How I Track My Reading List

If you just want to get to it and see my reading list, click here.

If you want to sign-up for Notion, feel free to use my referral link here.

More than a few people have asked me how I manage my reading list. First of all, here are a few of the requirements that I want in a solution:

  • Mobile and desktop accessible. I read everywhere. At the coffeeshop, on a plane, in my office, at work, in the bath. I need my reading list where I read, which means everywhere. If I don’t have access to my reading list, then as I’ll certainly forget to update it regularly, which means a nightmare of organization later whenever I get to it.
  • I want a queue system. I not only want to track what I have finished reading, but what I am currently reading, and what I will be reading.
  • Quick entry of new books to add to the queue. In the same way that I want to be able to update my reading progress, I need to be able to add books to the list in real-time as well. You never know when you’ll receive a recommendation from a friend or colleague, when you see a cover in an airport, or when a book you’re reading makes another recommendation. I want to jot those down immediately so I don’t forget them…plus it means I’ll never run out of books to read.
  • Sortability and filtering. I try to be diverse in my reading, which means tracking how much of which genre/author/etc. I’m reading. I also want to see which books I own and which books I should pick up the next time I wander into my local bookstore.
  • Quantifiable tracking. In addition to just having a straight-up list of books that I’ve read, am reading, or want to read, I also want to be able to quantify a few things: how long does it take me to read? How many books have I read? How long does it take me to get to a book once I’ve heard about it? Things like this matter to me so I can hold myself accountable for my reading: I want to feel guilty when I have been pouring time & attention into TV, social media, or video games rather than reading.

I don’t like Goodreads, and not just because of the Amazon affiliation: it’s just a pretty bad interface to keep track of a lot of reading, in my opinion. I’ve also tried a number of off-the-shelf (ha!) solutions that just haven’t worked for me, so I decided to roll my own. Over a year ago, I switched from Evernote to Notion for keeping my life together (travel plans, side hustle ideas, etc.), and it was a logical place for my reading list to live.

Utilizing Notion immediately solves for the mobile/desktop requirement, and my implementation of the reading list also solves for the rest. There are a couple of things I’d really love that would make it perfect, but this is definitely the best solution for me out of everything I’ve tried thus far.

In this post, I’ll walk you through how I’ve setup my reading list using Notion. You’ll find a couple screenshots along with descriptions for how I’ve implemented the table.


Derek Brown Reading List in Notion
Click to see full-size.
Second half of my reading list in Notion.
Click to see full-size.
Various lists in my reading category.
Various lists I have in Notion. The primary is Reading List.


