exception: I’ll pre-order right away whenever I find out there’s a new book coming out from one of my favorite authors (at least I can count those on one hand). For example, Ryan Holiday will release a new book on October 1st, the third one from his trilogy of books inspired from the stoic philosophy – I already read and enjoyed all his previous books, so the odds are high that I’ll enjoy his new one as well (it’s also just in time for the first time I’ll get to see him live 😛 ).

Is this the best system to decide what books to buy and read? Probably not. I dunno. It’s just the one I personally carved throughout the past decade, the one I felt makes sense in my situation, since books are really expensive and I needed some form of curation and filtering (also, non-fiction readers don’t have that many affordable options where I live).

The text above was first sent to our newsletter subscribers, in August 2019. If you enjoyed it and want more, subscribe here.

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