Were you a Book-It kid? I was. I fondly remember taking my completed sticker chart into the dimly lit Pizza Hut and waiting for what seemed like forever on an uncomfortable wooden bench looking at Golden books as my very own personal-size pizza baked in the oven. I’m not sure whether I loved pizza or reading more, but the fact that the two could go together sent me over the moon. Sadly, my Book-It days have come to an end, but now I enjoy taking my three-year-old into the library to help him claim a small prize as he completes each set of one hundred books, on his way to a thousand before kindergarten. (Though I do feel that the person who read all those books out loud should also be rewarded. With pizza, perhaps?)
I have been told that I read a lot, though I doubt you’d have to look too far to find someone whose yearly total surpasses my own. This post really isn’t about hitting some magic number of books. It’s about finding the time in your day to sit down and read—because it’s there. I promise. I’m also not talking about any type of book in particular, though all that I have to say could be applied to the important habit of reading God’s Word. I delight in spending time in Scripture; and I enjoy reading Christian living/theology and fiction books alike.
I know a post like this is a little off the beaten path for me, but maybe will spur you on to put down the phone (after you’re done reading this, of course!) and pick up a book. So, if you know you ought to read more, but you’re not sure how to make it happen, here are a few tricks that have worked for me.
#1: Read a Little Bit Every Day.
When I was getting my Masters degree, I was also teaching full time, coaching, and involved in ministry at church. However, I was single and did not have a roommate, so my home was quiet. For each course I took, I had roughly 1,000 pages of reading to do in eight weeks’ time. That may sound daunting—and it is. But it’s not so bad if you break it down: 125 pages every week is doable. And twenty pages a day is a piece of cake. When I realized this, I found a time every day when I’d do my reading of roughly twenty pages. After I graduated, I didn’t want to lose that momentum, so I replaced what I had to read with what I wanted to read. That became my time to read books about theology, biblical counseling, or spiritual growth. It’s really not about reading a lot of pages at any one time. It’s about reading a little bit every day.
My season of life has changed. My house is no longer quiet; but I’ve tried to maintain the discipline. These days I read a “spiritual book” while riding the exercise bike and for fun in whatever margins my day has, but I still try to keep the time of reading a little bit (nearly) every day. I don’t know what works for you. But I bet you can find twenty minutes in your day to devote to reading. For instance, before I got married, I regularly donated plasma to earn a little extra money. Most people had a tablet with them one which they watched Netflix. While that was tempting to me, I made a promise to myself only to read during that time.
Do you have a long commute? Try audiobooks and commit to using that time to read.
Are you a gardener? Listen to a book while weeding, planting, or harvesting.
Use time on an exercise bike or treadmill to read.
Get up twenty minutes earlier and read.
Read over your lunch hour.
Read before bed. (Be careful with this one. If you’re like me, you may not get your most quality time with your head on a pillow.)
I’m not talking about beating yourself up if you miss a day of reading. Of course not! But if you have a time in your day specifically designated for reading, you’ll be much more likely to pick up the book or put in the ear buds than if you just read when time falls in your lap.
#2: Have a book on deck.
An easy way to fall out of the habit of reading is to get lost in a “book hole.” You finish one book and don’t know what to read next, so you stop reading “just until you find another one.” But then you don’t know what to read and consequently lose your momentum. To avoid that, keep at least one (if not several) books on deck. Talk to a friend with similar reading taste or your local librarian, if you’re looking for a fun read. Chat with your pastor or Bible study leader if you’re looking for a book to help you grow in the faith. When you hear or read about a book that looks good, write it down or add it to a digital list so that you avoid falling into a book hole. This will help keep your momentum going.
#3: Don’t Be Afraid to Quit a Book.
“Life’s to short to read books you hate.” If I were to design a bumper sticker, that may just be what I’d put on it. It may not be the catchiest phrase out there, but I firmly believe it. While I have read some books to the bitter end, hating every second of it, typically I’m not ashamed to quit a book if I’m not enjoying it. I have given up on a certain classic (which shall remain nameless lest I get bombarded with hate mail) on more than one occasion because I just simply can’t stand it. I hate all the characters and couldn’t care less about them. I stopped listening to another classic because I was driving in heavy traffic and I was so annoyed by the book that my road rage was getting worse!
The point is this: if you dread reading the book that you’re working on, you’ll stop picking it up. So don’t be afraid to quit. That being said, don’t be a wimp. Some books stretch us and pull us out of our comfort zones, and though that’s not always enjoyable, making it to the finish line may have unforeseen benefits. But, as a general rule, it’s okay to give a book a fair chance and then pull the plug if you hate it.
#4: Utilize Audiobooks.
Contrary to what you may have heard, listening to an audiobook does count as reading it—so long as you actually listen. For some people I know, audiobooks are the only way they ever read a book, and they read much more prolifically than I do because they’re always able to keep their headphones in. Using resources like Audible, Libby, or Christianaudio may help you use time to read and do something else: commuting to work, folding clothes, weeding the garden, cooking dinner, taking a walk, or mopping the floor. You may find that you do better with certain genres on audio than others, or maybe you’ll discover an untapped love for listening. We live in an age when “books on tape” have never been more accessible or user-friendly. Take advantage! It’s not cheating, I promise.
#5: Eliminate Distraction.
This is probably a no-brainer, but it doesn’t go without saying. We all know the power of the smartphone’s buzz. If you’re looking to establish or re-establish a reading habit, get away from your phone. If you’re reading on a tablet, put it in airplane mode while you’re reading. With every ding, buzz, or beep, you’ll be tempted to leave the book and go down the rabbit hole of whatever notification just popped up. Before you begin, beat the beep and put your phone in a separate room. You’ll be grateful!
#6: Replace Garbage Time.
While we’re talking about phones, let me step on a couple more toes. If you want more time to read, look no farther than your phone, tablet, or TV. My gut tells me (and statistics back me up) that you spend more than twenty minutes a day either watching television or scrolling through social media. You don’t need me to tell you that you just found the time you need to crack a book. (But I guess I just did.) Replace twenty minutes of that time with an actual book. You might be amazed at how much time you’re still able to scroll through your news feed.
If you’ve been following this blog for any period of time, you probably know that you’re reading the musings of a former English teacher. But you’re also reading the words of a mom of two little kids, an athletic director for a small Christian school, a Bible teacher, a varsity basketball coach, and a youth group sponsor, and, oh yeah, a blogger. I do know what a busy schedule looks like. But I also know that it’s not only possible, but worth it, to pick up a book in the midst of the chaos.