  • Status: This is a select column in notion, with pre-configured color-coded values. Most books on the list don’t have a status, but those that do fall in one of four categories:
    • Reading: What I’m currently reading. Usually, only one book falls into this status, but occasionally a second will slip-in.
    • On-Deck: These are the books that I want to read after I’m done with what I’m currently reading. It lessens the mental load of picking what’s next as soon as I’m done with a book. I don’t have to comb through my shelves or backlog to figure it out: I’ve already done it.
    • Next?: These are the books that I’d think about reading next (and moving into the On Deck status). It’s the real queue out of all the books on the list.
    • Finished: Once I’m done with a book, it moves to this coveted status. At the end of the year, I move all books with a Finished status to their own table (ie, “2019 Reading”).
  • Own: This is a checkbox column, and simply indicates whether I actually own a book or not. I prefer to own every book I read, and I buy books from local bookstores (McNally Jackson, Greenlight, Strand are some favorites here in NYC).
  • Title: Self-explanatory, hopefully. This is a text column.
  • Author: This is a multi-select column, with each author as it’s own value, set to the default color (although Notion’s current implementation of default coloring is a poor design/product decision…or just a bug). This allows me to easily sort the table or filter by a specific author.
  • Genre: Another select column, with color-coded values. My genres are as follows:
    • Biography
    • SFF (Science Fiction/Fantasy)
    • Tech
    • Science
    • Finance
    • Humanities
    • History
    • Business
    • Literary Fiction
    • Travel
    • Spirituality
  • Priority: This is a column I’m testing out. It’s a select column with Urgent, High, and Normal values, and I use it to further decide what to read or purchase next.
  • Tags: In all sorts of products I’ve worked on, including this reading list, I’ve found a generic tag holder to be useful. I have a couple of tags that I utilize in my reading list:
    • To Buy: This is a super useful tag when I’m standing in a bookstore, and have no idea off the top of my head of which books to pick-up. I filter down to the “To Buy” tag, and see if they’re in stock. Easy!
    • Classic: I want to track which books are considered “Classic” by some standard, and I utilize a tag to do that (for example, Hemingway’s Old Man & The Sea or Asimov’s Foundation).
  • Notes: Random text holder (usually something quirky about the book or a release date).
  • Start: A date in Notion, which indicates the date on which I started reading the book.
  • Finish: The counterpart to Start, which indicates the date which I finished reading the book. In the summary on this column, I count the number of non-null cells, which gives me a total count of books read year to date.
  • Days to Read: A formula in Notion, which calculates the difference between Finish and Start, giving me the number of days that it took me to read the book. In the summary on this column, I calculate the average days to read, which helps me keep pace for my desired book count in a year.
  • Series: For some books (Scalzi, Dark Tower, etc.), I want to tie books to one another in a group. I have a select column here to do just that. Here are the series I’m currently tracking (mainly SFF):
    • VanderMeer’s Southern Reach
    • Scalzi’s Lock In
    • Jemisin’s The Broken Earth
    • Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past
    • Scalzi’s The Interdependency Sequence
    • Scalzi’s Old Man’s War
    • King’s The Dark Tower
    • Le Guin’s The Hainish Cycle
  • Added: This is a fairly new column, which I…ahem…added this year. It’s a date column that helps me track when I added a book to the list. Eventually, I’ll probably track the time it takes for me to get to a book, once I’ve added it to the list.

Some Stats

  • Total Books on the List: 220 right now.
  • Read So Far in 2019: 10 books.
  • Average Days to Read: 4.8 days per book.
  • Fastest Book to Read: Gene Edwards’ A Tale of Three Kings (read in single day)


Hope this helps those of you looking to track your own reading in a serious way! I’ve found Notion to be a great tool for this (among other things), though I definitely have a couple of gripes with them about some of the minor details. Feel free to check out the list yourself at the link above, and feel free to sign-up for a free plan at Notion using my link above as well. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to comment!


Reading Rainbow: March 5, 2019

New pickups for the reading list.

I know some of you have been asking how I manage my reading, and I promise I’m going to get to it (soon!), but in the meantime, here’s a look at what I’ll be reading over the next couple of weeks. Picked these up from my local bookstore (Mcnally Jackson in Williamsburg), and the guy behind the counter mentioned how wide-ranging the selection was. I just kinda shrugged. Guess I’m a well-versed reader? Who knows. In any case, here’s the haul:

  • The Drawing of the Three by Steven King: I recently picked up and devoured The Dark Tower from King, a book that’s been on my list since high school. Well worth the wait, and I’m stoked to sink my teeth into the second book.
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin: Ursula is legendary in SF/F circles, but I’ve yet to read one of her novels. I have this one and The Dispossessed in the queue right now, so I’ll at least start the Hainish stories. If they’re as good as people say, then I bet I pick up her entire body of work.
  • Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber: Nadia isn’t from my “brand of Christianity”, but I love what she had to say about grace, the Church, and Jesus in her previous book, Pastrix. I haven’t gotten to read Accidental Saints yet, but this tome on sexuality in the Kingdom of God is at the very least going to be an interesting read.
  • Blitzscaling by Reid Hoffman: This one doesn’t need an introduction. I’ve read parts of it prior, and obviously watched the videos, read the Medium notes from the class, and lived in the Hoffman-created world at LinkedIn. I’m sure this one will be a book that I mark-up.
  • Ten Restaurants That Changed America by Paul Freeman: For those that know me, you know I’m a huge foodie, and in love with the hospitality industry. In another life, I would’ve gone to culinary school and opened a restaurant. Who knows what the future holds? In any case, this history lesson should be a good read, though it’s a bit thicker than I expected!

What do you think? Any of these sound interesting to you? What are you reading this week?


