Thursday, March 18, 2010

Time to Read

The one complaint I hear most often from people who love books is that they never have enough time to read anymore. They blame the demands of day jobs, family and household chores as the cause, and since these are all time-consuming parts of life I don't disagree with them. What I think eats into reading time are other, less noticeable preoccupations along with some old bookish habits that no longer fit with most people's lifestyle.

Jobs, family and home have to come first; at least they do with me. Besides, if I neglect them, there is no relief writer/mom/housewife to step up and keep things running smoothly; I just end up with a pile of work waiting for me whenever I try to get back into my routine. This is why I think if you want more reading time, you have to make sure you're keeping up with the primary responsibilities in your life.

Unless I'm sick, I work every day of the week, and I divide my time so that I use it efficiently. You've all heard me say how I write in the mornings (when it's generally quiet and everyone is at work or school) and edit in the evenings when everyone is settling down for the night. I'm always on call for the family, but by devoting my afternoons to them and my household chores, I usually keep up with work, family and home on a daily basis.

I used to love to sit down and read in the evenings for hours, and occasionally I still give myself a night off now and then to do that. But I've changed my reading habits over the years to accommodate the demands on my time, and now I read most books in short sprints throughout the day. That means when I have breakfast, I have a book at the table. Same with lunch. When I take my work breaks (at least ten minutes every two hours) I leave my writing space and sit outside on the porch with a book. I also keep whatever book I'm reading with me; taking it along when I run errands, make school pick ups or go to doctor appts.

I'm forever looking for opportunities to read, such as while I'm on hold on the telephone, when I'm standing in line at the grocery store or post office, when I'm sitting in a waiting room or a parking lot, or any time or place when I can't do anything but wait. If I soak in the tub at night, I've got a book with me; if I can't sleep I get up and read until I feel drowsy.

I also sacrifice a lot of things for my book habit. Aside from avoiding watching television, I limit the time I spend on the internet. Unless there's some work- or friend-related crisis I don't spend more than an hour a day online. That hour I break up into six ten-minute intervals by using a kitchen timer. This also forces me to be more productive when I am online, because I know when that bell rings I have to log off and get back to work.

No one likes to sacrifice something they enjoy doing, but I'll bet there are plenty of things you do out of habit that don't add to the quality of your life. For example, I used to watch the evening news every night so I could keep up with world events. Eventually I got to the point where I just could not abide one more minute of the squabbling and sensationalism, and stopped cold turkey. Same with newspapers; I gave up my subscription after the content became more aggravating than informative. My primary source of news is now the internet, and I've become very selective about what I read even on it. As a result I'm a much calmer person, and I've gained at least an hour more each day to read books.

I've started listening to more audio books, which allow me to knock out an extra four to six books per month. I keep at least one book on CD in the car to listen to while I'm driving (much more fun than all those commercial-glutted radio stations) and I'll often listen to an audio book on my headphones when I do chores, sew or cook. I did try listening to an audio book when I went to bed, thinking it would help me go to sleep, but it had the reverse effect, so I quit that (your mileage may vary.)

I also think about what I'm going to read for the day, and choose my books accordingly. About half of the reading I do is for work, self-education or market research, which for me is a different kind of reading; more like intensive skimming versus losing myself in a story. These books are good to read during my work breaks because I know I can set the aside without a qualm. Ficition, particularly by authors I usually can't stop reading, I save for other times when I can devote an uninterrupted hour or two to them.

A print book is certainly a very low-tech form of entertainment, but I'm quite happy that I don't have to plug it in, boot it up, fiddle with settings or miss part of it when I'm needed elsewhere. A book is forever patient, and waits until I have time for it, not the other way around. It does not demand I make time for it once a week, or to be recorded when I'm too busy, or require new batteries every other day. If I want to pick it up, it's always ready to tell me the story. On bad days a book is like my dog; it's always waiting and ready to make me happy (and unlike the pup, it doesn't chew the laces on my sneakers to pieces.)

Of course you don't have to live the life of a total book worm like me to make more time to read. Look at what you do every day and resolve to give up one thing: a television program, chatting on the phone, Twittering, or something else you do that is not an essential activity. Even if you go to bed a half-hour earlier to read a little before you go to sleep, that will give you three and a half more hours to read every week. If you bring your lunch to work, tuck a book in your bag to read while you eat, and there's another two and a half hours of extra reading time. If you're bored to death with your favorite weekly TV program, skip it and read instead for an hour.

