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How to Keep Track of Your Reading List With Google Sheets

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Nowadays, reading lists aren’t all textbooks and papers. They’re more like a multimedia playlist that doesn’t fail to keep you on your toes. Whether it’s online articles, videos, podcasts, or films, it’s a lot to stay on top of, and easy to let some fall between the cracks.


But keeping track of your reading list doesn’t need to be a task in itself. You can do yourself a favor and create a place for all the details in a simple spreadsheet. So, how do you organize your reading list in Google Sheets? Keep reading to learn how.


Building a Reading List Layout in Google Sheets

The main purpose of your reading list is to give you a quick overview of everything. It helps you identify what you need to read and easily find the information again later when it’s time to study or write about it. That means you’ll need to include some key information for each piece.

To begin, add the following column titles across the top of your spreadsheet:

  • Topic or Class—the subject or your class code.
  • Title—the piece’s name.
  • Author—the person who wrote it.
  • Format—the media type.
  • Status—to show your progress.
  • Link / Location—a link to the piece or where to find it.
  • Summary—a short description.
  • Notes—a Google Docs link to your notes—there are many ways to find and share these.

Since your studies are unique, this list will look different for everyone. Is there anything you could add to make studying easier? For example, listing the publisher, the release date, or key takeaways could be handy for some. Add any additional titles you think of to your sheet, but only if you know that you’ll use the information.

Adding Dropdown Lists and Color Coding to Your Reading List in Google Sheets

Even if you’re not super skilled in Sheets yet, you too can build a dropdown list using Data validation. It only takes a handful of steps, and it’s an excellent solution for the recurring answers in your topic, format, and status columns. To make your dropdown list:

  1. Select a cell in your Topic column.
  2. Click Data in the top menu.
  3. Choose Data validation from the list.
  4. For Criteria, use List of items.
  5. In the field to the right, enter the words you’d like to include—separate them with a comma.
  6. Hit Save.

Afterward, you’ll see your list in the cell. Test it out to make sure you’ve got it, and next, you’ll add color coding. To do so:

  1. Click Format in the top menu.
  2. Choose Conditional formatting from the list.
  3. In the sidebar, under Format rules, click the dropdown below Format cells if…
  4. Select Text contains.
  5. Type the topics in the field that appears underneath.
  6. Change the background color or text color under Formatting style.
  7. Hit Done.
  8. Repeat these steps with the other topics.

Once your dropdown list is ready to go, you can paste it down the entire column:

  1. Copy the cell.
  2. Select the column heading, then highlight the whole thing.
  3. Before pasting, deselect the title cell by clicking it while holding CMD or CTRL.
  4. Paste.

How to Make Your Reading List Less Overwhelming in Google Sheets

As you add items to your reading list, you could find yourself feeling overwhelmed. In that case, it could be helpful to include a time estimate column in your sheet. Doing this will show you roughly how long it will take to get through a piece to help with time management. If you’re unsure what the reading pace will be, you can simply include the number of pages or give it your best guess.

You could also break your reading into chunks and keep a progress column. It doesn’t need to be exact, do whatever works for you. Here are some examples of what that could look like:

  • 3/4 read
  • 75% read
  • Page 75/100
  • Almost there!

When it comes time to read, and you’re unsure where to start, pick the topic you like the least or find the most difficult and get going. But if you’re struggling and could use a pick-me-up, go for some quick wins and pick a nice, easy chunk of reading to check off your list.

Another thing to try if you’re not in the mood to read another page is setting a timer. Give it ten or fifteen minutes. See what you get done. If you’re feeling it, keep going, otherwise try again after a break.

Tips for Keeping a Reading List in Google Sheets

  • Add pieces as they come to your attention. If you wait, you could forget about them.
  • Delete any unnecessary columns—filling them in will only create extra steps.
  • Avoid adding too many columns—the main purpose is to get a quick overview, which becomes challenging if the sheet gets noisy.
  • The summary is only for you, so there’s no need to spend much time thinking about this. It could be one sentence you use to describe the piece, or something as simple that will add context.
  • If you want to add a checklist to your layout in place of the status column—or just for super quick reference—add a new column to the far left, click its header, go to Insert, and Checkbox.
  • Ensure you keep your list updated and only add relevant information. That way, it will stay tidy, and planning will be a breeze.
  • Make a reading notes folder in your Google Drive to keep things together and organized. Within, give the Google Docs you create a matching title to the piece you’re reading—for example, Reading List Layout Notes—and link to them in your spreadsheet.
  • You could also create the documents ahead of time so that they’re ready when you need them.

Stay on Top of Your Reading List With Google Sheets

When you’re so busy with everything else, it’s easy to let reading fall between the cracks. Tracking everything in Google Sheets is the perfect solution because it’s quick and accessible, plus it’s available at no cost.

You’ll be doing yourself a huge favor by knowing what you need to read at a glance and finding it all again later when it comes time to put your notes into action.



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