Lazy Sunday Links

Here’s a list of stuff that had my attention this past week. Maybe you’ll enjoy it as well. Check it out:

  • Pete Buttigieg on Pod Save America: For those of you not following my Twitter, you may not know that Mayor Pete is someone I’m paying close attention to in the Democratic primary. I don’t agree with all of his policies, in fact I’m to the right of most of his platform items, but if you know me at all, you may know I don’t vote based on policy or party lines. I look for leadership capabilities, summarized in the three I’s: intuition, intelligence, integrity. At a glance, Mayor Pete has them in spades. Will be interesting to see how he rises in the national conversation. So far, strategically, he’s making the right moves: seeing him a lot more in the press and he’s been touring the battleground states of NH and IA, along with the more populated states like CA and NY. Take a look at the video above (a recording of a podcast interview) for a good look at how he thinks.
  • Aligning Business Models to Market: What a great read about not just the hospitality/commerce industry, but a look at the dynamics of looking at your business model as an extension of the market you’re in, even down to resources that are available to you. One of the most interesting things is seeing the “farm system” analogy extended to hospitality, as it’s one that I’ve utilized in my technology career (and even written about before!).
  • Maggie Rogers & Florence Welch on “Light On”: Are you kidding? These two women on stage together is incredible. Miranda and I had the pleasure of seeing Florence in the flesh at Barclay Center a while back, and I look forward to seeing Maggie as well. What a couple of phenomenal voices, and performers.
  • Pearls of Elixir: For the nerds following this blog, I’m an Elixir-fanatic. This is a pretty interesting look at some snippets from the more popular packages in the space, where the author zeroes in on some educational patterns utilized. I learned a couple of nifty tricks; maybe you will as well.
  • Bryce to Philly: I’m a Nats fan. And an Eagles fan. I think I’m OK with this, but not quite sure yet.
  • Revolut’s Destructive Culture: People act like cultures like this are abnormal and anomalies (see: Uber, etc.), but the reality is that it’s almost standard in the industry. While I fortunately haven’t been in environments quite like those reported on, personal and family health is rarely at the top of anyone’s list in Silicon Valley. It’s nothing new, and really isn’t new even with the technology industry or American capitalism. As long as market advantages are to be had, there will be work cultures like this.
  • Plastic Gets Costlier: This report from the WSJ is both sad and very intriguing. I recently had a conversation with a restauranteur who only accepted AmEx because of the fees that Visa and Mastercard were already charging. Will be very interesting to see how the economy (and small business owners in particular) react to this increase in fees. What an interesting time to be working on payments! Hint, hint.
  • How NYC Became a Tech Town: When I first moved to NYC, I got a lot of questions about how the NYC tech scene compared to SF and the Valley. My response was always that technology was the first space in which NYC had really been an underdog, but that I saw the NYC tech space catching up in 5 years. Seems like it took half that time.

Sailing Away From the Cold

For quite some time, I had been keeping my eyes on cruise prices; none of us have ever been on one, and I knew that it’d be a fun adventure at the very least. When Carnival finally dropped a last-minute deal on a balcony room during a week that the girls were out of school for winter break, I pounced. I had my doubts, to be honest. I thought we would be cramped in a small, sub-par room for 5 people, with sub-par food and kitschy entertainment, packed on a boat with thousands of other people with nowhere else to go for 4 nights. But I wanted to see what the hype was all about. Glad I did.

Our cruise departed from Miami, and it just so happened that direct flights out of Philadelphia were super cheap on my loyalty airline of choice (American). At the very least, I told myself, it was a way to rack up miles ahead of our anniversary trip. So I booked flights out of PHL to MIA, and then grabbed a cheap Amtrak from Penn Station to Philly. Total cost was less than our flights out of NYC would’ve been, counting taxis to and from the airport. Who knew?

NYC to Philly to Miami

The train was great as usual (one of my favorite modes of transit), and after a stop at Barnes & Noble to get some trip reading for the little ones, we headed to one of my personal delights in Philly: Tony Luke’s. You should definitely visit the touristy spots (Pat’s, Geno’s), but for my money, Tony Luke’s is the best cheesesteak in town. The wait was insane, though, but still worth it.

Grabbing a wiz wit' at Tony Luke's.
Grabbing a wiz wit’ at Tony Luke’s.

