"I don't have time."
It's a common phrase I hear as a publisher. And I've been guilty of using it myself. I think so many of us look at our lives as having too many necessities and not enough leisure time. And it certainly can become that way. Jobs that demand a lot of our mental and physical capacity, children and pets who need our attention, the basic needs such as going grocery shopping, cleaning, doing laundry. Life can be extremely... well, full, for lack of a better word. So it's not unusual for us to say to others and think to ourselves, "I don't have time."
But I learned a much more valuable phrase many years ago: "Time is what you make of it." I came across it when involved in horse activities, and I realized that "I don't have time" was a phrase I was using as an excuse. I had time to work with my horses - I just wasn't using it. Instead, I was staring at the TV or playing games on my computer. That was time I could absolutely use to work with my horses.
So, I've applied this phrase to my reading. I have tons and tons of books, and I tell myself that "I don't have time" doesn't cut it anymore. I do have time, because I can make time. I found plenty of places where I was wasting time when I thought I was relaxing or unwinding from a hard day at work.
One major example of this was television. I have given up traditional television. I no longer have satellite, and I have honestly never missed it. I truly hate the amount of commercials and advertising nowadays, how loud and repetitive they are, and I find them a real distraction that detracts from what I'm watching. I do have streaming services, but I limit the amount of them and unsubscribe to any that I don't watch on a regular basis - I recently gave up HBOGo and Disney+ for this reason. And I just don't sit and mindlessly watch TV anymore. I realized that was probably the biggest timewaster of my life. Instead, I watch TV while doing other tasks, such as sewing (a hobby I recently picked up), cleaning, organizing, or when I'm doing editing that doesn't require really deep concentration, such as formatting a manuscript.
Now I certainly don't expect everyone to give up TV. It just might be one part of your life that you might be able to pare back on so you can start reading more. And if not, then there's this following list that I hope will help you make time for reading. I've come up with this from reading about others' habits, reading studies about sleep and electronics, and talking with folks about how they spend their time. These changes have truly helped me, so I want to be sure I pass them along to you.
1. Read from a physical book or use an ereader. First, when reading on your phone or tablet, it's very easy to just navigate away from the book onto social media or somewhere where you're not actually reading a book. You will stay focused and spend more time actually reading your book if you don't use your phone or tablet for reading.
Second, phone and computer screens are hard on our eyes and brain. There is research out there indicating staring at screens without breaks can lead to myopia, or shortsightedness, where your distance vision degrades. The colors, pixelizations, and refresh rates can actually increase our neurons firing as our brain struggles to keep up with what we're seeing. This leads to fatigue, both in our eyes and our brains, and we don't even realize it. Overall, our eyes and brains have not evolved to be able to handle the difficulty of reading from a screen.
Ereaders are designed to simulate a book with specialized screens that are actually far safer for your eyes. They do not have a glare, which causes eyestrain, and this lets you read your book anywhere. They have light for reading at night, but the light isn't a backlight - it is integrated into the edges of the screen so the light shines down onto the text, just like a regular lamp would do if you were reading a physical book. They're less expensive than a tablet or phone, and you can find refurbished ones online. They can store hundreds of books, so you can have a wide variety of books to carry with you. And what I like best is the battery life is much longer than a tablet or phone because the device is designed for one purpose: reading.
2. Always carry a book/ereader with you. During any lull times - waiting at the doctor's office, riding the subway to work, standing in line - avoid grabbing your phone and pull out that book instead. You will be surprised how many paragraphs and even chapters you can get through just while waiting. Plus, you will be more able to mentally "let go" of a book rather than a game or social media on your phone so you can concentrate on the person or event you were waiting on. And if you tend to forget to take your book or ereader with you, write yourself a note and pin it to your purse or tape it to the door you use to leave your home.
3. Yes, listening to a book counts as reading! I am a big fan of audiobooks. I used to have a two-hour commute to and from work each day, and audiobooks were a great way to start and end the day. I found they helped start my brain in the morning so I was ready to face work, and they helped me wind down from the day on the way home. I didn't get really angry at other drivers on the road anymore, either. I know folks who listen to audiobooks while exercising, cleaning their house, or doing yardwork. You can also listen to an audiobook while engaging in your hobby - painting, sewing, model trains, jewelry making, anything that requires your hands and eyes and leaves your brain open to allowing you to listen to a story. You're really maximizing your time if you're listening to a book while doing something else that doesn't need as much brainpower as, say, working or engaging with others.
