Regular reading adds great value to life, but it requires discipline to establish the habit. Learn how to start a reading habit, even if you were never much of a reader before.
Reading is one of those activities that many people know is important and wish they had more time to do, but somehow it gets forgotten in the mad rush to do everything else. This is unfortunate, since reading, according to the great minds of history and modern day, is an extremely easy practice that can significantly improve one’s life.
Reading builds knowledge unlike anything else; it helps one to cope with challenges and to understand the human experience; it offers answers and wisdom, improves quality of life, and provides entertainment at little or no cost.
If you want to read more but are struggling to figure out how to make that happen, here are some thoughts on establishing a solid reading habit, gathered from various articles and books on the topic and personal experience.
1. Schedule your reading time.
Most people’s reading tends to be reactive these days, a response to something (like a headline) that catches their attention. Meaningful reading, rather, should be proactive, something that’s done consciously. Do this by setting goals. How many books do you want to read? By when should you finish each one? How many pages per day will it take to meet that deadline?
Various pieces of advice float around the internet, i.e. Read 10 percent daily of whatever book you’re reading (easy when you’re using an e-reader), or commit to 20 pages each morning as soon as you get up (this only takes 30 minutes at average reading speed).
Warren Buffet, of course, has given the famous advice to read 500 pages a day, saying, “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.” He also estimates that 80 percent of his working hours are spent reading or thinking — a luxury that many of us cannot afford, but certainly is worth striving for.
2. Make books easily accessible.
Avoid decision fatigue by keeping ongoing lists of what you want to read next, from fiction to non-fiction. You can compile your own list; I am always collecting suggestions from people whose literary tastes (and life accomplishments!) I admire. You can find lists online, too. People like Stephen King, Elon Musk, and Bill Gates publish their reading lists openly. (I recently read King’s autobiographical work, On Writing, and loved it — full of inspiration for reading and writing.)
I like reserving books on my library’s online catalogue as soon as I hear about them. Then I get an email notification once they’ve arrived. Sometimes this is weeks later, and I’ve long forgotten about the book, but it’s always exciting to pick it up.
Do not limit yourself to a single medium. Read paper and digital books. Listen to audio books in the car and kitchen. Read on your phone. That being said, I think there’s a definite upside to paper books, and that is the lack of distraction. You cannot be tempted to open your internet browser or respond to a text. Plus, it’s just refreshing to hold a book in my hand after hours spend working online.
Read whenever you have the chance, even if it’s just a five-minute window of opportunity. You can cover a surprising amount of material in five focused minutes.
3. Get rid of distractions.
Seek silence and solitude for reading (if you can). It’s difficult to stay focused and to cover the kind of literary territory you’re striving for if there’s noise all around. You could be drastic and banish the TV to the basement. Silence your phone and put it in another room. Delete apps from your phone, deactivate notifications, and create an empty home screen, so it’s easier to resist.
In an article for Quartz, with the alarming title “In the time you spend on social media each year, you could read 200 books,” Charles Chu points out that Americans, on average, spend 608 hours a year on social media and 1,642 hours watching TV.
“That’s 2,250 hours a year spent on TRASH. If those hours were spent reading instead, you could be reading over 1,000 books a year! All it takes to start reading a lot more is to take ‘empty time’ spent Twitter-stalking celebrities or watching Desperate Housewives and convert some of it to reading time.”
4. Walk away from ‘bad’ books.
If you find yourself mired in a book that does not inspire, let it go. Be willing to quit bad books or ones that just aren’t doing it for you. As Gretchen Rubin said in The Happiness Project, this gives you “more time for reading good books [and] less time reading books out of a sense of obligation.”
5. Take notes.
In order to consolidate the knowledge you’ve gained from a book, record its impression on you. While reading, attack that book with a pencil, folded corners, or sticky notes — but only if you own it, not a library book! Then, upon completion, let it sit for a few days before grabbing your notebook or laptop, reviewing the scribbles in the margins, and taking notes on what you felt, thought, and learned while reading.
I like Ryan Holiday’s suggestion of a ‘commonplace book’ (a.k.a. pocket notebook). He describes it as
“a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits. The purpose of the book is to record and organize these gems for later use in your life, in your business, in your writing, speaking or whatever it is that you do.”
Establishing your reading habit might seem like a job at first, much like trying to cook from scratch and making it to the gym three times a week; but over time, it will become more natural, more of an instinct or reflex than a chore to be accomplished, and — eventually — something you cannot imagine living without.