You’ve probably said it to yourself 100 times before: I really need to start reading more books. When you’re an out-of-the-habit adult with a full schedule, however, finding the time to pick up a book can be a challenge.
But this is a goal worth striving for. Science is beginning to back up what book-lovers already know: Reading offers far-reaching benefits for your life. A high frequency of reading may decrease the risk of cognitive decline, according to a 14-year longitudinal study published in 2020, and might even help to “delay or prevent dementia in older adults,” according to a 2018 study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Additionally, reading regularly has the potential to improve mental health and increase relaxation and empathy.
So why is it still so hard to read despite the fact that we know about all of these benefits? With social media updates, near-constant news alerts and other forms of media—such as YouTube videos, new Netflix shows and podcasts—all competing for our attention, reading often falls by the wayside.
The good news is, with a little bit of direction, you can absolutely start reading more. Here are 21 tips from SUCCESS experts to get you started.
Find value in what you’re reading
1. Get the most out of the book you’re reading.
“Don’t try to get through a book, let the book get through to you. Every time you finish a page or a chapter, ask yourself:
- What have I learned?
- What can I share with others?
- What can I apply?
You should also listen to a podcast or TED Talk by the author to understand the concept of the book more deeply and succinctly.”
—Jay Shetty, storyteller, podcaster and former monk
2. Figure out your approach.
“I have a three-pronged method for reading more books:
- Determine why you want to read more books. Finding your “why” is far more important than asking “how to” because once you find the why, you’ll find the way.
- Decide what you want to extract from the books you read. Thousands of books are published each year. You must first decide what information, knowledge, entertainment or skills you want to extract from the books you read this year, or else you’ll quickly become overwhelmed.
- Figure out what you want to remember from each book you read. There’s nothing wrong with reading for reading’s sake. But if you want to access the information at a later date, then highlight, underscore, flag, bookmark, use sticky notes or keep a separate file with the information you want at your fingertips after you’ve set the book down.”
3. Read books that inspire you.
“We have been given the opportunity to slow down. In this time where we are asked to be still, we have space to read. Let books guide you into a creative space where you can release anxiety and feel a sense of normalcy.”
4. Find the most important lessons in the book.
“Review the table of contents and read the chapter that resonates with you the most. Another approach I recommend is reading the introduction, the first chapter, a chapter in the middle and the last chapter. This allows you to glean the most important points of the book.”
—Simon T. Bailey, keynote speaker, success coach and author of Ignite the Power of Women in Your Life – a Guide for Men
5. Choose books that will help you reach other goals.
“Ask yourself what you are looking to learn or what growth you want to achieve. Identify the books that will help you get there, then set aside a certain amount of time each day to read them. This is not a race, nor is it a marathon. Read for the pleasure, enjoyment and satisfaction that you are growing through the process.”
—Sam Silverstein, keynote speaker and accountability expert
6. Read what you want, not just the books others expect you to read.
“Read great books that you want to read. These are two separate and important parts. If you read not-great books, you won’t want to read more books. (If it’s not great, stop reading.) And if you read books because someone else said you should—but you don’t really want to read them—you won’t want to read more.”
7. Take notes.
“Because I read so much, I’ve gotten to where I no longer buy books but instead go to the library and check out two or three at a time. I sit in my quiet place early in the morning with a cup of coffee and a legal pad. A great way for me to retain what I read is to take notes about the book’s salient points. I include page numbers and references in my notes so I can go back if I need to reread a passage that interests me.”
—Todd Burgess, speaker and executive coach
8. Consider books with outlines of important points.
“Choose books that are written with the author’s summary or VIPs (very important points) already built into the manuscript. Oftentimes, this will give you 90% of the book’s true message, and, in turn, value.”
Make reading a habit
9. Set a goal to read more books than last year.
How many books do you want to read? How fast do you want to read them? Picking out specific numbers will make it easier to track your progress and celebrate your victories. Goodreads is a great tool to help you keep track of your book list and set up your reading goals for the year.