4. Anytime you're eating alone, pull out your book. I like to read at breakfast, and I actually read the physical newspaper my town distributes once a month. Your lunch break is a great time to read, especially since so many jobs nowadays are computer-based. Find a nice, peaceful spot in the building or on the company's grounds to eat your lunch and just read, leaving your phone behind. When you leave your office and go read somewhere else, you are going to be able to return to it with a refreshed mind and won't suffer from that afternoon coma we can all fall into when we've spent too long in our office.
5. Schedule time to read. My rule is I always read for at least ten minutes before I turn off the light to sleep. Always. I do not deviate from this habit, unless I'm sick or just flat out dead tired. So find your own schedule. If you're a morning person, maybe getting up earlier so you can read while eating breakfast is an option. You can turn off the TV thirty minutes sooner and read before getting ready for bed. Take a look at your day-to-day activities and see where you can fit reading in.
6. If you want to read before bed, remove all distractions from your bedroom. This is extremely hard, and I understand why. However, sleep studies have shown that people who watch TV in bed, work in bed, or play with their phone in bed have a harder time with their brains shutting down at night, so they aren't getting the deep sleep they should. Some people say they can't fall asleep unless the TV is on. They don't realize that you can still "see" the TV when your eyes are closed since light still filters through our eyelids, and the sounds are constantly changing, so your brain is still trying to process that information, even while it's trying to sleep. They aren't getting the quality of sleep they think they are.
If you need to keep your phone in your room, only do so because you need it in case of an emergency. Don't keep it in your room to play with it. To keep yourself from using it, put it across the room from you, such as on a dresser or shelf, somewhere where it is not within easy access.
If you need noise to help you get to sleep, use a white noise machine, a fan (I have a fan that actually has a white noise setting), or use audio programs that are designed for meditation or sleep.
When you have removed all these distractions, you are ready to read before going to sleep. Take care of all your pre-bed activities - brushing your teeth, getting a glass of water, and so on - before picking up your book. This is the time for your brain to relax, so give it what it needs by having your focus completely on the book. Your brain will be able to wind down and let go of the day. And as soon as you're finished reading, turn off the light and close your eyes to go to sleep. Resist the urge to go grab that phone or leave your room.
7. Read with your family. One of my favorite experiences from when I was a child was my mom reading to my brother and me before bed. It was so relaxing, and it was something I really looked forward to as part of our going to bed routine. Plus, it was a great way for her to get us to go to bed rather than fight it. When we were really little, we could pick out three picture books to listen to before bed. Then as we got older, mom read us children's chap books and YA books.
Now of course, you're not going to read the latest Clive Cussler or Stephen King to the kids. So for ideas, think about what you read at your kids' age. There are always the classics, such as Charlotte's Web or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. And check on what YA novels are popular. So many are are so well written that adults will enjoy them just as much as kids. I mean, how many adults do you know who know their Hogwarts House and patronus? (I'm Ravenclaw with a wolf patronus. *Ahem*.) In addition, we're going to have some YA novels available here at Dark Owl starting in December. I was particular about what I selected because not only will kids enjoy them, but adults really will, too. This way, reading them together will be a real treat for you and your kids.
You can even make reading a family event. Turn off the TV at least an hour before bed, and everyone sits and listens to someone read from a book. It doesn't always have to be an adult; have one of the kids read a book from their favorite YA series. You can theme it for various holidays, too.
A woman I know came up with a great strategy: Every day during the week, the whole family sits down to read for anywhere from thirty minutes to an hour. It's usually after school or after dinner. They each read their own books, and no one is allowed to use electronics except for an ereader. They all have a favorite spot in the living room for reading, and it's quiet and relaxing and even recharging for all of them.
8. If money's an issue, get a library card or buy used. Reading can be completely free if you make use of your local library. Libraries provide not only physical books, but ebooks and audiobooks as well. Many times they connect online with other libraries to make their own inventory larger. Visit your library and talk with the librarians. They are going to give you a wealth of information about what they provide and help you find a lot of new titles to read.
