Many of us would like to have more time to read, but life can get in the way of picking up a book. You will find plenty of well-meaning advice online, such as “remove all social media apps from your phone”, “don’t watch TV in the evening”, but the recommendations are often unrealistic. So what are strategies that actually work to make more time to read?
Living a thousand lives
Even those who love reading can find it difficult to make time for books. The compelling nature of scrolling through our feeds can see a whole evening disappear without ever opening a book. Which is fine, since reading is all about spending a relaxing moment — right?
Not quite. Beyond the pleasure of entertainment, reading has many other benefits that have been backed up by science. For example, just six minutes of reading silently could reduce your stress levels by more than two thirds, and a study found that depressed patients who attended reading groups for 12 months showed significant mental health improvements.
The mental stimulation of reading can even improve your memory and slow the progress of dementia. In a six-month study of those with Alzheimer’s, scientists observed “restoration of communication and independence” in those who took part in reading and maths tasks.
Furthermore, reading is a proven method of learning new words and can enhance your analytical skills. Of all genres, reading classic fiction and contemporary literary fiction leads to the greatest gains in vocabulary. When immersed in a story, probing the plot strengthens critical thinking skills. These skills can then be applied to other areas of your life including personal and professional dilemmas.
In A Dance with Dragons, author George R.R. Martin wrote: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only once.” Or, in the words of Umberto Eco: “Reading is immortality backwards.”
Indeed, researchers David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano highlight that reading literary fiction expands our understanding of others’ beliefs and desires, as well as the recognition that these views may greatly differ from our own.
And it doesn’t stop there. In 2013, researchers in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Brisbane, Australia, explored the relationship between reading ability and creativity. Their results showed that higher scores in reading were matched by greater individual creativity. Reading ability may therefore also facilitate creative thinking.
Now, a word of caution. With all this evidence supporting the advantages of reading, you might think that speed reading could be an effective way to reap the benefits of reading despite your limited free time.
However, speed reading limits your comprehension of the novel, reducing the accuracy of what you read and hindering how much you retain of the story. Speed reading might seem like a good short-cut, but it does not offer the same benefits as reading at your natural pace. Let’s have a look at slower but more effective approaches.
Start with self-reflection
Before you can make time to read, you need to understand why you want to read more. Perhaps you are keen to support your memory, enhance your vocabulary, or support your critical thinking skills through an enjoyable activity. Or, if you’re going through a stressful period, you may want to read as a way to unwind.
One of the easiest ways to reflect on your reading motivations is to answer the following three questions, for example in your journal:
- What are your reading goals? Consider what you want to get out of reading. You may be trying to learn about a new business idea or a different way to manage a project, or you might want to educate yourself on a particular topic. Alternatively, you may want to read purely for entertainment or relaxation. In some cases, you are likely to read for both knowledge and entertainment, for example by reading historical literature or a memoir.
- What would you like to read? Different types of books will create a different reading experience. If you already read technical manuals to support your business, could you also benefit from the stress-relieving benefits of reading fiction for pleasure in the evening? Alternatively, you might want to pick up non-fiction books in tangential areas such as personal productivity.
- What hinders your reading? Write down all of the barriers that stop you reading as much as you would like to. This might include playing video games, managing childcare, feeling stressed or fatigued, or facing regular interruptions that make it difficult to settle into a book. It could also be as simple as not having a quiet space conducive to reading.
Take your time to answer these three questions as truthfully as possible. We sometimes fall prey to reading books only based on external motivation — for a work project or to impress a colleague — but the goal of this exercise is to uncover the intrinsic source of your motivation, and the obstacles that stand in the way of reading more.
Practical strategies to read more
Once you have reflected on why you want to read more, you can implement some simple strategies to ensure you reserve enough time to enjoy reading and its benefits.
1. Stick to physical books or an e-reader. Although it might be tempting to use your phone for reading, physical books or a dedicated e-reader will help you avoid digital distractions and temptations.
2. Schedule regular times for reading. These will need to suit your lifestyle and daily routine, but could include reading when you first wake up or before you go to sleep, before or after dinner or on a weekend morning.
3. Design a reading ritual. This is optional, but can help you more easily switch into reading more. For example, you might always sit in your favourite “reading chair”, light a candle, or prepare a fresh coffee before you pick your book up.
4. Carry a book with you. Carrying a book with you at all times could significantly increase the time you have available for reading. If you get stuck in traffic while on public transport, or are waiting for an appointment that starts late, this time that might otherwise have been wasted scrolling on social media can instead be used for reading.
5. Create accountability. You are likely to increase the time you dedicate to reading by creating some form of accountability. Find a reading buddy or join a book club, and commit to reading regularly so that you can take part in organised discussions. You can also create an “anti book club”, where everyone reads whatever they want and shares what they learned with the others.
This can be a powerful approach, as you’re more likely to read if you follow your curiosity. Rather than forcing yourself to read the things you feel you “ought” to read, pick up something you truly want to read. If you’re invested in the story and looking forward to the next chapter, you’re far more likely to make time for reading than if it feels like a chore.
Reading is proven to be beneficial in multiple ways, from acquiring vocabulary, to enhancing creativity, and even to slowing the progress of dementia. However, with competing priorities, it can be difficult to find time for books.
To make time for, enjoy, and reap the benefits of reading, you first need to reflect on your relationship with reading and how you might like this to change. Then, apply some simple strategies to help you regularly sit down to read and immerse yourself in your book.