How To Strategically Choose What Nonfiction Book To Read Next

Sorting your books alphabetically, assigning a number, and rolling a die to figure out what nonfiction book you should read next might work for some folks. But if you barely have time to read because of your job, kids, commute, life in general. And if, while juggling all of these things, you still haven’t given up on your dream of becoming a better-than-average programmer, artist, business owner, or online therapist. Choosing your next read might be crucial for your progress. Thus, should be approached strategically.

Most people read haphazardly.

Not that this is a general felony. After all, we’re still reading books. Better than reading the news, right?

Like everything in life, though. If you don’t have a plan. You will soon find yourself alone, lost in a dark forest. Surrounded by wild animals who are coming to get you. In translation: Nowhere near where you want to be in life.

As boring as it might sound, you need to approach picking up your next nonfiction read strategically – assuming that you’re already a regular reader and you want to make improvements in your process.

I know, I’m, too, obsessively buying and starting new books instead of reading the ones I already own. Sometimes I even buy books without actually intending to read them – apparently, this practice is called tsundoku.1

But when I’m finally back to my senses, the this-new-book-is-always-better-than-the-one-I-am-currently-reading syndrome leaves my mind and I return to my usual reading schedule.

You’re too strangely disorganized about choosing which book to read next?

Welcome to the club.

Don’t scream and don’t collapse.

In this first post – part of a mini-series about how to read better. I’m going to introduce a simple method I follow to pick books, or should I rather say topics, when I approach reading nonfiction books.

Note: This post is part of a series on how to become a better reader. Here’s the overview:

  1. How to choose the right book (the current post)
  2. What to do before reading
  3. What to do while you’re reading
  4. What to do after you’re done with a book

Why You Should Be Careful When Choosing Which Book To Read Next?

Even if you, say, have an infinite number of resources and you buy all the audiobooks on the planet. And then, as all guru-type productivity artists advise, you listen at 3X speed, you’ll still need around 80 years to finish all audiobooks – assuming you’re just born, don’t sleep, and there are no more audiobooks produced in the future.2

And here we are talking only about audiobooks.

What about trying to read all printed books?

It’s impossible.

There are more than 129,864,880 books in the world.3

What does this mean?

Two main things:

First, you will never read all the books you want to read simply because we are mortals. There are more books that there is time to read them.

Secondly, exactly because of the first reason, there is a high chance you might end up wasting your time consuming books that are not particularly useful or such that won’t contribute much to your desired goal.

If your goal is to cultivate your decision-making skills. Or you’re a beginner psychologist and you’re looking for ways to enhance your knowledge in this particular area. It’s crucial to find great literature that will serve you in your field of interest. If you don’t, you’ll simply drown in your own library. Suffocate with facts and stories about things that are not important to you in this current moment.

This leads me to the following:

What Happens When You Don’t Take Time To Consider Your Next Read?

Before you even open your browser and you start typing “best books to read about…” Let’s see what happens when you don’t carefully consider your next read…

Plainly, you get lost.

Lost in the noise.

Lost in the ever-growing library of books, videos, resources in general all promising to make you better and “unlock your full potential.”

Even more dangerous. You lose direction.

Say you want to start a business. Or you’re a psychology student and you want to learn from the best in the field.

Your goal is to transition from a student to a practicing psychologist – or from a wanna-be entrepreneur to a cash-collecting mogul with people reaching out all the time inviting you to speak on their podcasts.

If we place this on a simple piece of paper. It will look like this:

There is always a gap between your current situation and your desired future condition.

Obviously, to close the gap. Something needs to happen.

Besides doing stuff, it’s a good idea to learn about the stuff you want to be doing.

Why fail in real life when you can learn from the failures of others?

Therefore, learning from the best in the field – by reading their books – is a good approach.

So, you can create a plan and follow it to get to the desired destination faster.

When you know what you want, you should create a plan and follow it.

It’s kind of like going to class and strictly following the curriculum created by your teacher. The difference is that when you grow up, you’re often both the teacher and the student.

