10 Ways to Fit Reading Into a Busy Schedule

My goal with this blog is to help you make the most of your time and to create time for things that matter. And quite naturally, this includes figuring out what matters. Reading does. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to find time for the important things, and reading is no exception.

If you believe regular reading would make an important addition to your daily routines but don’t have the time, this post is for you.

Not too long ago, I was in that place. I had been keeping up with a solid pace of completing approximately one book every week, and then my routines changed: First, instead of commuting to work by bus, I started making the trip by bike. Second, I decided to revive my blog and finally make my online ventures work.

These two big, (and I believe) great decisions wrecked my reading: first I lost the two hours that I had before devoted to reading while commuting, and getting back on my online business plan cut my evenings short.

But I wasn’t ready to give up on reading just yet. So I had to think seriously about how to make reading work again. Here’s what I came up with.

You don’t find time, you make it

This is not a list of 10 clever tips for reading that you skim through to pick one or two that work for you (I have written a post like that a couple of years ago). Instead, this is a 10 step program for making reading an integral part of your day. Following this approach, most days, you will not read a lot of pages. But at least you will be reading, and that’s what matters.

  1. Decide that reading is a priority for you. If you are a fan of manifestos, write one describing why you read and what you hope to achieve with it. If that’s not your style, just make a strong mental note about it. Think about the books you want to read and all the topics you want to learn more about.
  2. Set a clear goal. This time, I am not talking about a goal in number of books read but minutes. I decided to go with a minimum of fifteen minutes every day. If you happen to have more time at hand, use it, but this minimum is something we build on, the basis of your daily reading habit. Make it doable, but not too short. I don’t think you can really read anything in five minutes, but you also don’t need hours. Fifteen to twenty minutes is already quite OK to start with.
  3. Dedicate a set time to reading: When aiming for fifteen minutes of daily reading it shouldn’t be impossible to find such a slot from any schedule. Wake up 15 minutes earlier and start your day with a few pages that bring meaning to the rest of the day, or maybe take the 15 minutes before going to bed after all of your work is done. I decided to go with the morning schedule and it has worked really well so far.
  4. Clear away the task clutter: The amazing thing is that to make this time, you don’t have to give up on any of the important things you fill your days with, it’s enough to cut on things that add no value. For me, this meant giving up on the (bad) habit of checking email, Facebook and blog posts before breakfast. For some this could be watching TV in the evening. For you it can be something completely different. But when you devote the time to reading, you notice that you didn’t lose anything — but got back something priceless.
  5. Clear away the physical clutter: By simplifying your home, you can focus easier. Your mind won’t wander through the housework waiting to be done, desks waiting to be organized, and when you read, you can just read.
  6. Set an alarm: There is nothing that breaks your focus like checking the clock after each sentence. This will make your reading an annoying experience, and only mildly useful at its best. By setting the alarm to go off after your fifteen minutes, you let  yourself to go into flow and dive deep into the book without worrying about forgetting to get to your other commitments on time.
  7. Repeat tomorrow: When you have done this once, don’t leave it there. Make it a habit and stick with it, and you will notice how it gets easier and more natural every day. Even if you read some more at another time of the day, don’t count that as filling the daily reading appointment, count it as extra. By  sticking to the routine as closely as possible, you will make it much more likely to stick.
  8. Stay excited: This one is something I have never had any trouble with, but I imagine not everyone sees reading as the most exiting thing in their day. My advice is quite simple: read great books. Read something that challenges you, and make sure you are ready to be changed. This way, reading will be the ultimate adventure to the edges of your universe.
  9. Tell your friends: They will root for you, and maybe they’ll start the habit as well. This way, you can help keep each other accountable. Or you can go one step further and make your reading list public like I am doing on this blog. One good tool for that is to join a reading site like GoodReads.
  10. Start today: You can complete the first four steps right now. All it takes is a few moments to reflect on your daily routine and what you can cut from it to make room for reading. Then, select a few great books and depending on when you decide to have your reading appointment, do the first reading session today or tomorrow. If you have time, it might be a good idea to read a bit longer on the first day to get a good start and build some excitement to keep you going to the next day’s appointment.

I have been implementing this approach for a couple of weeks now and it’s working like a charm, but I am sure there is more to this. So stay tuned for more lessons learned after more weeks and months! And as always, I would love to hear about how you make time for reading.

11 thoughts on “10 Ways to Fit Reading Into a Busy Schedule”

  1. Great post. Just like you, I experienced a huge decline in reading time once I got serious about blogging. Partly that was a sign that I was actually “doing” instead of “learning to do.” But I’m trying to get back to more reading, and this post is helpful.

    And we read A LOT of the same books!

    1. That’s a great point, Matt! The fact that we now have less time to read is for a good reason, so that’s how it should be. It’s no use reading if you never do anything with all the knowledge and ideas.

      But I do believe it’s still a good idea to keep reading, and finding time for it is definitely worth the effort… Next, I wish I knew how to do the same with my sleep (I get way too little of it these days…)

      PS. It seems you have a good taste with books ;)

  2. A 1 step trick is to switch to audiobooks and listen to them while commuting or driving to and from work. That way most of us have over an hour of useful time each day.

    1. Good tip, Tarmo!

      I was actually thinking of it but felt that at least right now, I didn’t want to mix reading with cycling. Just riding my bike without listening to anything but the sounds of the nature (and my own thoughts) feels so reviving. Almost like meditation :)

      But I’m sure there will be times when that can work really well. I’d better make sure I have some audio books in store for those days…

  3. Thanks for the encouraging post and thanks to Twitter (Jarmo Toikkanen) that I found this blog!
    Your 15-20 minutes approach is something I will try. With the same style I was able to fit the 10 minutes Pilates to my daily programme. Just need many repetitions to make it a habit.

    1. Awesome! I’m glad you liked the idea. I have never tried Pilates, but you’re right, this approach will work with all kinds of activities, as long as there aren’t too many of them to share the minutes in the day. :)

  4. Absolutely true, “You don’t find time, you make it”.
    I’ve been a bookworm all my life, so it’s a natural passion ;-) I typically read 3-4 books a week and I don’t know where that time comes from! I think because it’s so natural for me, it’s my default activity to zone out, relax, and even get focused. It’s also a very different experience to listening to an audio book, which isn’t as natural for me.

    Great post; glad I found you via @Raamdev

    1. Thank you, Sandi! I’m like you in the sense that I never need to motivate myself to read. It just comes naturally. But 3-4 books per week is still a great accomplishment, congrats! :)

      And yes, audio books are not the same. It might have something to do with the fact that they are a lot slower to “read” than real books as you have to go with the reader’s speed. And you can’t pause and re-read good passages the way you can with real books.

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