Here we learned about the vast array of personal and cognitive benefits of reading books. After that, there is no denying that we should all be reading. This, however, is not as easy said as done. Anyone who tells you to “just read more” is out of touch with the reality many face today: 40 hours or more of work or school per week, children to take care of, a house to clean, social obligations to meet, health goals to reach, and an attempt to maintain our passions (and sanity) in the process. People have busy schedules and cramming anything else into the day is unthinkable to many. Nevertheless, there are ways we can integrate reading into our daily lives and create a healthy habit out of it.
Whether we feel like we do or not, many of us do have free time in our days, much of which we give to our televisions or social media. The average American adult spends four hours each day watching TV1 and about 2 hours on social media.2 That’s a lot of time we can spend reading! Even just reducing the average American’s social media consumption by half would produce a whole extra hour of reading time, while dedicating an hour to reading would reduce the average American’s TV time by only a fourth. Surely, most of us could make the cut, devoting even just 20 minutes to reading per day.
Further, unplugging while we read, that is, turning off the TV, locking away our phones, and shutting our computers, can limit distractions (such as text messages, notifications, and work emails) and eliminate temptations, helping us commit to our 20 minutes of daily reading without screens enticing us back into our old habits.3 Notifications in particular are very distracting to the brain. The anticipation of receiving alerts is known to “shut off the prefrontal cortex that regulates higher-level cognitive functions, and instead, forces the brain to send emergency signals to the body,” causing stress and pulling our attention away from other tasks…like reading!4 So shut it off! It’s not “just you” if you struggle to put your devices down to read; everyone does. But you have the power to delegate some of this wasted time to other activities and hold yourself accountable to your resolutions.
Now, obviously, the “average American” is a mere statistical calculation—and an exclusionary one at that—because many of our experiences do not align with that of the so-called “average.” Many cannot afford TVs or other devices or do not have access to a stable internet connection. Others work too much or just simply chose not to squander so much time behind screens. These people do not have this convenient pool to pull reading time from. In this situation, we may have to get more creative, but there are still ways to find time to dedicate to reading.
Blair Hendricks of The Odyssey suggests reading before bed. Not only is this a sliver of free time, but reading before bed is “very relaxing to the brain” and can actually help you fall asleep5. Sounds like a win-win, getting your reading time in and getting a better night’s sleep because of it. Alternately—while multitasking is usually frowned upon—reading while eating is another way we can get the most out of the limited time we have. Surely, most of us spend 20 minutes eating lunch, which is the perfect amount of time to sit down with a book while you take your break to eat.
Now, I know for many of us, work and childcare dominate our schedules. There is no shame in being too tired to read before bed, wanting to use your lunch time as a brain break, or being too swamped with personal or professional chores to find spare time to read. For those of us, killing two birds with one stone is the best option.
Reading books on your commute to work, if you take public transportation or carpool, is a great way to grab some spare time. And for those of us who drive, bike, or walk to work, audiobooks are an alternative for hands-free, eyes-free reading. Keeping a book in your bag or saved on your phone is another choice for on-the-go reading, perhaps while waiting in line or whenever a few free minutes pop up.
But, of course, the best way to get ourselves to read is to want to read.6 As the saying goes, you always have time for what you put first. I’m sure very few of us truly prioritize reading over everything else, and we shouldn’t, when, for example, spending time with family is also on the agenda. Regardless, if you enjoy reading and genuinely look forward to it, you’ll have a much easier time fitting it into your day. Somehow, we manage to find 2 hours to spend on social media, all while complaining about not having enough time! If we liked books as much as our phones, we’d spend as much time reading as we do scrolling, busy schedules aside.
In that case, it’s important to find books you like and foster a personal love for reading. Experiment with genres, ask a friend for a recommendation, peruse blogs for suggestions (perhaps the one you’re reading right now) to find books that you connect with and truly enjoy.
Like any new health kick, we are ultimately trying to form a habit. According to Healthline, new habits can take anywhere from 18 to 254 days to form, depending on the individual, though usually take an average of 66 days.7 This means that it can take a really long time to fully integrate reading into your everyday life. Scott Young of Lifehack recommends committing to 30 days when you want to make a change.8 That’s only one month of daily reading. Just think of it as the trial period.
Also, the buddy system—not just designed to keep you safe—can also help you with lifestyle changes.8 Doing a reading challenge with a friend can motivate both of you to meet your goals, or even just finding someone to hold you accountable to read can make the task a little easier. Joining a book club is another sure way to make reading more fun and give you a clear reason to finish those books.
Finally, setting goals—but not intimidating ones—is another great way to integrate reading time into your life.6 Design goals around your abilities and desired outcome. They should motivate instead of daunt you, and, if used correctly, can give you a rush of satisfaction each time you meet one.
So, for those of us who don’t read, considering this your calling to find some time—any time—to pick up a book. Who knows, you might even discover your new favorite pastime.
- Richter, Felix. “The Generation Gap in TV Consumption.” Statista, 20 Nov. 2020, https://www.statista.com/chart/15224/daily-tv-consumption-by-us-adults/
- Henderson, Gary. “How Much Time Does the Average Person Spend on Social Media?” Digital Marketing, 24 Aug. 2020, https://www.digitalmarketing.org/blog/how-much-time-does-the-average-person-spend-on-social-media
- Cowles, Gregory. “How to Tap into Your Inner Reader.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/year-of-living-better/how-to-tap-your-inner-reader
- Saad, Syeda Khaula. “Your Brain Does a Pretty Wild Thing Every Time Your Phone Pings You.” Bustle, 15 Nov. 2019, https://www.bustle.com/p/what-happens-to-your-brain-when-you-get-a-phone-notification-19256076
- Hendricks, Blair. “8 Ways to Incorporate Reading into Your Day.” Odyssey, 5 Mar. 2017, https://www.theodysseyonline.com/8-ways-incorporate-reading-day
- Gorvett, Zaria. “How to Cultivate a Daily Reading Habit.” BBC, 24 Feb. 2019. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190225-how-to-cultivate-a-daily-reading-habit
- Frothingham, Scott. “How Long Does it Take for a New Behavior to Become Automatic?” Healthline, 24 Oct 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-does-it-take-to-form-a-habit#base-figure
- Young, Scott H. “18 Tricks to Make New Habits Stick.” Lifehack. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/featured/18-tricks-to-make-new-habits-stick.html