To elaborate on the plan: Simply put, you know that by doing a-b-c you will get there. Yes, it will be hard and involve a lot of reading and doing, but in the end, it should be worth it because you’ll obtain what you ultimately wanted.

On the flip side, if you don’t take some time to consider what you consume, if you don’t have a plan, you’ll start consuming random stuff online that probably won’t be at all related to your desired destination.

Bad student. You’re skipping classes, aren’t you?

Unlike going to school, though. When you’re old. You don’t have an elderly fellow to get you back on track. Someone to punish you with low grades or send you to the principal. It’s you that needs to do these things.

This basically means that you should consider not setting and not following a pre-defined reading plan as an act of betrayal for your future self. Like ordering a keg of beer with chips and burritos when you’re on a diet. You shoot yourself in the foot.

Books, and the information we generally consume, can be our best friend and our worst enemy. If you indulge in shallow reads. Such that exist only to sell you more books – I’m mainly referring to books published by self-proclaimed “gurus”. You will not only waste time, money, and energy. Something even worse could happen: you might also change directions.

You can diverge. And take a different path. A path that looks promising but it only looks that way.

To illustrate this better, let’s consider the following example:

Becoming an entrepreneur is your goal. Naturally, you’ll look for people in this section. Rich. Famous. Potentially doing good things for society.

Sadly, you might end up admiring the wrong idols: Rich, famous, and harmful to society. The ones that are rich by telling people how to be rich but they were never rich in the first place to know exactly how someone can become rich – quite an enigma. But I’m sure you get it.

So, say you purchase and read The 10x Rule by Grant Cardone.

By doing so, you might convince yourself that taking one of his 10X courses or attending one of his seminars will help you get closer to your goal and thus become rich faster. After all, the course states that you will indeed become rich faster – that’s what the label says.

This conviction will lead you to a couple of months of learning about dumbed-down advice like “follow your passion”; “work harder”; “work even harder”.

In short, they will simply distract you.

On the piece of paper it will look like this:

Failure to follow your plan will take you to another, completely different place.

You’re slowly but surely moving away from your goal.

Now, don’t feel bad about all the bad books you’ve read in the past. Even if this includes the 10X Rule.

A lot of times, these are the books we need to read.

For example, they might motivate you to change your current condition. Open your eyes to the potential opportunities.

Such books are often general, not quite useful, but might be the exact thing you need to set you on the right path.

To proceed, or should we say advance, however, you need more specific reads. More books that actually have something to teach you. Not more books that state cliche stuff like “follow your passion” on every other page.

Finding them is not that hard. But it’s a process you need to add to your bookish life.

Simple Process To Choose Your Next Nonfiction Book

Most active readers have a to-read shelf. Whether this will be inside a notebook, on Goodreads, or use some sort of app to keep track of the books they want to get. It doesn’t matter.

Personally, there is rarely a day in my life where I don’t add at least one new book to my to-read list.

It’s fun. But also agonizing. You want to read so many books but you don’t have time for all of them.

What do you do then?

You categorize the books you encounter.

What most folks don’t have is themes and subcategories in their bookshelves.

I’m talking about creating a business bookshelf and categorizing the titles based on specific business lessons and tips you want to master.

Let me give you an example:

If you’re a CEO. If you already have a company and you’re already getting traction. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to read how-to-start-a-business type of books.

The business is already set and working.

What you need, is books that will help you solve your current problems and such that will allow you to take your company to the next level.

The same approach can be applied to all other fields, of course.

You no longer start to search for random books in the field you want to learn. You start to search for books that will help you solve a particular problem or allow you to reach a desired future state in the field.

These I call niche books. And these reads are the resources that help you get 1% better every day.

You read one book that convinces you to start a business. Then, since you now know that you’re going to create your own thing, it’s pointless to read another book about starting a business. You’ll focus on business books that help you establish the foundations of your venture and from there find others that help you solve the problems along the way – hiring people, growing the company, etc.

Plainly, you dig deeper into the topic you want to master.

So, let’s break down the steps you have to go through to start choosing your next reads strategically.

