Reading was my favorite hobby growing up. Then came college, marriage, kids and work. I struggled to fit reading books for fun into a busy life. What works and what doesn’t?
Start by defining what is fun for you. Then believe that you deserve some fun and choose to be grateful. Spend your 168 hours a week intentionally and enjoy the treasure hunt for great reads. Consider your emotional needs. Get creative about when and where.
You can make the changes to make reading books for fun part of a busy life. Implementing tips and tricks in not enough, though. You’ll have to engage in a mindset shift and invest in the process. But, when you do, prepare to reap the rewards of a better reading life.
Define what is fun for you
Knowing yourself is a critical part of this process. Does reading for fun mean immersing yourself into another world and blocking out the day to day for awhile? Or jumping into a new hobby and finding a stack of books that opens the door of understanding? The better you know what you’re looking for, the more likely you are to find it.
Set goals if that increases your enjoyment or motivation
Is setting goals motivating? Do you like to challenge yourself? Does it make you happy to achieve your goals?
Or do you prefer your downtime to be totally spontaneous with no agenda, no plan, no tracking progress and no falling short. Just kicking back for total enjoyment.
Some people want to know that they finished 20 books this year like they set out to do. That’s fun for them.
Some people want to read on a whim when they want what they want, with no measuring, tracking or charting.
You know which is more fun for you.
Chase the fun.
Read to solve a problem
Can you read non-fiction if you’re reading for fun? Absolutely!
Did you know you get dopamine hits when you’re learning new things ? It’s fun to learn! Reading is a great way to learn.
If you’re facing a big problem in your life, research the experts and read their books. Sometimes you don’t even know what the problem is, all you have to start with are symptoms. If it’s a serious problem that’s really getting you down, reading for answers might be a survival strategy and not fun at all.
But if you find some answers, if you uncover solutions that work, then all your investigative work becomes fun. Don’t be discouraged if the first ideas you pursue don’t work. Keep looking, keep trying. Pray for wisdom.
Follow the Curiosity
Aside from problems, you can read non-fiction about any thing that you’re curious about, anything that you want to learn. Business. Relationships. Gardening. Art. Aquaponics. Exotic travel. Healthy eating. There’s an ocean of fascinating things to learn. Dive in.
Read to understand human nature
People are fascinatingly complex.
All the best novels are true in the sense that they faithfully represent what humans are really like. Novelists able to do that connect to their readers when they’ve accurately portrayed, in an artistic way, the human condition.
It’s possible to learn as much from a great piece of literature as from a psychology textbook.
Reading fiction can make you a better human.
What an enjoyable way to learn.
Believe that you deserve fun
You might have to confront a fundamental assumption about yourself.
What’s keeping you from reading? Are you waiting till all your work is done? Do you believe that you are not worthy of rest? That you can’t rest until everything is done?
You are worthy even if your work isn’t finished. When the clock says time is up to stop working, stop. Even if the work isn’t done.
You deserve a break. You deserve some fun. If reading is your decompressing strategy, then read. Put it on the schedule. Make it part of your to-do list. Then you’ll get something accomplished when you check it off.
Choose to be grateful
What’s making your life so busy? Is it your job? Or the kids? Keeping up with housework?
Maybe health challenges that you or someone in your family has. No matter what your challenges at work or home, you can choose to be grateful for the income or the blessing of a family.
No need to feel sorry for yourself. So you can’t travel. Travel through story instead. Can’t go back to school? Orchestrate your own education.
Perspective is important. Do you remember when you wanted what you have now?
In the midst of your busy, can you still be thankful for the relationships with friends and family that need you to care for them?
Maybe the next season of your life will be a little calmer, maybe more discretionary time. Can you choose to be happy where you are right now? Right in the midst of the crazy?
Can you squeeze in small amounts of time to read? Can you be happy with little bits here and there?
Or, if you have more flexibility and freedom now than earlier in life can you be thankful for the opportunity you have to pursue more of your hobbies and interests? Be grateful for the gift. Maybe the next season will be crazy again.
A habit of gratitude and thankfulness will color everything.
Be intentional about your 168 hours a week
I’m indebted to Laura Vanderkam for helping me think about life a week at a time. Everyone knows there’s 24 hours in day. How often do you think about the fact that there’s 168 hours in a week? Stop and think about it sometime.
You’re left with 58 hours of discretionary time when you subtract 40 hours of work and 56 hours of sleep and maintaining your life.
I’ve been guilty of thinking about weekend hours differently than weekday, and not being as intentional about how I use them. Just like minutes in the morning feel more precious than minutes at the end of the day, hours during the week feel more rushed, more crammed, weekend hours can be easier to waste.
