—Amy M. Gardner
There are plenty of reasons reading more is important for professionals, from improving brain functions to keeping up on trends and developments in your industry, giving you something to talk about and think about outside work and family, to just feeling like you are using your brain. But when was the last time you sat down with a novel or any other book you didn’t have to read for work? In fact, 31% of Americans report that they have read just 1-5 books in the last year.
For several years, I read around 12-18 books, the vast majority of them audio books or paperbacks I grabbed at a Hudson News and read on a flight. At first it seemed justifiable based on the other things going on in my life, but I knew that what it came down to was really just choosing to spend my time doing other things. So in 2018, I set a goal to read 43 books. I ended up finishing 45. Along the way, I grilled people about their reading habits and how they found time to read. Here are eight tips they shared.
1.) Read what you like.
I discovered that the people I spoke with who consistently read two or more books per month don’t pick books based on what they think they are supposed to read, but instead what they like. It makes sense – how many of us devoured entire Harry Potter books in a weekend while much shorter books take us weeks? By shifting from a mindset of “needing” to read specific books to improve yourself to one of treating reading itself as the goal and the books you select as a means to get there, you take the pressure off. You therefore select books you naturally want to read, which in turn encourages you to find the time.
2.) Read both fiction and non-fiction.
There are benefits to non-fiction, of course – you learn things that might help you. But there are also specific benefits of reading fiction, such as increased brain connectivity and function, and improved ability to empathize with others. And, by reading a mix of the two, you stretch and challenge yourself in ways you won’t by reading just one or the other. I’ve also found that reading one fiction book and one non-fiction book at the same time is much easier than reading two of the same type, and enables me to take advantage of tip number three.
3.) Use audiobooks.
Consider how much time you spend listening to podcasts or music or watching TV. If you replaced any of that with audiobooks, you’d likely find that your reading would dramatically increase.
For example, I started listening to audiobooks every morning and evening for 8 minutes (the shortest sleep setting on Audible) while I did other things. Even assuming you re-listen to one minute every day just to remember where you are, if you do that every weekday, you are listening to books for an hour and 15 minutes every week. Do that for 50 weeks each year, and you’ve listened to 62.50 hours of books without any additional effort. Or, if your commute includes any walking and you listen to a book for 15 minutes every work day for 50 weeks, you can achieve similar results: essentially more than one and half work weeks of reading. While book lengths obviously vary, my own reading stats in the Audible app suggest that you could listen to 8-10 more books per year, just by listening for 8 minutes twice each day.
In fact, one study found that “[a]udiobook listeners consumed an average (mean) of 25 books in all formats in the previous 12 months and a median (midpoint) of 12 books. Both figures are far higher than those who do not listen to books.”
Many of the readers I talked to use both Audible and the public library for audio books. By signing up for a library card with electronic borrowing privileges, you can often borrow both Kindle and audio books for free.
I’ve found it much easier for me to listen to certain types of books than others. If you think audio books aren’t for you, consider trying to listen to exclusively fiction or non-fiction books to see if one is easier for you to follow.
Changing the speed, depending on the narrator, can also be helpful.
4.) Stop scrolling.
When we say we don’t have time to read, what we often mean is that we are choosing to read things other than books. The average American spends about two hours each day (or more than five years in a lifetime) between YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter https://www.socialmediatoday.com/marketing/how-much-time-do-people-spend-social-media-infographic. Consider how much time you spend online, and imagine what you could do with an extra hour each day and how much more you could get out of replacing some of that scrolling with reading.
To assess your own social media and reading habits, we recommend logging your time for a week to see where you are choosing to spend it. Aside from the benefits if you are trying to find time to read, logging your time helps you understand where you are spending your time so you can decide whether you want to make changes. If you’d like a time tracker, just email email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org we’ll be glad to email you a tool you can use.
5.) Read books on your phone.
I had assumed that the readers I talked with would have strong preferences for paper or Kindle books, and many of them did. But regardless of preferred format, many of them also read books on the Kindle or library apps on their phones. In my own experience, by always having a book in progress on my phone, in addition to others I’m reading in paper, on my Kindle, or as audiobooks, I am able to take advantage of swaths of time where it isn’t practical to read or listen any other way. I find that short stories or shorter books are ideal for this. Whether you prefer to read books on paper or on a Kindle, having a book going on your phone allows you to take advantage of that time you might otherwise fill mindlessly.
6.) Get recommendations from friends and family.
When I shared with a coworker that I was trying to read more in 2018, he generously offered several books he had finished. They were by an author I had never read before, and I was reluctant because I already had a big stack of books I planned to read. I really only got around to reading the books from him because I didn’t want him to ask if I’d liked them and be forced to confess that I hadn’t started them. When I did finally read them, I discovered a new author I now love, and got to know my coworker better through his reading habits. So ask for recommendations – you may find some new favorites, and deepen your relationships at the same time. One way to do this is to use the Goodreads app described in tip seven.
7.) Use Goodreads.
Many of the avid readers I talked with recommend the Goodreads app, particularly the reading challenge feature. The app allows you to compile lists of books you want to read so you aren’t stumped the next time you’re at the bookstore or looking for a book to download. The challenge feature helps you track your progress toward a reading goal and connect with friends and family to see what books they’ve liked and track their own challenge progress. (Just seeing how much others are reading can also be hugely motivating when you remember they have the same 168 hours each week you do.) Like Netflix, Goodreads also makes recommendations based on how you rate books you’ve read.
Finally, experiment. When you read 12 books per year, one dud means a month of your life on a book you don’t love, which can make choosing books more stressful and drawn-out. When you’re reading more books in a year, it takes the pressure off to love every book you read, which enables you to experiment and maybe discover new genres you enjoy.
One avid reader told me that the key to experimenting is to go to the library (in real life or via an app) or used book stores. Her theory was that taking away the financial risk of a book you don’t enjoy makes experimenting possible.
There you have it. To read more, read what you like, read both fiction and non-fiction, use audiobooks, stop scrolling, read books on your phone, collect recommendations, use Goodreads, and experiment. How much do you read? How do you make the time?
Amy M. Gardner is a certified professional coach with Apochromatik specializing in career and career transition coaching. Amy is a former Big Law associate, partner at a mid-size law firm, and dean of students at a top 5 law school. Today she works with lawyers and other high-achieving professionals to build the career and life they want. Contact Amy directly at email@example.com.