If you like to own books like I do, used bookstores can become your discount playgrounds! I like to browse the dollar book racks - I found one of my favorite sci-fi monster horror books there. And you can always find those gorgeous hardbacks that you want to fill your shelves with to make them look pretty as well as be able to collect your favorite books. And I honestly only buy new from indie authors and publishers anymore - I don't need to buy new from the Big 4 when I can find them at any used bookstore for a much lower price.
And now that you're working on reading more, it's also time to organize your own library. Take a hard look and be serious about the titles. Which books do you really believe you're going to read in your lifetime? I know, my friends, these are truly hard choices to make. I was able to do it recently, though, because I realized I needed to make room for the books I will read, not the books I might read. The books that I might read are probably always going to still be available in some format, so I need to read through my will list first. And I honestly needed more shelf space for Dark Owl's books!
Then, those might read books can go straight to the used bookstore and be traded for books to go on the will list. Or if you have a garage sale, set aside the money you make on any books you're selling to be used specifically at used bookstores.
The used bookstore won't take your books? No problem - take them to the local library or the thrift store. And if they don't take them, you can always repurpose them into useable objects around the house - check out our blog post about easy crafts to do with books. And if none of this can be done, then please put the books in the recycle bin rather than the trash.
And don't forget about thrift stores and antique malls, and watch for their sale days. I ended up buying nearly all of Clive Barker's books in paperback at a thrift store one day, and it was their 50% off day. I only paid ten dollars for about sixteen books, and these are ones that are definitely on my will list!
9. Motivate yourself by joining a book club, keeping a book journal, or following an online reading website. If you're a social person, book clubs are a great way to get books into your life. Libraries and bookstores are some places to find book clubs. Or check out your local newspaper, Craigslist, or other websites where people post events. Can't find a book club? You can always try starting your own, and if you're a bit nervous to do it by yourself, snag a sibling, parent, or friend to help you. With so many resources available online, you can certainly find ideas for how to run one and what books to include.
A book journal can be extremely easy to maintain. Either buy a lined journal or use a notes or spreadsheets program on your phone, and enter the title, author, date you started the book, and date you finished. You can also add information like number of pages - this can help tell you how long it takes you to finish a book - year of publication, the author's website, a short description of the plot, and notes on what you did and didn't like. I have done this when I've taken on a personal challenge to read all of one author's books. It's neat to be able to track what you've read, and it can motivate you to read more.
Goodreads is also a really great website that was originally specifically designed for readers. You can use it to track your own books, look for recommendations, engage with other readers, and find authors' information. And don't forget: Dark Owl books are also on Goodreads!
10. Take reading seriously. I think our social environment has diminished the value of reading. Reading is important to help our brains and eyes relax, help us learn more about communication through writing, and learn about the world around us. I may go so far as to say that reading is necessary to be a part of a civilized society. We need to read because it's just all around good for us in so many different ways.
So, don't let anyone interrupt you when it's reading time. If you have kids, this is where number 7 comes in handy. If you're at lunch for work, commit to taking that break - don't answer the phone, emails, or texts during your lunch hour. When at home, tell other people in the house that you're going to read and you don't want to be disturbed, or establish reading at times where others in the house are not needing your help or attention.
You can even pick a place that is your reading spot - a chair in your room, outside under a shade tree, in the formal front room where there's no TV. Treat that spot as sacred - tell others if they use it, they need to respect it by not moving things around or anything like that. Have a snuggly blanket nearby, and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee to go with your reading time. If you need help staying focused, put on some classical or new age music, or even white noise, to keep other sounds from distracting you from reading. This will make reading incredibly pleasant, and your reading time might even increase!
Do you have other ideas on how to get more reading time? Be sure to post them here or on our social media accounts. We can all learn from each other, that's for sure!
Overall, it is possible to get more time with books. We just have to make the choice to do so. Try to stop saying, "I don't have time," and start saying, "I need to have the time." Then you'll find yourself making the time, which is a valuable lesson we can all stand to learn.
~ Andrea Thomas
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