How to Read More: A Busy Mum’s Perspective
I recently started a book club. I started it because a friend of mine, another mum at the school my kids go to, told me she wanted to read more and she thought we should start one. Or, more specifically, could I please start a book club? It doesn’t take much to convince me when I think an idea is good, so ran with it.
Since then I have made it my mission to read more in a way that is sustainable. The book club gave me the accountability and push I needed to do more of something I know I enjoy so much. To make the most of it, I needed to find ways of reading that I could keep up in the long term, and I discovered these six techniques that have really helped me read more.
Attaching reading to habits
If you have ever read any books about habit forming, like the behemoth currently storming the charts, Atomic Habits, you will know how important it is to attach reading to habits. Atomic Habits is a fantastic book to help introduce good habits into your life — although, I realise telling you to read something to learn how to make time to read something feels like an unfair stretch!
A technique for introducing small habits is attaching them to ones that already exist. I had a look at my existing routine and clipped reading my book onto the habits that were already part of my day. For me, this was:
- Reading while I sit in my 3 years olds room as she falls asleep, instead of doom scrolling a silent social media feed. I leave my phone in my bedroom now and bring my book into her story time, once she’s in bed, I sit and fit in 10 mins reading time.
- Reading in the car at school pickup. I read for five minutes whilst parked up at the school waiting for my son to come out.
- Making time for a single bath each week and reading (this feels like a full vacation but actually only requires finding 20 mins in a week to treat yourself).
These are small snippets of reading time, but they helped the most. Once I got going, I was sucked in, and desperate to get back to it. So once I got home, I’d pick it back up whilst stirring the kids’ pasta or carry on reading before bed.
Waking up the dead time
I recently did a course by Carl Burkitt – Rediscover the Joy of Writing – and there were a lot of things in the course that crossed over with rediscovering the joy of reading! The main one was his lesson, Waking Up the Dead Time. In this lesson, he talks about not finding new time in your day but figuring out the times when you are just standing there waiting – waiting for the kettle to boil, waiting for the microwave to ping, waiting for a train, sitting on the toilet.
The in-between times can get lost by automatically reaching for your phone, even though it doesn’t provide you much enjoyment in those moments – not like a good book can. So finding that new time in my day was brilliant for me.
Having a book visible at all times
The dead time can only be utilised if my book is right there. So I keep my book open at the page and face down (or my Kindle just lying out) on the kitchen counter. Most of my dead time ended up being in the kitchen! And even the other times (toilet) required walking through the kitchen, so having it there meant it called to me to be picked up and carry on the story where I left off.
I also downloaded the Kindle app on my phone and put it on my first app screen. Now, if I am waiting somewhere without my book – in a queue, for a train, for a shop to open, for my kids to finish a club – I am reminded that I can carry on reading.
Making it a reward
One of my greatest joys is taking 5 minutes to sit down with a cup of coffee in the morning – ideally with my kids in another room, or once they’re at school. I used to either do nothing or scroll my phone in this time but now that my book is out on the counter, next to the coffee machine, I treat myself to a little read with my coffee.
This means I start my day with the story (or non-fiction) that I have chosen and enjoy reading, so I am keen to get back to it at other points in the day. That momentum feels important as a mum because there are so many other competing priorities. If I go even a few days without reading, I have to remind myself to pick it up again and keep the momentum.
Finding something that feels easy but like a reward for you is important. Is it your morning coffee? Is it 30 minutes out on the weekend when you get to squirrel yourself away and read? Is it the 10 minutes after the kids are down where you lie on your bed and shut the door and read before heading downstairs?
On the topic of routine, the next thing I did was accept my own weaknesses as a fallible, programmable human and tapped into my stupid lizard brain.
Tap into your stupid lizard brain
You may be made of better stuff than me, but I decided in the beginning that I needed to trick myself to encourage me to read more. I switched out the Instagram app on my phone screen with the Kindle one. The Instagram one got tucked away two screens over, and Kindle took its spot. Now every time I absent-mindedly pick up my phone and click the spot where Instagram was (before even knowing what I was doing), I would find my book on the screen as a little surprise.
I am embarrassed to tell you how many times I picked up my phone and pressed that spot, surprised to find a book – the relationship my thumb had with that icon is humiliating. So this helped a lot because it showed me the dead time in my day without me realising it. It showed how many times I’d pick up my phone to fill a few minutes, but now I have the choice to either actively close the book (when it’s right there calling to me!) and open up some other app or, just read what’s right there in front of me and gets me closer to my goals.
Join a book club
I suppose the book club was my turning point – having the accountability of a book club and having a great social occasion to look forward to. There is nothing better than reading a book and having someone else have just read it who you can dissect it with. Mine is an IRL book club which I love, but online book clubs are equally great. You may even be able to find a reading buddy on the Novlr Discord and chose to read the same books at the same time!
Do not switch off the TV to go read
I mean, you can, if that works for you, but here’s why it was an unrealistic expectation for myself and doomed to failure:
As a parent – and I’m sure it’s similar for people working all day then immediately getting dinner on – by the time I sit down on the sofa at the end of an evening, I have time for about one hour, sometimes two of TV. This time of sitting down and staring at the TV feels essential to my routine, however desperate that may sound.
I mean this genuinely; it feels baked into my well-being that my brain gets that unwinding time. Even if I arrive home from an evening out at 11pm, I can’t go to bed until I have done my Sit Down On The Sofa And Watch TV For An Hour routine. For me, the expectation that I could usurp that essential part of my day is too much. There are plenty of other parts of my day that are providing very little that I could capitalise on – this sacrosanct time sitting next to my husband not speaking, one eye on the TV, one on WhatsApp, was not up for grabs.
Instead, what worked for me was when I get into bed, at whatever normal time that is, I bring my book up and tell myself I’ll “read for just 5 minutes” before I go to sleep. Usually that gets stretched out and I read for longer, but sometimes it really is just five minutes, and then I’m exhausted and have to put it down.
So that’s it. These are the changes I have made in my life to read more. I went from reading a book every three months to a book a month. I know for veracious readers and people with more time that may seem like a snail’s pace, but it’s tripled the number of books I can read, and I couldn’t be happier with that progress!