How to Become a Focused Reader

by Race Bannon on June 11, 2011

This guest post is contributed by Mariana Ashley, a freelance writer who particularly enjoys writing about online colleges. She loves receiving reader feedback, which can be directed to

One of the most important activities that a committed self-learner can engage in is reading. Of course, I don’t mean that self-learners should read just anything that grabs their fancy, though there’s certainly room for that sort of light reading every now and then; I mean that self-learners benefit the most when they pursue a targeted, focused kind of reading, one that combines their pleasures with their desire to learn more. The most successful readers create reading lists that combine these two factors, and they follow the reading list regularly.

As one of those readers, someone who is constantly looking out for great books to read, I’ve benefited from eventually creating a system of my own, which I use to organize my yearly reading. I’ve pulled some lessons I’ve learned from making this system and put them into a list of tips that can help you create your own focused reading lists.

Follow a Reading Routine and Calendar

I tend to organize my reading lists into three month chunks, simply because I really liked the semester calendar from my college days. Feel free to organize your own reading calendar however you’d like; the important thing is that you read regularly and often. I try to read for one hour a day in the evening after dinner.

Pick an Interesting Theme

Each reading ‘semester’ I pick a theme that will guide my reading. Two years ago I went to Russia for vacation, so for three months before the summer trip, I themed my reading list around Russian literature and culture. Another year, I somehow became fascinated by the First World War, so I made a reading list that grew out of Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August. It’s usually best to make this theme connect to some aspect of your life: an upcoming trip, a subject that could help your career, interesting relationships, or subjects that you’re passionate about.

Read a Variety of Books

You’ll also want to read a variety of different kinds of books. Don’t only read novels. Don’t only read self-help books. Try to spread your reading around a theme, selecting books from all areas of human knowledge: biology, fiction, philosophy, and so on. As a personal rule, I try to read three books at a time: one contemporary fiction, one classic literature, and one non-fiction book from a rotating discipline, such as history, philosophy, psychology, and so on.

Organize Your Reading List

This tip will try to keep you from having dead periods in your reading. How often have you stood in front of a bookshelf and couldn’t decide what to read next? I’ve done it many times, so I decided one day to organize my reading list so that I would know what book I should read next. This keeps me from losing focus in my reading, and it also forces me to make interesting connections between the books I read.

Keep a Reading Journal

Finally, you should keep a reading journal with you when you read. That way you can write down your thoughts about the book as you read or after you’ve read, and you can track how long it took you to read the book. The journal will be a record of your learning progress through each reading ‘semester,’ and it will help you plan out your future reading lists.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 maria August 8, 2011 at 11:39 am

i like this post. Especially reading a variety of books about one subject. I’m gonna try that.

2 Kristin Landerfield June 25, 2012 at 10:49 am

Great article on how to be a focused reader! I am constantly trying to get my children to stay focused in so many different subjects. For example, I recently got this math learning system called Brainetics ( and so far kids have been able to focus on the patterns in math problems way better. My next subject is reading… I will definitely reference this article! Thank you!

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