I came across a study a while back that freaked the crap out of me. According to the Pew Research Center, the average American reads 12 books per year. However, the median number is much low, sitting at a meager 4, and me even lower than that. In fact, up till that point in my life, I was finishing about 1–2 books per year (and that included my time in high school and college… unless you count CliffsNotes, then it would be a bit higher, but not by much).
The thing that scared me wasn’t that I was so far below the average—it was coming to grips with the number of books I would read in my lifetime if I maintained my snail’s pace.
According to this random website with a shady black background, the life expectancy for the average American is just under 79 years old. That means the average American reads 732 books in adulthood.
I was 31 when I came across all of this, so for me, I was on pace to read 72 more books in my life. Even if I got a bit more serious and got up to the average, I would only have 576 books left… both were discouraging thoughts.
Do you know how many books I have on my Amazon wish list?! Honestly, I think about 5,000.
I had always wanted to read more. I wanted to be “well-read,” but my actions definitely didn’t map to that desire. I knew right then and there that I needed to make some priority changes — 576 more books wasn’t going to cut it, let alone 72! So, I decided things needed to change if I wanted to be able to read all 5,000 book on my Amazon wish list.
Here are four things I did that helped me find more time to read and ultimately change my life:
According to one study, the average person spends nearly two hours per day on a social media platform… crazy! Although, I had never tracked it, but I am sure I was fairly close to that number.
Of course it was never two hours straight. It’s 5 minutes here, 15 there, maybe 30 minutes of YouTube at some point, and another few minutes before bed. But, it all adds up.
Sure, I love seeing what my friends are up and I want to feel more connected to them, but mindlessly scrolling through pictures and ads never made me feel more connected.
I decided I needed to be more intentional with my social media use and began checking Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc. just once a day for a few minutes (I will write another article on that experience).
When I stopped checking social media so much, I was left with two things: more time and a constant urge to check what was happening on Instagram. It was like a tick. I found myself still getting my phone out whenever I was bored tempted to click on that rainbow colored icon.
I decided I should use that urge to my advantage. I moved my Kindle app to where my Instagram app used to be. From then on, every time I was bored and instinctively got out my phone, I used that time to read, even if it was for a couple minutes.
In making this simple change alone, I was able to start reading one book a week. I didn’t change any other behavior. I didn’t start setting time aside for reading. All I did was substitute about 90 percent of the time I used to spend on social media for reading.
“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” ― Dr. Seuss
After about a month of the Instagram hack, I had been thoroughly bitten by the reading bug. It wasn’t just a thing I did to fill up those spaces of boredom. I found myself frequently waiting for the next free moment I had so I could pick back up the book I was reading. I had upped my reading pace from 1–2 books per year to about 50 books per year.
I still needed to pick things up if I wanted to get to the pace that would allow me to read everything on my Amazon wish list.
I had to find more time or something I could cut back on to create more time and space in my day.
According to a Nielsen report, the average American watches about 5 hours of TV a day. Five hours!!! It varies a bit by age, and the bracket I was in averaged about 4 hours per day. I don’t think I watched that much TV, but it probably averaged out to be 2–3 hours per day, depending on the day.
So there was the thing I could cut back on, staring me right in the face… actually, I guess I was the one staring at it. TV!
My wife and I decided to stop watching TV during the week and only watch on the weekends. The amount of time I gained with that change was crazy! We didn’t use all that extra time to read though. I decided maybe throwing in some exercise in my schedule would help me live longer… and give me a few more year of life to read 🙂
“You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy books and that’s kind of the same thing.” — Anonymous
My pace increased. I was reading about 7 books per month, still a little shy of my goal.
I noticed my appetite for books was continuing to grow.
What could I do next?
I came across a quote that helped me with that question.
“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” ― Lemony Snicket
On some level, I was already doing this by having the Kindle app on my phone, but I decided I would take it one step further and started carrying an actual book around with me as often as I could.
This action didn’t necessarily help me read more, but I have always preferred physical books to eBooks. eBooks helped me create a reading habit, but now it was fun to actually hold the physical copies in my hands, and apparently, there are some studies out there that say reading physical copies of books is actually better… who knows?
“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” — P.J. O’Rourke
At the pace I was at, I would be able to finish about 85 books in a year. I was shooting for 100.
What else could I do?
Ryan Holiday, one of my favorite authors, is a huge reader. He was in many ways my inspiration to read more. Anyway, I came across a blog post he wrote about how he reads so much and something he said really struck a chord with me.
“Look, where do you get the time to eat three meals a day? How do you have time to do all that sleeping? How do you manage to spend all those hours with your kids or wife or a girlfriend or boyfriend?
“You don’t get that time anywhere, do you? You just make it because it’s really important. It’s a non-negotiable part of your life.” — Ryan Holiday
I decided to take his advice and prioritize reading in my life just like I do eating. I started waking up at 4am and exercising to free up more time in the evenings to read. I made sure that the activities in my life would allow for this type of schedule, so I could still get 7 hours of sleep and read more.
The benefits I have experienced by waking up earlier have been further reaching than just having more time to read (but, I’ll save the details on that for another time). By prioritizing reading in my life, just like I do the other important things (because it is an important thing), I was able to reach my goal pace of 100 books per year.
Wahoo! Amazon wish list, I’m coming for you!
I have always loved books, but reading this much has changed my life. I have been able to see life from different perspectives. I have gained an appreciation for people and cultures I previously knew little about. I have been able to surround myself with the beauty and art painted by the power of words.
What changes will you make so you can read more?
“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” ― George R.R. Martin
If anyone has any other tips or tricks, aside from speed reading (I am a crazy slow reader and that will never work), please share them with me!
Originally published at journal.thriveglobal.com