Even with a job and all the responsibilities at home, you still have control over what you do while you’re waiting, your lunch hour and other cracks of time in your schedule.
A TV or Netflix binge once or twice a week doesn’t feel like much. You need the down time after wrangling all day. You need to chill and veg and just stop adulting for awhile. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But, if you’re honest with yourself, how much of your time is slipping away? What if you cut that in half and invested in reading books instead?
It doesn’t need to be a lot of time.
How much do you actually need? Would you believe six minutes? Six minutes is enough to make a difference.
I think most people could find six minutes in their day. If not, maybe you need to call in reinforcements for help.
You can be intentional about your life. You can start a reading habit for stress relief. You can read for fun.
Why read books?
In general, they’re better than internet articles and magazines.
It’s not completely true across the board, but a print book published by a traditional publisher is going to have a higher standards. More collaboration, for instance, with agents and editors and more people vetting the book.
Often there’s more thought put into the basic premise or thesis of the book. There’s more development of ideas and there’s more external validation for the work.
Magazine articles and blog posts can be impulsive rants or off the wall ideas. Of course, books can be that way, too, but they’re less likely to be.
Books are more likely to be enduring.
As a general rule, books are going to be higher quality reading.
They are also longer.
Why does that matter?
Because we are losing our powers of focus and concentration. We have underdeveloped critical thinking skills.
This is a problem.
But it’s a fixable problem.
With some intentionality, we can reclaim lost ground.
We can improve our reading life and reap the benefits of reading better. One way to do it is to read longer works.
Extend grace to yourself if you stay up late reading
Staying up past bedtime to read one more chapter is a sure sign of an unputdownable book. Yes, you’re an adult. Yes, you have responsibilities in the morning. But it might just mean that you need reading time more than sleep.
Obviously, this can be carried to an extreme that will hurt your job reviews or jeopardize your kids’ safety if you’re too tired to care for them or put other commuters in danger if you’r too tired to drive. But, in moderation, putting in a late night reading every once in awhile could be the difference between sanity and going crazy.
If coffee isn’t a problem, up the caffeine intake to get you through the day and revel in the joys of reading. Maybe you needed to cry.
Maybe you needed to walk in someone’s else’s shoes for a few hours to realize how much you have to be grateful for.
Enjoy the search for buried treasure
You’ll have less frustration in your reading life if you put in the time and effort to find the best books.
There’s nothing like the disappointment of being halfway through a book and finding out that it’s not for you.
Of course, you’re never going to bat 1000, but too many strikes is discouraging. It might tempt you to throw in the towel.
Books about Books
There are actually books about books. Who knew? It’s a good place to start.
Book Girl by Sarah Clarkson, Honey for the Woman’s Heart by Gladys Hunt and How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler not only have book lists but great insights into the reading life.
When I look back on my high school education, I have so much to be thankful for. At the top of the list is the requirement to journal 3 pages a day and my English teacher’s book list.
I kid you not that I referred to that list for decades afterwards, because I have trouble throwing things away and keep random stuff and because there were lots of times in my post education years that I was craving some good book recommendations.
Find someone you trust for book recs
Having a stack of books that you’re looking forward to is key to a satisfying reading life.
Building that stack isn’t as easy as it sounds.
If you’re having trouble finding books you love, look for a book whisperer whose tastes are similar to yours. Someone trustworthy.
You Tube is a good place to look. There are a lot of book tubers there.
Instagram is another good place. Check out the #bookstagram hashtag. Or find authors or book bloggers you like and follow them there.
So when you find someone, hold on with both hands.
And don’t be too disappointed with the ones who let you down. It’s an ongoing process, finding a voice to trust.
You get to pick and you get to quit
You’re an adult and you get to choose!
You’re not in school any more. You can follow your heart’s desire. No one’s making you read. No one’s choosing for you. Go for it.
You can also quit reading books you’re not enjoying. There’s no gun to your head. Move on to a better fit for you.
Get on the same page as your roommates
The people you live with and are related to matter.
Do everything you can to align your lives. What time does the light go out in the bedroom at night? Do you need a reading light?
What time does the light go on in the mornings? Do you need a den, office, porch or guest room to go to for some quiet reading time? How can you fit your reading times into the rhythms of the people you live with? Always butting heads on this issue will just cause frustration.
Revisit what you liked growing up
Do you remember the favorite books of your growing years? What are the grown up versions of those books? Or what are the books themselves? You might still love them.
I have great memories of reading as a kid, long summer days reading lots of books. Little Women. Anne of Green Gables. Christy. I cried when Charlotte died in Charlotte’s Web. Spoiler alert. The spider dies.
Give yourself permission to read kids’ books
Or middle grade or young adult books. Even with no kids around. Lots of adults are doing it. You’re in good company.
