Before I dive into this post, I feel the need to include a disclaimer. I’m not some book nerd who’s adamantly anti-technology. I have my fair share of electronic devices and technological gadgets, and I appreciate all they can do. Like anything, however, certain forms of technology can become an unhealthy distraction from life’s greater priorities if not properly managed.
I personally go through periods of time when I watch more TV than I should, or I spend too much time on social media, when I could be reading (or just doing something else more enriching) instead. I always feel worse for it.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as we’re more than one month into the new year, and I’m already feeling behind on my reading goals. I know if I’m going to read all the books I plan to this year, I need to adopt better habits.
So with that in mind, I came up with a list of what I’ve found, in the past and recently, to be the most effective strategies for finding time to read in this ever-distracting, digitally-dominant world. I’ll be putting these tips into practice myself too, and it’s my hope that they’ll work to help all of us who desire to read more do just that.
People with the best reading habits have the best usage of the brain.J. Tisa
1. Keep A Book on You At All Times
I’m putting this tip first, because in my opinion, this is the number one rule – the golden rule, if you will – that all readers should follow. Keep at least one book on you at all times. At least one. I personally make every effort to never leave home without one, and if for whatever reason I do forget, I always regret it. You never know when you’ll be stopped by a train, waiting awhile for some appointment or other, or simply stuck in the drive-through line for longer than expected.
Even if I only have time to read a few paragraphs of my book, it always feels better to do that than aimlessly scroll through feeds on my phone. If you want to be the kind of person who reads more, then you have to replace certain unfruitful digital distractions with the habit of reading instead. So keep a book in your car, your purse, your backpack, whatever will be with you most. You never know when you’ll need it.
2. Turn Off the TV
TVs are not inherently evil pieces of technology. I enjoy watching mine as much as the next person. But as with anything, too much isn’t good for us. Watching a couple episodes of a show or a movie here and there won’t rot your brain. But binge-watching and movie marathons should be reserved for rare occasions, not daily practices.
Very recently, I started making an effort to stop watching TV before bed altogether. Instead, I’ve started reading a couple chapters or a few poems (usually until I start to doze off mid-sentence or -stanza). I’ve already found that this new habit helps me fall asleep earlier. And also, by eliminating my blue light exposure before bed, it’s contributed to more restful nights of sleep overall, simultaneously helping me keep up with my reading goals and form healthier daily habits.
3. Set a Timer on Your Phone and Put it Away
This is a tip I came up with a couple years ago, when one of my middle school students told me she wanted to read books more often, but always seemed to get distracted by her phone. And let’s face it; we can all relate to that, on some level. There are countless apps to endlessly scroll, by their very design, and games to play, and videos to watch. If we aren’t mindful of our device habits, our phones can easily begin to control us, rather than the other way around.
To eliminate the distraction of your phone when you want to spend time reading, set a timer on it, for twenty minutes, an hour, or however long you want to read for. Then, place your phone (with notifications silenced, ideally) somewhere it will be out of reach (on a shelf across the room, etc.) but within earshot. Sit down and start reading, and don’t get back up until the timer goes off. You’ll be able to read without being distracted by notifications or the temptation to start scrolling.
4. Read Audiobooks (Yes, They Count)
Maybe this tip is kind of cheating, since some audiobooks are technically digital media, but they are, above else, pieces of literature. And if you want your reading count to grow in spite of being busy or just easily distracted, adding audiobooks to your reading rotation is the perfect way to do so.
In my audiobooks post, I go into a bit more detail about why I love this literary medium so much, but in short, audiobooks are simply convenient and allow for reading at times that otherwise wouldn’t. You can read audiobooks while you’re driving, at the gym, doing housework, or walking the dog. You can read even when you don’t feel like straining your eyes or holding a physical book. Audiobooks are perfect for those of us who desire to read more but can’t seem to find the time or the focus to sit down and do so in the traditional sense.
5. Schedule Time for Reading
This may sound ridiculous but really: plan for certain times of your day or week to be dedicated to reading and reading alone. Write it down in your planner, on your calendar, in your phone, whichever you prefer and will be most likely to see. Block off certain times throughout the week, as often as your schedule permits, to spend reading. Even if it’s just fifteen minutes, that’s better than nothing. And if it’s written down and physically scheduled, you’ll be more likely to stick to it.
I usually schedule at least an hour each evening for reading. When dinner is over, the chores are done, lunch for the next day packed, and I’m showered and ready for bed, I set the timer on my phone and don’t stop reading until it goes off. I can’t make the excuse that I don’t have the time for reading, because I know I do. What else would I do with that hour, if not read? Probably scroll on my phone or watch too many episodes of Cheers. I’m always glad when I choose reading instead.
6. Read More Than One Book at a Time
Some people have a hard time juggling multiple books at once, and that’s entirely understandable. In that case, my advice is to take notes on what you read right after you finish, so you don’t get the stories and characters mixed up. As a student of literature, I’ve had years of practice reading multiple novels and various books at once, and taking notes has been the most effective way for me to keep them all organized in my mind.
Right now, I’m reading (and listening to) six different books, ranging from poetry to historical fiction, biography to children’s literature. Whether I want something light and funny or serious and thoughtful, I have options. One of the books I’m reading right now is so dark and heavy that I can’t read more than a few chapters at a time. And immediately after, I always have to read a chapter or two of Little Women, just to lighten my spirits. If I was only reading the dark and heavy book right now, I’d read far less often than I do. It’s really helpful to have several genres going at once, so no matter your mood, you’ll always have something to read.
7. Read Books You Actually Enjoy
We’ve all been required to read books for school that perhaps we didn’t find entertaining or particularly relatable. I enjoyed a lot of the books we read for school, but others, in spite of their merit, simply bored me. As avid readers know, books can be captivating, funny, immensely entertaining, and even life-changing. But for those who have never been into reading, and only experienced it within the confines of school, books may be nothing but a painfully boring chore. The best news is that, outside of school, we can read literally anything we want to.
The key is to find books that entertain you specifically, which, of course, will differ for everyone. Find books that incorporate your interests, include characters to whom you can relate. We all find different things entertaining. So ask for recommendations. Find books similar to others you’ve enjoyed. There are many resources online that will guide you to tailored book recommendations. Take the time to figure out what you like. Because, after all, if the books you read don’t entertain and compel you, you’ll never want to pick them up off the nightstand anyway.