To say we’re busy these days is almost a pointless waste of words. It’s as is life has been taken over by a fast forward button and there are so many things competing for our attention that days can be overwhelming. And what happens when we get some extra time? We fill it. With something. With anything.
Technology, the so-called “time saver” has only made things worse. Rather than freeing our time, it is a constant temptation to waste it. Don’t get me wrong. I have games on my phone that I love and sometimes, after a busy or stressful day, these moments are highly enjoyable. However, with every beep, ding, and notification that seems to require our attention we get drawn further away from a mindset that could lead us to immersive, enjoyable reading. I see the effects of technology even in my physiological rsponse to sitting down with a book. My mind wants to jump from topic to topic, my eyes shift around the page as they do when we are in front of action on a screen.
However, the main factor of time still remains. Countless times, I have heard the phrases uttered, “I wish I could read” “I have no time to read” “I can’t keep my mind on reading” and so on when I ask people to join book club or want to discuss a book I am reading. I get it. At one point, I was a full-time teacher, the president of two dance clubs, a full-time mother of two busy girls and their activities, and so on. I know from busy, trust me. I also read an average of 70 books a year.
How do I find the time? I steal it. I hijack it from everything else that would seek to take it. A little here, a little there. Why not? If I’m going to profess that reading is a priority for me, then I’d better live it, right? While some of my suggestions may seem ridiculous, I am in no way saying that what works for me will work for evryone. I am only saying that there is a way in every life to steal a little time from the hum of everyday flurry.
- Let the children play – although posts on social media platforms may make it seem as if we have to spend every waking minute with our children, the reality is that children do not need, or even want, our intervention all the time. I have no problem telling my girls to go outside or to the basement for some playtime away from me. When this happens, I grab a book and read as if my life depended on it. No guilt, no apologies. This is my time and I am taking it.
- In the car – this is not for everyone. If you feel the need to hurl every time you read in a vehicle like much of the population, then obviously this would not be a solution for you. Just keep scrolling. For the rest of us, however, a 5-hour car ride (the time it takes us to go visit my father) can be a treasure trove of reading time. Even an hour-long jaunt to Saskatoon (our closest big city) is a fine time to get some very pleasurable reading done. “What about conversation?!?” you cry. Well, if you’re listening to the radio or playing on your phone, how much conversation is atually taking place anyway?
- Cooking supper – you heard me right. While I’ll admit that cooking is an activity that does require mindfulness and concentration, there are times when you are playing the waiting game. At these times, I have a book laid out on my counter or kitchen table. A chapter here or there is better than nothing, right? Just try to keep the sauce and grease stains to a minimum and you’ll be fine.
- Turn off the television – I was just reading a blog post that said this was an ineffective practice, but I have to respectfully disagree. How many shows do you watch just because they’re on or there’s nothing better to do? Seriously, think about it. I’m not saying that we should eschew the technology altogether or never watch our favourite shows. You want to marathon Gilmore Girls on Netflix? More power to you! I’m just saying that we need to be wise with how we’re using the time we have. If you’re going to say that reading is a priority, then maybe that rerun of Ellen or Dr. Phil isn’t as important at the moment. Not to mention the wonderful recording technology that cable comes with these days. Now we can choose what to watch and when. Use it!
- Physical books – Nothing beats having an actual book in your hands. Being able to turn the pages, reread when you lose focus, even just see how much you have left is priceless. I advocate reading real books, or even using single-use e-readers (with no backlight!), before anything else. So you’re trying to read a book on your phone or iPad? Every notification is something that is vying for your attention. And trust me, those other things will win out. (Ooh, that’s my work email. I’d better check it. So-and-so commented on my Facebook photo! Cool! Family members are messaging about a get-together…and so on…) Been there, done that. It doesn’t work. Next!
- Engagement is everything! – if the book isn’t tickling your fancy after 100 pages, then it probably won’t be better after 300 pages. Readers have the right to abandon books that are not for them. I have done it numerous times and I afford my children and my students the same privilege. Nothing kills the desire to read faster than forcing your way through a book that is about as interesting as watching the paint dry. I didn’t read for a good 10 years after University because being forced to read whatever they wanted me to killed my love of reading. If you’re not itching to pick it up again, it’s not for you. Put it down and back away slowly.
- Use a library – there’s something about knowing a book is due back somewhere that creates an urgency to get it done. This can really work in your favour. I have books I purchased years ago that are still sitting on my shelf. I know I will read them someday, but the books I borrow from the library are ones that I’ve chosen on impulse and they have an expiry date. It flips a switch in my brain telling me to enjoy it before it’s gone.
- Brain breaks and book-hopping – our brains are no longer wired for hours of concentrated passive activity. There is no point in forcing yourself to read for extended periods of time if you’re itching to do something else or have read the same page fifty times and still don’t get it. You need a brain break. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting the bookmark to the place where the next chapter begins and playing a level of a game after it’s done. Or getting a drink of water. Just disengaging for a few minutes before going back to read another chapter. Or, in the case of “The Goldfinch” (50 page chapters! oh my!), put the bookmark 20 or 25 pages ahead. Whatever you can manage, but don’t expect too much of yourself. We have so much overwhelming us in the course of a day that our minds are liable to jump back to one of the many issues at hand instead of focusing on the words on the page. I’ve had days where I’m so jumpy I set myself a 10 page goal and pat myself on the back when I’m finished. There’s also nothing wrong with having a few books on the go, if that is something you can handle as a reader. Just because you’ve cracked a book doesn’t mean that it has to be your be-all-and-end-all until you’ve flipped the last page. There are no monogamy laws in literacy! I am a shameless book cheat and not afraid to admit it.
- Join a book club – you know how gym buddies keep each other accoutable for working out? The same goes for reading. If you want to be part of the book discussion, then reading the book will give you a slight advantage. Book clubs are happy places with friends, appies, drinks, whatever your heart desires. They are an excuse to be social, to get out of the house and away from the children. And seriously, people, it’s one book a month. You can do it. I’ll be cheering you on.
- Take books with you – sitting in the doctor’s office or waiting for your kid to be done with their piano lesson does not have to be a black hole of boredom. Instead of mindlessly flipping through the magazines (that usually suck anyway) in waiting rooms, I make sure I take a book. I have gotten some excellent readin time in when I might have been counting flowers on wallpaper or doing something equally sad or pathetic.
I hope that I’ve opened some avenues for thinking about ways to steal some reading time in a busy life. Some of you may be saying, who cares if I read? I’ll deal with that in another post. See if there aren’t some ways to carve out more time for the great literary pastime.
What are some ways that you get extra reading time?