Crashing at the Admiral’s Club in PHL for a couple of hours was great as well, and gave us a break before jumping on a nearly three-hour flight to Miami. Was a fairly smooth flight, albeit long. We checked into our hotel for the evening (again, a loyalty spot at a Hyatt near the MIA airport), and I headed out into the humid Miami night to find food. The next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel, stopped by Books & Books to get some additional trip reading for me, and then headed to board the ship.

Boarding in Miami

We boarded the Victory and went straight to lunch on the primary open air deck. It was then that I began to think that we got more than we bargained for, in a good way. The tacos I had from the Blue Iguana cantina were legit: fresh made tortillas, cooked right in front of me, with well-seasoned meat and a serious hot sauce bar. Color me impressed. We shortly left PortMiami, with the Miami skyline slowly fading in the background.

Carnival Victory leaving PortMiami with Miami in the background.
Carnival Victory leaving PortMiami with Miami in the background.

After dropping our luggage off at our room (which was only slightly larger than expected, though the balcony was great), the family and I took a tour of the ship, including the kids’ club, called Camp Ocean, and the spa. The spa reeled me in with a men’s haircut & shave offer that also included a much needed skin care treatment. My generally dry skin betrays me most in the winter months. Plus, I look great wrapped in towels.

Stunning and stunned.
Sophia enjoying a meal.
Sophia enjoying a meal.

Throughout the trip, dinner was what solidified my opinion on the food. Night after night, we had exotic bites (rabbit, ox tongue, strawberry soup) paired with well-executed entrees (filet mignon, grilled pork chop, BBQ brisket) and delicious dessert options. The tiramisu was legit great.

Key West

The first mile marker of US Highway 1.

After a good night’s sleep (the king bed was fairly nice, though the pillows a bit thin), we awoke to being docked in the southernmost area of the continental US: Key West. We skipped the shore excursions, and opted instead to spend our half day wandering the Key ourselves.

We walked around for a bit, enjoying Cuban Queen coffee and meandering in and out of the small businesses lining the warm sunny streets of Key West. Eventually, we made it to a semi-educational phase of our cruise.

One of the highlights of the entire trip, at least to me, was our visit to Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West. He’s an author that’s pretty fascinating to me, in that I care more about him and his life than his actual works. Until this past week, I don’t believe that I had actually read anything by him. I changed that by picking up Old Man & The Sea, which was worth the hype, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his creative space, his pool, and his home. While his death was tragic, his life seemed to be frenzied, enjoyable, and productive. The girls enjoyed the home as well, and Ava is currently reading Old Man & The Sea.

Emma meeting a Hemingway cat

We had to re-board the ship fairly early in the day so that we would make the trek to Cozumel for the next day. I snapped a pretty majestic picture of the Carnival Victory, and after grabbing some lunch and key lime pie, we headed back to the pools for an afternoon in the sun.

Our ship, Carnival Victory, docked at Key West.


Ah, Mexico. While Cozumel wasn’t our beloved Merida or Playa Mujeres, it was still great to be back within our warmer southern neighbor’s borders. Again foregoing the Carnival-sponsored shore excursions, I had booked us a beachside cabana at a park on the island. These things can often be hit or miss, and this one was a shot out of the park. We loved it.

When I wasn’t reading or spending time with the girls, I was here enjoying the view. Excuse my feet. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The ladies seemed to have a great time as well, with them splitting time between reading in the hammocks, building sand castles with the provided sand toys, and finding adventure. Ava particularly enjoyed the hammock, though I’m not sure it enjoyed her.

Ava being rejected by the hammock.
Ava being rejected by the hammock.

Our hosts for the day were wonderful, and they took to the girls well. Freshly-made guacamole and ceviche kinda helped the ambiance as well. Loved our time there, but wrapped up after a few hours and headed into the town of San Miguel before we had to be back on board. I introduced the girls to fresh churros and a marquesita, which is a Yucatan specialty, comprised of a cheese-filled crepe with Nutella. We found a local taco spot (recommended to us by a local where we picked up the marquesita), before heading back to the ship. The tacos were good, but they honestly didn’t compare to the ship’s tacos, much less the tacos al pastor of Merida or the late night tacos suadero of Mexico City. But still: it was February, snowing in New York City, and we were eating tacos in Mexico.

