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Breaking Down My Reading Habit

Only in the last few years have I thought of myself as a “fast” reader. As I post short reviews about the books I read in my Instagram feed (and longer versions on my GoodReads), I field the same question again and again:

How do I find the time to read?

Often I come back to the same answers: “Here and there,” or “I always have a book on me,” or “I guess I’m a speed reader?”

But recently I decided to actually find out how and when I make the time for my most beloved hobby. Below is the breakdown of when and where I burned through the 432 pages of J. Courtney Sullivan’s “Commencement,” (a book I wanted to read both for the subject material but also because, as a writer, I’m interested in multiple point-of-view novels–I’m kicking around the idea for such a book myself–and wanted to see how Sullivan pulled it off. You can read my full review of the book here.)

By sharing this log, my hope is others who long to “find” time to read realize that accomplishing such a goal is built in small measures. Of course, having a great book in your hands helps too!

commencement (1 of 1)

August 16 | 10 minutes before bed, pages 1-8

Most nights I can’t fall asleep without reading a book. Normally it’s a window of 15-30 minutes. By turning my attention to the stresses of other people, I find it’s much easier to let go of my own. (Maybe this is why I’m such a sound sleeper?)

August 17 | 15 minutes at lunch, pages 9-38

I work less than a mile from my job. (It’s awesome.) When I can sneak home for lunch, I have a small window to make myself something to eat and read. It’s a great stress release, something to recharge me for the rest of my day.

August 18 | 15 minutes at lunch, pages 39-55

August 19 | 10 minutes at breakfast, pages 56-69; 20 minutes at lunch, pages 70-91; 10 minutes during a post-work break, pages 92-96; 20ish minutes during TV time for Dean, pages 97-112; 15 minutes before bed, pages 112-126

My son is the WORST at getting up—a definitive “threenager.” It takes up to 30 minutes to get him dressed most mornings. On days where I’m on my “getting ready” game (i.e., not slapping on make-up as I shoo us out the door), I have a pocket of time to read with a cup of coffee in hand.

A short break after work (waiting on my husband to pick me up from dropping my car off at the mechanic) affords the perfect time to sneak in a few more pages. (I keep a book in my oversized tote or on my phone at all times, which is why I love waiting places. It’s a good way to look forward to a line!)

Before Dean’s bedtime, we pile onto the couch for 15-20 minutes of family TV time. (He’s been into Pixar lately and those films are masterpieces compared to some of the cutesy kids’ stuff he obsesses over.) Inevitably I’ll open up whatever book I’m reading. Now here is where some mothers might object: You read while you’re supposed to be watching your son? Why yes, yes I do. Never on my phone (Nick and I try not to let Dean see us too much with our faces stuck in front of screens), but given all the studies demonstrating how children seeing their parents read is as important as reading to them (something we do a lot of too), I have no qualms about him witnessing me with my nose in a book. The minute he asks for a pillow fight or for me to read to him, the bookmark’s in place and my attention all his.

August 20 | 10 minutes before bed, pages 126-134

August 21 | 30 minutes during lunch, pages 134-166

August 22 | 10 minutes before Dean and Nick wake up, pages 167-180; 10 minutes later in the morning over coffee, pages 181-192; 30 minutes before bedtime (including some distracted reading online about the author and her subject material—in this case, Smith College), pages 193-211

Ahhhh the weekend. I read quite a bit when I’m at home, grabbing pockets of time while, say, Nick takes Dean to Lowe’s on an errand or Dean’s lost in an imaginary world of play on his own. (He likes cooking in his play kitchen a lot right now—no complaints here!) Also, we travel a lot to my parents or Nick’s parents, so on those weekends, I’ll read for 20-30 minutes in the car. (Nick loves to drive and thankfully I don’t get motion sickness reading during the drive.)

August 23 | One hour during Dean’s afternoon nap, pages 211-270; 90 minutes during second viewing of Monsters, Inc., pages 270-310

With Dean getting older, days where he’ll take a nap are dwindling. When he does, I’ll get housework done or reward myself with uninterrupted reading time. After all, the Sabbath is a day to rest, right?

On this day, Dean woke with a fever. When he’s sick, all bets are off in terms of forcing him to do anything. Usually all he asks for is couch time with the TV on. (Isn’t that what we ALL want when we’re sick?) So, I cuddled and watched Monsters, Inc. with him (and teared up at the end because I’d forgotten how sweet Sully’s face is when he opens Boo’s door), and then, on a second viewing (FYI, toddlers LOVE rewatching things), you guessed it—I picked up my book again.

