5 tips to read more

There are countless benefits to reading, from improving memory and cognition to reducing stress. Reading even physically alters the brain—in a good way. Reading, especially fiction, exposes us to many kinds of people who see the world differently from us and navigate life with various political, religious, and ethical beliefs. Exposure to this broad spectrum of people, places, and perspectives not only expands our horizons, painting a more expansive picture of what it means to be human, but perhaps most significantly, it fosters empathy.

I’m in a hurry; show me the bullet points!
  1. Set aside time to read every day. Build a reading habit.
  2. Hide your phone / avoid distractions.
  3. Set realistic goals (start small).
  4. Slow down. Reading is not a race. Relish the words.
  5. What do you love? Read about that!

1. Make time

Setting aside time to read doesn’t have to mean blocking out time in your calendar, although if that works for you, then make it so! Personally, I don’t set aside precise hours but aim to read daily around lunchtime and again in the evening. Your own schedule and commitments will, of course, determine when you can make time for reading.

Malvestida: unsplash

Regularly setting aside time is less about reading more and more about developing a reading habit. Think of it as gym for your mental health. Like many healthy habits, getting started can be tough. But in time, your reading will become a habit that you enjoy.

2. Hide your phone

I sometimes fantasize about dumping my smart phone and then remember it’s the 21st century. If you’ve set aside time to read, then turn off phone notifications—better yet, physically place your phone beyond arms’ reach, so that you’re not tempted to pick it up. The sky will not fall down if you fail to check your phone for 30 minutes.

Fabian Albert: unsplash

3. Set realistic goals

I don’t visit a gym, but if I wanted to make it part of my health and fitness regime, it wouldn’t make any sense to commit to, say, two hours, seven days a week, between 5 and 7 a.m. It might be a noble goal, but for someone who has never visited a gym intentionally ( years ago, I inadvertently opened the door to one), it’s an unrealistic goal. Those kinds of goals are incredibly counterproductive.

Start with small, easily achievable reading goals. And perhaps, rather than setting a long-term goal, like 20 books a year, instead set a shorter-term, time-based goal; for example, to read for 15 or 30 minutes each day. You could use the timer on your phone (in the other room!), a kitchen timer, or an alarm clock. Long books can be intimidating, so get back into reading with shorter novels, or novellas, or even collections of short stories.

Rogério Toledo: unsplash

4. Slow down

You might think that reading faster will help you read more. In the short term, sure, but in the long term, it will take the joy out of reading and contemplation. On average, we read between 40 and 50 pages an hour. But many things affect reading speed. Familiarity with the topic and vocabulary, complexity of the material, how awake you feel, what’s on your mind, your stress levels, and whether you’ve just eaten all factor into how quickly or slowly we read.

Reading as meditation

A large part of the joy of reading for pleasure is the act of reading itself. And it’s one reason why I think it’s probably better to set a time-based goal for reading rather than a number-of-pages target. Reading is a form of meditation, so it’s better to enjoy slowly and meditatively reading a single page rather than dash through ten to tick a task-done box.

Joanna Kosinska: unsplash

5. Read what you love

Wondering what to read? Ask yourself which TV shows and movies you enjoy. Enjoy sci-fi-themed TV shows? Well, most of them are based on novels. Are you a fan of Blade Runner? Then read the book it’s based on, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Don’t read the books you think you ought to read—read what you want to read. Read what interests you.

Interested in a particular culture? Then read its novels. Curious about Japan? Then read novels by Japanese authors. Try a modern classic, like Yukio Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea, or something more contemporary, like Premonition by Yoshimoto Banana or the enchanting The Housekeeper & the Professor by Yōko Ogawa.

Hümâ H. Yardım: unsplash

One final tip, related to reading what you love: Just because you’ve started a book doesn’t mean you’re obligated to finish it. Would you watch three seasons of a TV show if you hated the first few episodes?

But I don’t have time

If you have fifteen children and work three jobs (some people really do work three jobs), then you might not have the luxury of time to read. But for most of us, it’s usually less about making time and more about prioritizing it.

Francesco Ungaro: unsplash

Globally, people average more than 2.5 hours per day on social media and almost 3.5 hours watching TV (including streaming). I can doom-scroll social media and binge-watch Netflix like the best of ’em, but when I dared add up the time I was spending on those activities over a week, I realized I had the time; I just needed to reallocate it.

Global av. daily screen time allocationQ3 2021
TV (inc. streaming)3 hours 20 mins
Using Social Media2 hours 27 mins
Using a Games Console1 hour 12 mins
source: Exploding Topics

Reclaim just 10 minutes a day from TV or social media, and you could read a book a month.

Do you have plans to read more? What works for you? Let me know in the comments.