No more excuses: How busy people can still find time to read

A while back, I wrote about how to find writing time while living a busy life. There are thousands of reasons not to write, most of them genuine and some, well, not so much (all those Netflix binges and social media addictions). 

As a writer, you likely hear advice constantly about ways to become better. After all, don’t we all want to excel at the things for which we have great passion? One of the most common tips for writing well: read more.

But just like with trying to find more time to actually write, finding time to read more can be similarly daunting, if not flat-out difficult.

This is a challenge that has plagued me severely over the last year or so. Following great bouts of flying through books, I will then go weeks, if not months, wondering where the time has gone, missing the joy of reading that has somehow escaped my routines. But as the fall begins to set in and we start life over, as Fitzgerald said, I decided to reset my reading habits. I became hyper-aware of my procrastination, of all the things I spent time doing both before and after work that amounted to unnecessary waste. And then I picked up a book. Since then, I have knocked out three books in the last month, which, for me, is quite the feat (I had spent the last four months reading just two books).

With as busy of a schedule as most working professionals, how did I find the time to read? Here are some suggestions.

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Finding time to read with a busy schedule

I want to begin by stressing the fact that this is not a cure-all. Each person has his or her own preferences, and each time management strategy fits into one person’s life a little differently than another’s. That said, I have found all of these tips, to one extent or another, beneficial.

1. Let’s take five

The biggest key to finding the time to read more is simply forming good habits. Like with anything in life, once good reading habits are created the time that would have previously been devoted to non-essential procrastination will instead be used to do the thing you’ve been kicking yourself for not doing. Even if just in short increments — a page here or a few pages there — the simple act of picking up a book and reading is the first step to forming that habit. Don’t worry about commitments. Five minutes is fine. Heck, even if you begin reaching for a book during commercials instead of your phone, you are well on your way.

Until it is routine, there will always be a reason to not read.

2. Life is mobile (and books should be too)

My adoption behaviors can be difficult to predict when it comes to new technology. At times, I want to be on the forefront, the first person in the office with a new device. At other times, my stubborn side surfaces and I resist for as long as I can.

For years, I resisted ebooks. I never owned a Nook or Kindle. A few years ago I got my first iPad, but I vowed it would just be a tool for me to make my writing mobile — not for reading.

Then I was introduced to my gateway ebook — a sale on one of my favorite novels, Philipp Meyer’s The Son. I had already purchased two physical copies of this book (one for me, one as a gift), but I couldn’t resist the $3.99 price tag. Justification for the purchase went something like this: in the extreme case when a physical book is not available, it would be nice to have one good ebook as a last resort.

What I found: I somewhat shamefully, somewhat pridefully enjoyed it. It quickly became more than just a convenience. Additionally, it helped me lose myself in the story. Normally a fairly quantitative reader — constantly calculating how much of a book I’ve read, seeing my bookmark and judging how much I have left — with this ebook I was able to simply read along and dispel those tendencies.

The truth is that ebooks can be exactly the medicine needed to create new reading habits. Now, I’m not saying they are preferable over physical books — in fact, the vast majority of the books I read are still paperbacks or the occasional hardcover. But we have some sort of device with us at nearly all times — a phone, a tablet, a computer. Why not use them to read more, when it’s convenient?

The major ereading platforms — Kindle, Nook, Apple Books — all have apps that can be loaded onto nearly any device. The list of excuses for not reading more is quickly shrinking.

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3. Start small

If you have read any of my previous posts, you know I am a fan of short fiction and writers who write such books. Just some of the slim novels and novellas that sit on my bookshelf: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, One of the Boys by Daniel MagarielThe River Swimmer by Jim Harrison and The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, just to name a few. There are many, many more.

And this is not even to mention my own books, one of which is a collection of nine short stories and another a set of one-hundred-page novellas.

This is all to say that not every book you read needs to be The Odyssey. It’s okay to read The Pearl. Knock out a couple short books over a reasonable time period and then work your way up to longer commitments, if you so choose.

4. It’s time for an audit

I’ll bet at the end of the day, lying in bed, if you truly examined your entire day you could find some wasted time. For most of us, there is plenty of it. Flipping through Instagram for more than a few minutes, turning on the TV for lack of anything better to do. I challenge you to conduct a self-audit on your time management. Identify the moments when you are wasting time — or, I should say, spending time on non-essential things — and then replace those activities with some leisurely reading, even if just a few pages or a chapter.

And I get it, sometimes reading can be tiring after a long day and you may just want to mindlessly watch a sitcom. It certainly happens to me. All I’m saying is you’d be surprised how much time you can find when you actually look for it.

5. Do it because you love it

If not being able to find time to read more causes you anxiety, there is always one option: Don’t read more. Remember, reading for pleasure is supposed to be, well, for pleasure. If it rather feels like one more item on an ever-growing to-do list, cross it off now. Reading, on the contrary, is supposed to serve as a respite to all the stresses that life throws at us.

Read because, simply, you love to read. Try new genres. Join a book club. Find online communities that share your same reading interests. If a book just hasn’t captured your attention, abandon it and find a new one (life is too short to spend time on books that we don’t enjoy). Make reading books the most fun thing you do each week, and you’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to find some extra time to squeeze in a few chapters.

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6. Not all about books

The way we consume media is constantly changing, one form merging and blending with others. Though the focus of this post has been books, reading is the main goal.

Don’t have time to commit to a book? Try reading magazine articles. Not short, quick, online click-bait — that doesn’t count. But real, investigative, thoughtful articles. It’s not a book, but it may be the next best thing. I’ve recently started using the Apple News+ platform, a convenient home for magazines — both because it syncs across all my devices and because it comes with nearly 300 different magazines, so I can read an article from The Atlantic and then Forbes and then Sports Illustrated and then Scientific American.

All of that said, if finding the time or energy to read continues to plague your day, give listening a shot — active listening, not just background music.

Many busy working professionals endure long daily commutes, me included. Put on an audiobook or a podcast to help stimulate or relax your mind. With podcasts, however, I will say that they should be something reflective or educational. Much like with online articles, if you choose the bad podcasts instead of the thought-provoking ones, you are doing it wrong.

At the end of the day, finding more time to read needs to be a conscious decision. But rest assured, even for the busiest of us, it can be done.

3 Comments

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  1. Good points all around! I fought the ebooks for a while but was given a kindle and soon fell in love with it in school. It was much more convenient than carrying multiple books in my bag constantly, although, I still prefer a physical copy overall.

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