August 24 | 30 minutes during lunch, pages 311-330; 15 minutes while I waited on food to finish cooking, pages 330-352; 20 minutes before bed, pages 352-372

I’m the cook in our house, which means there’s usually a 30ish-minute window after work where Nick is on Dean duty and I’m in the kitchen. I like watching them play in the backyard or I’m usually poking my head into the playroom, trying to snag some time with them in between the timer’s ding. On this night, Dean was feeling better and Nick took him for a bike ride, so I had some time to read while I waited on the food/them to return.

August 26 | 10 minutes waiting on water to boil for dinner, pages 372-385; 35 minutes while Nick puts Dean down, pages 386-416 (THE END!)

Yep, I read while I waited on water to boil. That’s how much this book had me hooked before the end.

And lastly, Nick and I usually alternate putting Dean down to bed. It’s our favorite routine, reading a bunch of books to him/rocking with him/talking about his day. On nights off, if I’m done with dishes or other housework that needs done, I sneak in some reading time.

There you have it—how I read (roughly) a book a week. Pretty sure you can see what I mean when I say my reading happens in fits and starts, in increments of ten to twenty minutes at a time (most of the time, anyway), but all of which adds up to a stack of books over time.

If you tell yourself you want to read more but can’t find the time, try this: Log how many minutes you spend online each week—on your phone, your laptop, your iPad. When Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest cease to be the focus of your downtime, I’m confident you can get lost in a good book, too.

Also, let me know if you want a few book recommendations. If you couldn’t tell from this post, reading is kind of my thing 🙂

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  • Tira

    Thank you so much for this Gail. This helps a lot!! I’ve got so many great books to read.

  • Valerie Keinsley

    I LOVE this, Gail!! Such a helpful breakdown. I actually started and finished a whole book in an afternoon yesterday – haven’t done that in years (oh, the waiting for baby game!) Finally got my hands on ‘Paper Towns’ and couldn’t. put it. down. But this is super motivating for me, since I find myself saying more and more “I don’t have any time to read!” and I know that will just continue once baby is here unless I stay mindful of it. Those pockets of 10-20 minutes could easily add up to WAY more books in my “read” pile instead of endless scrolling on Instagram. You’re the coolest <3

  • Stacey

    Something I like to do is either carry a book in my purse or reading on my Nook or Kindle app on my phone while in line somewhere (i.e. grocery store, CVS, bank, lunch). Always able to whip through a few pages every day that way.

  • Jasmine Star

    I’ve seen this method in action and it WORKS!! You inspired me to do the same!! 🙂

  • Kelly Stanley

    I’m like you. I go through books like crazy and no one can ever figure out how I have time. I read while I eat breakfast, and again at lunch (I don’t need a companion when I have a book with me). My husband works really late and lately my son eats on the fly (to or from soccer games or practice) so I can read at dinner, too. And even tho I’m a workaholic and work a thousand hours a week, usually, I always try to snag a few minutes extra. I read before bed (and don’t get enough sleep because I never want to stop). I read when I’m in line to pick up my son from school (even if I forget my book or iPad, I can pull up the Kindle app on my phone and find something), while dinner is cooking (when I actually cook)… all the things you do :-). Reading is my way to indulge myself, my escape from reality. And I love your book recommendations!

  • Jaqueline Faria

    I love this post so interesting. Makes me want to keep track of how I get my reading done. I know most of it is actually while doing my hour run on the treadmill everyday – reading on the treadmill is something I’ve become overly proud of. I actually have found that I manage to read so much more now that Ive let go of my prejudice of getting online books its too convient to just pick up my phone and start reading or change books whenever I want. I love reading your reviews I always check your goodreads when I’m stuck on what to read. Now I’ve blabbed too much … heres a book recommendations if you ever read and liked twilight and enjoy a good book on vampires and magic ( I don’t think you read too many of them from your reading list but ) check out discovery of witches its become one of my favorites and its basically a twilight for adults the writing is better the concepts are a little more adult I feel and its a little slower paced then most young adult – vampire books

  • Amber Fox

    You are awesome! I have always been so curious how a working mom can read so much! But it’s all those times in between things that make it possible right. I am always starting books, and never finishing them. I used to read when I was putting the boys down, reading with low light as I awaited the boys to fall asleep. But now since we cut their naps, they fall asleep in less than 10 minutes. And instead of reading, I do silly stuff, like go on IG or FB. Ugh! This is a good model how it is actually possible. Love you girl! You inspire me.

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