By making just those three small changes in your routine, you can give yourself seven more hours of reading time per week. For most people, that's two books. Keep it up for a year, and you will probably read at least 100 books you didn't think you had time for.

What do you guys do to make more time on your busy schedule for books? Let us know in comments.


  1. Most of those, I discovered long ago... pretty much boils down to "read every chance you get" and "always have a book with you".

    I think I would have died of boredom breastfeeding my kids if I hadn't read my way through it- and thanks to ebooks, I'm never without anymore.

    A very cool side effect? If your kids see you reading - meaning you don't "wait til the kids are asleep" or "only read on your lunch break" so they don't disturb you - it makes it really, REALLY easy to raise kids who are readers.

  2. This is a great post. It's all about finding places to read that work with your normal schedule. I have the Kindle on the counter while I'm cooking dinner, and I carry it in my purse all day for those times when I have 5 or 10 or 15 minutes to kill.

    When I was on maternity leave, I read almost 20 books. I kept mentioning to people how I was blowing through books left and right, and everyone wanted to know how I found time to read with a newborn at home. This might be TMI, but I'd read while breastfeeding! A baby on one side, a book on the other. It was fantastic -- and it kept me awake during the night feedings.

    Sometimes people think reading is just another chore. I think those people just haven't picked up the right book.

  3. Great post. I love reading, but unfortunately I don't have much time with working and studying full-time. So, I make sure I put aside some time each night just before bed to read 1 or 2 chapters.

    Of course I read more if I get the chance, but at least I'm reading each day.

  4. I remember learning to keep a book with me at all moments in high school. It carries over to now and I have this special little place at my desk at work where I keep a book. There are large spans of time occasionally where I have to wait for reports, or more often, I'm on time to a phone meeting and I'm waiting for the other people. Actually, I read Shadowlight doing just that yesterday. It really is all about deciding what is important and what you really want to do. :D

  5. Brigid Kemmerer said--

    "Sometimes people think reading is just another chore. I think those people just haven't picked up the right book."

    Yes! This. Exactly this.

  6. Having a book with me has become a lot easier since I got my e-reader. It's slimmer than most books, and I can put a lot of them into that space. It's still new to me so I don't have anything super current; right now it's non-fiction and dead authors, but I like being able to switch between them.

  7. I read when I eat. It's time that I otherwise would just be staring at a wall. I also don't watch much TV -- I'd much rather be in a commercial-free book!

  8. I am trying to cut back on blog reading, it really does infringe on book reading time. (but won't cut out this site ; )

  9. I seem to go in reading bursts. I'll read a whole lot for a couple of weeks, then find that I'm not reading anything at all. And the gauge I apply to whether the book is a keeper or not is if I make time to read it rather than setting it aside easily without wondering how I can rearrange my life so that I can get back to it as soon as possible.

    Too, one thing I've done to enable more reading is to give myself permission to not finish a book that is not working for me. I have over 300 books on my TBR shelf and am constantly adding more. At the rate I'm going, I'll never finish them all. Thus, I can't feel guilty about not wasting time on books I'm simply not enjoying.

  10. I give up sleep. The bags under my eyes are proof.

  11. I read any time I have a moment. I carry the book into the bathroom, I read with one hand and cook with the other, I take the book in the car with me because we have several train tracks so I never know when I might be held up for 20 minutes at a time (even though the train isn't supposed to stop you for more than three), I read when I go to bed at night for at least 20 minutes to relax, when I wake at three in the morning...

    I do have my down times when I just don't read for whatever reason, but they're few and far between. Usually when I hit one of my depressed times...

  12. I read whenever I have a spare moment, and sometimes even when I don't. I've seen other comments echoing this, but I read while cooking, while in the bathroom, while eating, while waiting for the computer to boot. And often I read when I should be sleeping.

  13. Keita Haruka11:58 AM

    Mmm...interesting food for thought there. I've been sitting here thinking about what I could do to gain more time to read. The answer: get more e-books. :P That way, i can multi-task, which is a skill I mastered during my university years. Socialise through media such as MSN messenger and facebook while you're reading the news, answering emails and maybe writing. I could easily fit reading an e-book in there. Instead of reading so many other useless things online, I could read books. The only problem I have with that is that ebooks are all black text on white background, and I hate that when it's on a screen. I prefer white text on black. if someone ever invented a reader that allowed me to invert the colours I'd be first in line. I could also cut back on Spore a bit. It's the one game I really like playing because I can invent stories around the creatures and civilisations I create. Nothing else I can really cut back on because I already watch only one or two programs at week (which I do while being online, so something else I multitask on :P). I'll have to think about this some more.

