I don’t have time to read

I love reading. I love reading about new ideas, new stories and then connect this to my life. I also like the process of finding the next book to read. Even if Amazon or GetAbstract are very helpful, nothing compares with a recommendation that comes from a passionate discussion with my friends. Lately, to my great despair, instead of hearing about great books I get more and more the same complaint: “A book??? Ufff… It’s been so long since I’ve read the last book. I’m so frustrated with this… You still have time for reading? You are so lucky… How do you do this?”

I was looking at “the thing” I have that seems to work for me. This is not a grand plan that I put in practice. It’s more like a set of choices I have gradually made driven by the fact that my time for reading was less and less everyday while reading remains a very important thing to me and I do not want to give it up. So, here is what I did.

I remember I was looking at a 900 pages book I wanted to read but one month has passed and I was only 30 pages into it. When will I have the time to read it? I was so angry about my new lifestyle and about the things I felt I was forced to give up. Then I remember a saying: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” That’s the key! That was the moment when I realized that I do not need to find the 40 hours I need to read the book (such a time span can never fit into my schedule). Instead, I need to find the 30 minutes each day that will be reserved (no matter what) for this important activity.

You may think that 30 minutes is too small to make a difference. The trick is that if you take this time every day, this will translate into about 180 hours per year only for reading. That’s probably 15 books of 300 pages each. Have you ever had the feeling that one year has passed and you haven’t had the time to read a book? What I am proposing here will easily bring you to 15 books mark. Now you see the difference?

So, we’ve realized that we could do a lot with only 30 minutes per day. Now, how do we get this time from our busy life? The second trick (and the last one, I promise) I have applied was to group my readings into 3 buckets and find the best time for each bucket. Confused? Here is what I mean.

My first bucket is heavy reading – the technical reading. This includes books on programming languages (C++, ObjectiveC, Java, JavaScript, Python or Ruby is what I am interested in), software design (both application design and distributed systems one), algorithms… you get the picture. What I have discovered about this type of reading is that you must do it with the computer in front of you. You cannot just read these books. I find the need to immediately try out with a simple program the ideas sold in the chapter I read. This is also the kind of reading that requires your brain’s full attention. It cannot be done after 10 hours of work. So, I made a habit to spend 1 hour per day each morning reading tech books in front of my computer. How did I get that extra hour? Simple: I wake up 1 hour earlier. Neeeeeext!

OK! My next bucket is the easy reading. The reading that does not require full attention from my brain, thus, it can be combined with other light activities. Best examples here are personal development books (e.g. How To Win Friends and Influence People, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People etc). I usually read these books during my gym session where I am usually running for about 30-40 minutes on an elliptical machine. How to read books and run? Simple: I use the audiobook version. Most of the books now come up also as audiobooks and that makes them perfect to mix with a good run. Not to mention that they really help me with the running part: when I do not feel like exercising, I remind myself that I want to continue reading that book and that’s the only time I have for this. So, I go to the gym. Neeeeext!

My last bucket is the serious reading (not light, not heavy… somewhere in the middle). It does not require me being in front of the computer but I cannot combine it with other activities either. I also want to have the ability to go back a few pages and re-read stuff if I feel that things are not clear yet. In this bucket I usually have project management books, people management ones or market/technology articles I get from my RSS feeds. This is (believe it or not) my reading before sleeping. For this I have my Kindle which allows me to get easy access to any book in a matter of seconds and (more important) it has the best screen technology suited for before-sleeping reading (no bright-light/full-color screen of laptops or tablets which will mess-up your sleep). This way, I am advancing with this type of reading every day while I am “preparing” for a healthier sleep.

Your buckets may be different. My advice is to identify small slices in your schedule (30 min or so) that you can put aside for reading. Put aside time may mean take it back (e.g. less sleeping, move your TV out of your bedroom) or overlap with existing activities (e.g. gym, daily subway etc). Then match your reading buckets with these time slices. And most important: make sure that once you gained this time for reading, you do not give it back!

P.S. Remember the 900 pages book? It was Understanding the Linux Kernel which, being a technical book, I put it in my first bucket. Every day, 1 hour in the morning was assigned for this book. I was able to process about 20 pages per day (every day) counting also the time for small exercises. 2 months later, the book was finished.

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