10. Read books with friends.
“Start or join a book club. I’d gotten so wrapped up in digital news and social media that when my friend asked me to join her book club last year, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d actually read a book cover to cover. Finishing that first book club read was so satisfying. The process forced me to disconnect from the constant updates of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. I’ve prioritized reading more books ever since.”
11. Set reminders.
You can also try carving out a block of time that can only be used for reading. Schedule it in your planner and make it as important as eating dinner or sleeping. Use an app such as Evernote—or even a simple alarm clock—to remind yourself that it’s time to pick up a book.
12. Make it easy for you to read more books.
“A simple and effective way to read more books is to add on small chunks of reading time to your daily habits. For example, if you make coffee every morning, set the book you want to read next to your coffee maker. While you’re waiting for the coffee to brew, commit to reading three pages. The key is to make reading easy to do and, rather than saying you’ll read for 30 minutes, start with just five or 10.”
13. Make reading part of a daily routine.
“Make reading a part of your daily routine, whether it’s in the morning or before bed. You’re less likely to find time for something you enjoy if it’s not worked into your routine. Carve out a few minutes every day where you set your phone across the room, unplug and read a book you’ve been wanting to read.”
14. Read books during your commute.
“If you take public transportation to work, commit to reading on your commute. I am also a fan of only reading old-fashioned paper books so as to minimize the distraction of texts and email alerts on a reader device.”
15. Start with scheduling just 10 minutes per day.
“Each time we open a book, we open our minds to new ideas, fresh perspectives and better ways of living our lives and approaching our problems. Deciding to block out just 10 minutes every day to read a book can elevate the trajectory of your life. If you think you’re too busy to do that, consider that you’re too busy not to.”
16. Determine when works best for you.
“The time of day you read can actually increase your reading speed and comprehension. According to my research, the optimum times to read are:
- First thing in the morning
- Immediately following a nap
- Immediately after or during aerobic exercise
I also recommend keeping a book in your car or purse. Having easy access to a book makes it easier and more convenient to read. Over time, this will turn into a permanent habit.”
Try a different format
17. Consider e-books in addition to physical books.
The debate of e-books versus “treebooks” will wage on, but here are some nuggets of information to help you decide. E-books are instant, portable and, well, fun to play with. They can make it easier to locate hard-to-find titles and the text and page appearance are customizable, which is great if you have trouble reading small type. If you can’t fit another charger in your outlet, however, paper books are truly cordless, as well as much easier to share. They can give your eyes a break from staring at a screen, but the biggest draw for paper books comes down to pure sentimentality: There’s just something about them. Truth be told, neither format is objectively better than the other. Just pick what works best for you.
18. Listening to audiobooks counts, too.
“I have always struggled with reading, but listening to audiobooks while working out has been a great way to consume more books.”
19. Read more books by speeding up audiobooks.
“One of my favorite quotes is, ‘Miss a meal if you have to, but don’t miss a book’ by Jim Rohn. In an increasingly noisy world, it’s more important than ever to be proactive about what we consume. I enjoy audiobooks because I can get through more titles. Audiobook platforms often have a playback setting where you can increase the speed. Start by increasing it to the smallest increment (such as 1.25). It will sound quick at first, but your mind will get used to it.”
Choose the best location
20. Set up a reading nook at home.
When reading at home, pick a room free from loud distractions and set up your reading sanctuary. Find a comfy chair near a lamp and a small table. Most importantly, don’t file that book away in between reading sessions. Leave it out in the open to keep it top of mind.
21. Try reading at the library.
If you find reading at home isn’t working for you, however, consider finding another quiet place to read. Perhaps it’s been a while since the last time you went to the library—maybe your third-grade teacher made you, and you never went back. But give it a shot; today’s library looks nothing like the dusty shelves you remember. Now they’re well-stocked with the latest titles in a variety of formats, including audiobooks, and since it’s free, it’s a risk-free way to try out topics you’re not usually into. If you’re an e-book reader, check out the Libby app. It lets you virtually check out e-books and audiobooks from your local library for free with a library card.
This article was published in August 2017 and has been updated. Photo by Evgeny Atamanenko/Shutterstock