Long ago, I stopped piling books I ought to read on my desk. The stack of books, looming always in my peripheral vision, was vaguely depressing.

In fact, I have a beautiful wall of books. The Future Mister Doctor Jones and I built 70 feet of bookshelves. We paid about $250 for materials and spent several days working on it. I would not have known how to do this on my own. However, now that I have it, I know it is worth that much money and a lot more.

I remember the books I ought to read by consulting a spreadsheet on my computer. I rate each text from 1 to 5—5 being the most exciting and pertinent to my research. I forced myself to make each numbered group about the same size. Working your way through ten urgent texts is not as overwhelming as trying to pick out your next book from a list of 300.

Tonight, I cleaned up my computer desktop, too. For some reason I thought it was okay to save all the .pdfs I want to read in a line, to glare out at me every time I’m on my computer (which I use for work and pleasure). I double-checked that all the articles were on my spreadsheet, and then I put them into a sub-folder in my dissertation folder.

Writing a note to yourself, or placing an object in a prominent place, works well as a reminder only if you’re going to act on it within a day or two. And you’re not going to read ten books in a day or two, I promise you.

It takes work to set up an organizational scheme for research materials—my reading list takes me a couple of days to re-work every year or so. But once you have a place to put these items, it only takes five minutes to put them away after things get crazy. It’s very much worth it to improve your focus while writing.


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