A Daily Reading Habit In 4 Steps (A How-To For People With No Time)
Will December be the month you finally pick up a book again?
tl;dr: I created a free, 14-day email course that’ll help you build a daily reading habit. You can sign up here.
Back in July, I asked the people on my Four Minute Books newsletter what their biggest struggle with reading was.
Here’s the unanimous answer:
It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
Over 50% of the 163 responses I got were somehow related to the time-aspect of reading. Of course having this problem makes perfect sense for people who opted in to a weekly newsletter sending out book summaries.
But it never occurred to me that addressing a problem and solving it are two different things.
People don’t want you to help adjust to their problems. They want you to solve them.
Of course many people over-complicate reading. But it’s also not black and white. There are things you can do to make regular reading easier.
Over the past two years, I’ve worked with over 300 people to help them improve their habits. I’ve also read my fair share of books (and book summaries, of course!) during that time.
When I saw the results of that survey, I knew I had to bring those two things together to help you solve this problem.
As a result, I’ve spent hundreds of hours over the past four months on creating Time 2 Read, a free email course to take you from “I don’t have time to read” to “I’m reading every day.”
While I can’t put the entire course into this post, as it’s 12,000+ words spread across two weeks, I sure can give you the Cliff’s Notes version.
Step 1: Slowly turn your attention towards books.
Spending 30 minutes immersed in a book seems like an eternity to a non-reader. In today’s fast-paced, technology-laden world, it’s easy to fall off the reading wagon, even for a voracious reader — I should know, it happened to me too.
Once you’re off, you’re off for a while and the time issue soon goes from cause to cover-up. It becomes a welcome excuse for something that runs deeper:
You don’t think you can read. At least not for long stretches at a time.
That’s why the first thing I’m showing you in the course is that your attention span isn’t as bad as you think.
However, it still helps to start slow. So just start by re-introducing books back into your environment.
Wherever you spend most of your day, make sure there’s a book with you. If you read primarily on a Kindle or ebook reader, the same principle applies. Keep it around to expose your attention to it on a constant basis.
Notice I’m not talking about reading yet. I don’t care if you open it at all. This is about making room in your life for something that’s important to you, nothing more.
Step 2: Prove yourself wrong about your limiting belief.
As long as you think you don’t have time to read, it’ll be really hard to actually make time for it, let alone do it.
This is where the media diet comes in. Try going on one for 24 hours. Here are four different levels to choose from:
1No news. Don’t consume any kind of news today. No newspapers, no seven o’clock news on TV, no opening the CNN app, no staring at the stock market reporter while waiting at the DMV and definitely no flipping through tweets about politics.
2No news, no TV. This includes everything from level 1, but removes TV completely. No movies, whether on Netflix, cable, or DVD, no documentaries and no TV shows (yes, you can watch Game of Thrones tomorrow and the world will keep on turning).
3 No news, no TV, no video in any form. Level 2, but now the entire medium of video is removed. If you now think “Where’s the difference?” that’s a good sign. Youtube junkies, you know what I’m talking about. No music clips, no funny cat videos, no dancing GIFs and no VLOGs (Casey’s cancelled his anyway).
4 No news, no TV, no video, no audio. This is the ultimate media meltdown. Level 3 + eliminating all sources of audio other than mother nature. No radio, no listening to CDs, no audiobooks, no Spotify, no podcasts, and no calling in on a teleshopping show to listen to the jingle when placed on hold (bored minds get creative).
Whatever level most reflects your daily life, pick the one above that.
The only way to show yourself there’s still time to read left in your day, and that missing out on something else for it won’t kill you, is to make this a challenge.
Step 3: Randomize your starting point, so you can start fast and keep adjusting.
What’s the hardest part of creating a new habit? Doing it for the first time. Whatever you friction you can take out of actually reading again, remove it.
In this case, let me remove some for you. With habits that can hardly cause physical damage, like reading, where you start matters much less than how well you keep adjusting afterwards.
So why not pick a random reading time and try to spend that amount reading your book?
Just click one of the three gifts below and give yourself the gift of reading. You’ll be randomly assigned one of the following numbers of reading minutes: 5, 15, 25.
Since the risk of picking a reading time that’s too ambitious is essentially zero, just go for it. Based on whether you manage to read this long or not, you can then adjust to the next higher or lower level tomorrow.
Step 4: Anchor your reading habit to an existing one, so you don’t have to remember it.
Setting up a trigger, habit anchoring, implementation intentions, there are several names for this, but the goal is the same:
Putting your new habit on autopilot.
Doing this only takes 2 steps:
1. Pick a habit you’re already going every day (good or bad).
For example, if you know you have a Snickers bar every day after lunch, always check your email before you go to bed, or pick up your kids from school every day, these are routines you can use.
These can be bad routines just as much as good ones, like running on the treadmill, shutting off your electronics or brushing your teeth.
2. Anchor your reading habit to that habit.
Now all you have to do is anchor your reading habit to that existing habit. Place your book on the candy shelf, keep your reading app next to your mail app or drop off your Kindle next to the key tray in the lobby.
To make this more powerful, write it down.
Use this simple recipe: After I [existing habit], I will read for X minutes.
(X is the number you got above)
Since it’s better to be safe than sorry, setting up an additional, external trigger can be helpful.
This could be a simple alert on your phone’s calendar, saying “It’s Time 2 Read!” at the same time each day.
Pro tip: Many phones now even have location-based reminder functionality, which allows you to be reminded every time you enter your home, for instance.