Or you could enjoy them again with the kids in your life right now.
You’ll see them through new eyes because you have changed. Maybe they won’t appeal in the same way now, or you might find that you appreciate them at new level.
Consider your emotional needs
A little understood dynamic when reading as adults is the emotional interaction with our reading.
I think this is an underestimated factor in choosing what we read.
Maybe anxiety, worry or negative thinking is weighing us down. Maybe we need an escape from our current reality. Maybe we need a glimpse of heaven, a happy ending. Life is just unfair sometimes. We need the reminder that justice will prevail ultimately, even if we don’t see it in our lifetime.
If we deal with frozen grief, reading a novel that makes us cry gives us an emotional release that we’re not experiencing in everyday life.
This is why bibiliotherapy is growing in popularity. This is one of the benefits of self-directed bibliotherapy.
Realize when you’re too stressed for heavy reading
It helps to realize when you’re too stressed for heavy reading. Skip the complicated novels with thousands of characters, intricate plots and constant time jumping. Try middle grade novels or easy breezy reads instead.
You can also match your reading to your mood or setting. If you’re reading to learn, early morning is often a good time to do it. If you’re reading to escape, consider afternoon or evening.
Stay in the middle of several books at once
If you have several books going at once, it’s easier to match your mood and situation to the book that you’re reading.
It’s often helpful to have one non-fiction and one fiction going at a time.
If you’re trying to learn something or solve a problem, reading in the morning is better to study new ideas, grasp new concepts and remember new information.
If you’re looking to escape and relax, getting lost in a story, afternoon or evening is a good time for fiction. The pressure of the day is past and you need a break from your work. Your ability to focus and concentrate will be less later in the day. That’s the best time for easy reading that requires no brain power.
Consider your relationships
Even though reading appears to be a solitary hobby, and can be used to keep the world at bay, paradoxically, reading can help your social life.
For one thing, it will make you a more interesting conversationalist, a more interesting person, because you’re learning and growing because of what you’re reading.
Reading can also be bonding when you read aloud with people you love. Sharing the joy of discovery and having shared memories bonds you to your loved ones.
Reading books together can enhance your friendships as well. Suggest books you love to a friend. Read them at the same time or swap your favorites. Find the places where your tastes overlap. Even when your recommendations don’t “land”, you’ll learn more about your friends’ reading tastes.
Find a bookish kindred spirit if you’re bursting to talk about a good read
Sometimes you need to share a reading experience with someone else. There’s something you read that stirs up emotions or confusion or an earthquake effect to your basic assumptions and beliefs.
You need to talk it out with someone. What do you do?
Your IRL friends and family might work. Or you might have to go further afield to find bookish kindred spirits.
Google the name of the book that sent you into a tizzy. There’s probably someone else out there who had a strong reaction to the same book. Find out who online is talking about. Did it have the same effect on them? What did they think? Maybe you could jump into the conversation. Add a comment, send an email. Make a connection with another book lover.
Get creative about where and when
I’ve been known to take books to basketball games when I was desperate to get some reading time in.
I always read while nursing my babies. As a young mom, there was always so much to do, it was a relief to sit down and nurse the baby. If it was quiet enough I almost always read while I was nursing.
During those same years I remember going to get my hair cut and praying that I’d have to sit and wait my turn so I could have a little respite and read a book.
I realize I was driven by a need to read. If you aren’t, you won’t go to the extremes to make it happen.
Comfort is key
Creating a reading environment is important. The key ingredient is comfort. Control the temperature as much as possible. Good lighting is important if you’re reading a print book. Make your favorite drink. Grab a snack. Surround yourself with beauty. Arrange comfortable seating.
On the other hand, don’t procrastinate your reading time getting ready. If you only have 10 minutes of peace and quiet, skip the snack and cleaning up your reading nook. Grab your 10 minutes and get on with your day.
Make a reading date with yourself
If you’re the type of person who schedules every hour, make a reading date with yourself.
If you need to, get a babysitter and go to the coffee shop. Does that feel a little excessive? How much does a therapist cost? Self-directed bibliotherapy can be a lot less expensive.
Another option is to block out time when your spouse is out with the guys or out with the girls. Run a bubble bath or light a candle and put on some instrumental music to set the mood. Get stocked up on your favorite hot drink (or cold drink if weather demands it).
Put a little thought and planning into it.
And prepare yourself for the possibility that something will ruin the plan. You set the mood and then fall asleep. Someone needs you to bail them out in an emergency. Your day turns upside down and you’re cleaning up dog vomit instead of relaxing on the couch.
Take a deep breath. Tomorrow is a new day. You have another weekend coming up in six days. Stay the course.