  14. Looks like a lot of us caught up with our reading during maternity leaves! As they grew up the books moved from the baby bag to my purse and go with me everywhere; my job gives me at least two chances every day to read while waiting for different appointments and I never miss one.

  15. I'll be sad when my daughter stops nursing because I'll have to give up a good portion of reading time. I switched to a kindle for my book habit, which works really well because I only need to press a button every now and then instead of hold it open and turn pages.

    I also used to use the text to speech feature and listen to the little anamatronic voice read to me during my 3 hour commute (gah). Ubfortunately most books are being released with that disabled, and it has been disabled in a lot of books I already bought, that I used to be able to listen to. I guess they want you to buy the audio version. /sigh

    Since I get overly adicted to reading -- to the point of not going to bed when I should and to the point of having my four year old come over and click the off switch on the kindle -- I try to ration myself by making reading an event. I mark days on my calendar when favorite authors have books releasing and plan some time for myself the way I would plan an afternoon out with my girlfriends. I'll arrange with my husband to have some "me" time while he entertains the kids and I will go to the book store cafe and read for a while.

    I sometimes feel awkward going to the book store to read my kindle, but I always make sure to buy something while I am there to make up for it. ;)

  16. Anonymous2:11 PM

    These were great ideas -- many of which I do already. But I like the idea of reading non-fiction in short bursts -- it's very true and I had not thought of that. I also like the idea of doing housework in the afternoon. I tend to be the type who when I start something, want to continue without interruption, forever. So, when my house is clean, very little writing gets done and vice versa. I think switching it up may help out.


  17. Anonymous3:29 PM

    I really look forward to having to travel for work... they don't expect me to be working on the train/plane (thank gosh) so whenever a trip comes up it means I can get some serious reading done.

    I have a fortnight's visit to colleagues abroad looming in a month or two, and I'm saving all the books I've really been looking forward to till then...

  18. Since I'm on my weightloss kick, one thing that makes the cardio machine time pass quicker? A book. yes, I know the arm options are the reason it's a cardio machine, but the arm options actually cause more trouble my arm/hand issues, so often, I read.


  19. I read any chance I get. Keep a book handy at all times, and you can always take advantage of any chance to read.

  20. One thing I can add to this is that I take public transportation. It takes a little longer, taking the train/bus but aside from the "green" benefit, you're also calmer from utterly ignoring things like traffic and CAN READ while someone else drives.


  21. I used to watch the evening news every night so I could keep up with world events. Eventually I got to the point where I just could not abide one more minute of the squabbling and sensationalism, and stopped cold turkey.

    You know, the evening news is usually when I'm cooking dinner, so I've always had it on as background noise and to find out if I've missed anything of importance while involved in my fictional world during the day.

    Last night was the first night I didn't bother. I plugged in the earbuds and set about prepping food, and when the husband walked in the door, only then did we turn it on. We eat and talk about our days but do so from out own spots in the living room with the TV on, LOL. I think a Simpsons rerun was on, but even that's more about habit than actually watching.

    I'm so fed up with the local news sensationalism as much as the national, and find myself talking back to the tv constantly, telling them that I don't believe their spin. Figured it was time to go cold turkey.

  22. Ahh now I've been wanting to read with no time. I can't rememebr the last time I finished a book. I will try this.

    Any tips on moving and writing? Nest all at once or nest in small amounts here and there? And, how did you deal with the stress levels?

  23. I also read whenever I find a few minutes. I do take my breakfast and lunch to work and I read while I eat. then while I am working I have been listening to audiobooks I get from the library. I often get asked how can you read one book and listen to another and keep them separate. I try to have either a different genre or different time periods to keep them separate

  24. Thanks, Lynn! (I know I asked a while back how you do it.) I do something similar, but I also don't work right now so if I get my pages and housework done, I can read until hubs gets home, or in the evening during our down time together. But I've learned to carry a book everywhere and snatch paragraphs while in line - from you!

    Now my biggest question is how to GET so many books. I went to the library yesterday hoping to stock up and came away with ONE book because the list of books I wanted, they had none (or were out until mid-April). SIGH. Must spend more time browsing and be less picky, I guess.

  25. I telecommute for my day job, so "lunch break" is spent in the bathtub with a book. I take an hour if my meeting schedule allows.

    I also agree with Lynn M, and will bail without guilt on a book that doesn't seem to be working for me. I'll put it in the library donations bag instead. Life's too short.


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