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How to Read More Even When You’re Wildly Busy

7 micro-strategies to dust off that pile of books.

Key points

  • Increasing reading behavior can lead to improved well-being and better mental health.
  • Small, strategic changes can help people develop better reading habits.
  • Reading can help people bond and strengthen their relationships.
Finding time to read more can be a feat, but is worth strategizing towards.
Source: Shutterstock/fizkes

Summertime, the season of alleged infinite time to curl up poolside, gloriously sipping perfectly chilled watermelon infused seltzers and devouring the hottest beach reads didn’t go as planned.

The promise of free time turned out to be a cruel myth. It was a valiant effort, lugging those books and Kindles around. There’s even some sand and fried clam remnants lodged in their crevices as proof of good intentions. The pile and lists of books you want to spend time with have grown exponentially, and the irony is not lost on you that if you could just stop watching BookTok it might lead to actual reading.

It’s one thing to love to read; another to do so. Like many things we enjoy and are good for us, life can sabotage even the best of intentions. Distractions, deadlines, and competing priorities get in the way. But waiting for the next summer vacation or other mythical block of “right time” is unlikely to help create the habits and rituals to help you read more.

The return to school and work can seem like a one-two punch against reading ambitions. Extremely busy schedules loom. Time is elusive. If you find yourself wishing for more time to read, start by thinking small. These micro-strategies can help you move from cycles of yearning to read and regretting not doing so to following through:

Micro-Strategy 1: Start tiny.

Set the lowest goal imaginable. Find a tiny sliver of unsatisfying minutes in your routine to read. Swap out mindless scrolling for something more substantive. Make a tiny tweak in your current habits. Find slivers while you are waiting, or at times of transition like boarding the train, or waking up. Pop a 15-minute block on your calendar. Make reading an enjoyable ritual, not a “have to.” Micro-moments add up.

Micro-Strategy 2: Have actual fun.

Remember how reading was so fun as a kid? While Scholastic Book Fairs and summer reading programs with Lisa Frank stickers and glow-in-the-dark frogs aren’t part of adulting, it doesn’t mean we can’t create our own incentives. While reading is a reward unto itself, it can help to tack on a couple mini treats that reinforce good reading habits, like a smoothie after you finish a chapter or book, or a small prize that has significance to you. Invoking your childhood spirit can help keep reading enthusiasm activated.

Micro-Strategy 3: Honor your varied identities and tastes.

Don’t limit yourself to specific genres. A few years ago, I realized the majority of what I was reading was in an intensive category, as in the global mental health crisis, examining advances in brain science, and advancing social change. This felt natural and went unchecked because it is so much a part of my professional life and personal passion. Yet, something prompted me to come up for air and start indulging in lighter materials to bring levity and opportunities to learn outside my typical interests. So now I indulge in Vaclav Smil and Miranda Says with equal fervor. And am just as obsessed with Jennie Slate as Isabelle Wilkerson. I embrace the laugh-out-loud resonance of Samantha Irby and the poignancy of Susan Cain. I meditate with Thich Nhat Hanh and crack up with Tara Schuster. My librarians are curious, but for me, having different literature to speak to my different sides, moods, variables, learning needs, and overall development is enlivening.

Micro-Strategy 4: Make it easier.

Keep your Kindle and book in tow at all times. Set yourself up by making good books accessible wherever you go. While you’re at it, designate some favorite spots to read that are easy to get to and that bring you solace and joy.

Micro-Strategy 5: Leverage the modern world.

There was a stat that revealed as many people have listened to podcasts as that have tried sushi. Between the massive array of podcasts, book bites, audio books, and learning devices and resources, it is easier than ever to listen while on the move. Find your preferred methods, but keep a few options available to align with your comings and goings.

Micro-Strategy 6: Curate excellent books.

Have a friend that’s a voracious reader? Ask them their favorites. Search for solid suggestions through books that have won prizes such as Pulitzer, The Whiting Award, National Book Critics Circle Award, Indie Book Awards, Booker, Goncourt, Dublin Literary Award, and Porchlight. You can also check curated books through entities such as The Next Big Idea Book Club or Oprah’s Book Club.

Micro-Strategy 7: Don’t go alone.

Reading with friends is a great source of bonding. Relationships serve as a protective factor for mental health. You don’t have to join a book club to make this happen. Pick one book and one person and give it a go. Generate enthusiasm and be sure to celebrate your progress together.

Being wildly busy can disrupt even the best intentions for reading habits. Micro-strategies can help you develop rituals that help you move from a place of regretting not reading more to doing so.

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