Los Otates in San Miguel, Cozumel. Good service, decent tacos, great beer.

The Return

Our last full day on the ship was a “fun day at sea”, and while we battled a bit of waves on the way back, it wasn’t strong enough to detract from our enjoyment of the day. I read a lot, we swam a lot, and overall enjoyed the open ocean. We got into Miami early Friday morning, and began our trek back to NYC via plane and train through Philadelphia again. Overall, a very successful trip, and the girls slept great.

The Gulf of Mexico
My current phone wallpaper, taken from our balcony.


Would I do it again? Absolutely. My family enjoys traveling, they’re good at it, and the cruise was a welcome escape from the twenty-degree weather we have been having here in the five boroughs.

What I Read

  • A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins
  • A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards
  • Old Man & The Sea by Ernest Hemingway

The Week’s Soundtrack


  • Tony Luke’s cheesesteak
  • Books & Books in Miami / Coral Gables
  • White Rose Coffee in West Miami
  • Ernest Hemingway’s house in Key West
  • Our stateroom’s balcony
  • Many more memories & smiles with the girls

Until next time, here’s a GIF of Ava being Ava in the Miami airport.

Ava being Ava.
Ava being Ava.



Take Back Control Over Your Life

Let’s face it: living in our world today is pretty awesome. Sure, there are significant political and social issues that we have to wrestle through together, and there is unfortunately significant inequality in the global society, but day-to-day life for many American millennials is great. We’re instantly connected to anyone in our social circles, we have the world’s information available in our pockets, we can take a ride in fully-electric vehicles, and holograms are just around the corner.

But this standard of living comes at a cost. The fast-paced nature of the digital age means that if we as people are not living intentionally, then our resources will quickly be claimed by other people and organizations…unbeknownst to ourselves. We lose hours to Instagram, dollars to in-app purchases, and mental energy to the person that is currently ghosting us. Simply put: by not being intentional about who controls our lives, we are de-facto relegating control to others.

While I can’t give the end-all, be-all guide to taking control of your life, I can certainly give some quick hits about the three resources I named above. How do we intentionally take control of our money? our time? our attention? My thoughts are below; I’d love a discussion about some tips & tricks that help you ensure control over these things as well.

Disclaimer: I’m not totally there yet. I know what to do, but just haven’t done it all yet. My money, my time, my attention are all currencies that are constantly in circulation for me. This post is just as much for me as it is for anyone else.

Your Money

  • One of the first things to realize about your money is that you’re trying to accomplish something with it. Before you create a budget, create a purpose. What do you want your dollars to do? Are you funneling economic resources into social good, which means donating to charity and perhaps traveling to places where you want to volunteer for a season? Are you in the phase of life where you want to find a significant other, and are therefore going out more often to mingle with others? Write down what you’re trying to accomplish and then it’s easy to plan how to better spend your money. I use Exeq to help me do this, but I’m a bit biased.
  • Follow the tried & true guide for financial responsibility: put aside an emergency fund, eliminate your debts, set aside 3–6 months of savings, and then invest well.
  • Your initial emergency fund should be anywhere from $1000–2000. This is not to be touched unless it’s an absolute emergency. Brunch is not an emergency, for the record.
  • Eliminate your debts. There’s no “right way” to do this. Some people choose to pay down the smallest balance first, then pay down the next smallest, etc. Others choose to pay down the highest interest rate first, then the next, etc. My advice? Pick a way and be disciplined about it until you’re debt free.
  • Set aside 3–6 months of your salary into savings. You can do this via an app like Stash or Qapital, or you can simply open a savings account at your bank and transfer the money yourself. Either way works. But do it.
  • Invest well. I’m not talking about day-trading like you’re the Wolf of Main Street. I’m talking about a long-term investment. No, bitcoin doesn’t count. Open a interest-bearing CD. Open a 401K or IRA. Open an investment account full of ETFs. I use Fidelity and Wealthfront for this, with a 60/40 split between domestic and foreign investments. Set aside 10–15% of your paycheck into your stable investment vehicle of choice and don’t touch it until you need to pay for education or retirement.

