The concept of an absolute global “reading list”, which is what most people have in mind when discussing “reading lists” is counter-productive. It also saps cognitive energy and morale. If one were to try to live by it, one would (typically) not do great work. Lists need to be relative to criteria. Criteria change.
Academics are some of the best role models, because they consume copious amounts of information, are super pressed for time, and tend to be rigorously driven by cognitive needs (building new knowledge, teaching and solving problems). They read the highest quality information produced by humanity. They spend their lives assessing students and assessing colleagues.
Academics are not necessarily very skilled at using technology, but there’s no evidence that those kills correlate with academic performance, which doesn’t mean there’s no link between the two. But it does suggest that they find simple ways of dealing with something very complex (readings).
In my two Cognitive Productivity books, I described several concepts and other tools that are helpful for discovering, selecting, delving and mastering information.
The biggest challenge people seem to have is evaluating knowledge resources (for each stage of processing).
Four major evaluative concepts are caliber, utility, potency and appeal (CUP’A). Each of these criteria is surprisingly complex.
Utility is relative to projects. “Readings” normally need to be organized by projects. Bookmarking tools unfortunately lack integration with project/task management software (like things), but there are hacks. Caliber is the objective quality of the information.
One principle is that if a web page is worth delving it’s worth converting to PDF. Academics read mostly PDFs. Bibliography managers (like Papers) enable you to store the same PDF in multiple topics, some of which can be project oriented. You can also create multiple reading lists in them.
While I don’t suggest explicitly assessing each potential document in terms of CUP’A, one needs to get to the point of being able to do this automatically/tacitly. This basically addresses the major problem: zero-ing on the what to process.
Bookmarking a document doesn’t mean one should read it.
Being able to return to high caliber potential readings that are potent and pertinent to a project is important. But projects change and close.
Beware of the “appeal” criterion.
Keep in mind when assessing recommendations about how to manage readings whether the author is making distinctions such as the ones described above, and whether their advice is just based on their personal experience and opinion or whether it stacks well against cognitive science. Also, research funding agencies need to spend way more money on research on personal information management (which is the technical name of the research area we are talking about here)—because there is a lack of it, and it’s very important to society. Here’s a grant proposal for example