Take a pen and paper and ask yourself the following questions:

In Which Area Do I Want To Improve?


The first step is simple. For example, if you want to indeed improve in the field of business or psychology, you can write on top of the list something like: Business skills.

What I Know?


Next up, write down the things you already know in this specific field. Namely, here we’ll focus on the skills, ideas, tasks, that we’re already quite confident in. Things we don’t want to learn. This will help us identify the next (most important) step.

What I Want To Learn?


Here’s where it gets interesting.

Based on the previous two steps, you immerse yourself in a deep-thinking mode to figure out what type of skill you want to learn next.

As you can imagine, being specific is what you need. You’re looking for branches and specific niches in this sub-category.

For instance, business owners might write things like: how to better negotiate prices, how to keep my employees happy, etc. While psychology students might fill things like: how to analyze dreams, clinical psychology fundamentals, and more.

Considering what you want versus what you need is also important. A lot of times you’ll want to read popular books simply because they are trending. However, if they are not what you need, you’ll stall your progress.

What Books Are Available?


Here, you start to carelessly search online for books that will help you based on the specific problems you’re experiencing – the things you want to improve.

Take your time. Search for the best books. Search for the not-so-popular books. Search for people who are actively involved in the industry you want to improve. Write down all the books you found, plus links to the books themselves. Don’t think yet about whether a particular book is good or not. Just add resources.

What Are The Best Books?


The final step: curate.

Here you get ruthless. In this 5th step, you get to nominate your books. Since you have a list of books based on the topics you want to learn, you read the reviews. You check the credentials of the authors – Is the author an expert in the field? Is the information up-to-date or older? Does the information need to be up-to-date or an older content is fine?

Basically, you do diligent research. After all, you don’t want to read a book from someone who’s simply writing about creating a business without actually starting one.

You want to read books from credible sources. If the book doesn’t sound legit, you can scratch it. The goal is to have somewhere between 3 and 5 books per category.

And of course, by saying the best books I don’t mean the best-selling. I mean the best based on what you want to learn.

You’re all set. What’s left after the curation part is an academy award-winning collection of books that are based on the things you want to learn – not based on some random selection.

A 5-step process to strategically choose your next nonfiction book.

As you can probably sense. This same approach can be used to find and categorize articles, courses, or individuals in a specific niche. Of course, if you do find quality sources that are not books related to your desired topics you can add them as well.

Before we end, one important thing:

Don’t go too hard on yourself when you interrupt your reading flow with something totally unrelated to your goal – a fiction book that sounds interesting.

Progress is never a straight line.

Progress is not a straight line.

It’s more like this:

Your capacity to tolerate failure is crucial for making progress.

Even if you go in a different direction from time to time, the list of reads will help you stay on track.

What I want to say is that it’s not a failure until you stop trying.

Some Closing Thoughts

To avoid panicking when you don’t have a new book to start when you’re close to finishing the one you’re reading now. Simply do the exercise above.

Once you take some time to think about what you want to learn, your next nonfiction book will be an obvious choice. You won’t wander around the distracting internet space, taking hits from all sites that will try to lure you in and take your money. You will be confident in your next step and know precisely what you should learn next.

A common comment in relation to the above strategy is this: “There is no fun in that!”

Book addicts like me – and probably you – want excitement. You want to immerse yourself in a book you just found about. I know, I often do it too. I hear about a book and I drop everything.

But as mentioned, progress is never a straight line.

Therefore, don’t strictly follow the above. I mean, having fun is something that needs to happen as well in our lives. Still, that doesn’t exclude the option to prepare a list of books that will help you achieve the things you desperately want.

Reading for fun is as important as reading to learn. The point is to have a plan that you follow slowly but surely.

Continue improving your reading game by checking my second post in the mini-series on how to become a better reader: What Do Good Readers Do Before Reading?

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  1. As Wikipedia states, tsundoku is acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.
  2. The number is based on the number of currently available audiobooks (71,000) and the average length of a book (about 11 hours long).
  3. And this statistic is no longer relevant. The number is from 10 years ago.
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