Your Time

A glance at my task management system.
  • Invest in a task-management system that works for you. There are plenty of digital solutions out there, including Google’s tasks for those of you already using gMail or Apple’s Reminders for those of you already using iOS & MacOS. I use Things, and have enjoyed OmniFocus and Todoist before. You can also just keep sticky notes or a small notebook on you at all times and write tasks down as they come up. I also have a Hobonichi Weeks that I carry with me at all times to make notes throughout the day. Get in the habit of marking them done, reviewing tasks, etc. It’s easy to let things slip through the cracks, and then it costs you more time to make up than it would have if you had just performed the task on-time to begin with.
  • A lot of people will talk about time-management in terms of tasks. And that’s super important, as noted above. But that said, something that’s even more important than managing your tasks is managing your priorities. Again, if you don’t control your life, someone or something else will. Write down your to-dos/tasks, sure, but also write down your priorities. If something arises during the day that would distract from your priorities….don’t do it! Or delay it. Or be honest with the other party that it’s not a priority at the moment. As many have said, don’t just do the next thing….do what’s best…next.
  • Say no more often. There’s a party coming up. An after-hours lecture you’re interested in. An invite for drinks. Your parents neeeeed you to come home. Taking control of your life means taking control of your life. By saying no more often you’re taking ownership of your time and not letting other people own it on your behalf. You have permission to decline event invitations. You have permission to say no, which will allow you to say yes to higher-priority items.
  • This one may be the most controversial or eyebrow-raising thing I write in this article: think of your own death more often than you do. What’s the point of this? To be morbid? Absolutely not. It’s to realize that time, like your bank account, is finite. It runs out. Like money, you have to budget time. If we’re lucky, we get 70+ years to enjoy life. If we’re not prioritizing, if we’re not managing our tasks well, if we’re not saying no to good things in favor of great things, we’re essentially over-spending our most precious resource. Realizing that time is finite and that, unlike money, can’t be earned back is one way of forcing yourself to be more disciplined about how you spend it.

Your Attention

My iPhone Home Screen. No Instagram. No Facebook. No LinkedIn. Made room for Instapaper, NYTimes, and Pocket Casts. Wallpaper is a picture I took standing on our balcony during a recent cruise.
  • Attention is the currency of the digital age. It’s very related to time in the sense that it’s finite and can’t be taken back once it’s given, but budgeting attention is more than just how you spend your time. It’s also about regulating the inputs into your mind that determine your worldview, how you think, and where your focus is placed. We’re inundated with things vying for our attention: notifications, advertisements, media, etc. The list goes on and on. Realizing that your attention is being fought for is the first step in retaining control over it.
  • Do a notification audit on your phone. What apps have notifications turned on just because you clicked through their onboarding? Do you really want notifications from every activity in a random game you play during your commute? Do you need to know when your friend liked your other friend’s status about dinner? Maybe the answer is yes, and that’s fine. But be thoughtful about it. With the exception of Twitter, I’ve also removed social media from my phone altogether. No FB. No LinkedIn. No Instagram. I don’t miss it.
  • What are you learning? What are you reading? What do you listen to? What are you watching? Seriously ask yourself these questions. You’re always consuming information. Consider the sources and if it’s things that you want to be learning. Think through what you could be reading, listening to, or otherwise consuming instead. Make conscious choices over the things that you are mentally ingesting.
  • Establish rituals. Eat lunch alone. Coffee in the morning before work or class. An evening bath. Whatever it is, establish habitual time for you to think and create. This gives you a blocked-off amount of time to pay attention to whatever it is that you want to pay attention to, instead of the things that demand your attention throughout the day.
  • Get away regularly. Grab an Airbnb in the wilderness. Check out Getaway if you’re in one of the markets they serve. Go camping. On a regular basis (quarterly?) get out of the grind that you’re in day-to-day, and get an overview of your life. What’s going well? What’s not? Utilize the time to not just be in your life, but to work on your life.


There are plenty of resources out there for taking control of your money, your time, and your attention. Leverage them! At the same time, there comes a point where you have to simply act. Sure, you may not get it right on day one. You may change methods over and over. I know I do, often penduluming between analog and digital solutions. But, you can spend so much time, money, and focus on gaining control that you never actually do it. I’d encourage you to experiment: try some things that you think may work and iterate from there to see what works for you!