Thursday, May 1, 2008

When to read?

In response to one of my book listings, a member asked me, "you're a busy guy-- when do you find time to read all that you do?"

Fair question, and one that I've had to be creative in answering over the years. Here are some thoughts for folks who want to find more time to read, and/or read more effectively:

  • Take it with you. I rarely leave my home or office without SOMETHING to read-- a book, a journal or magazine, or at least my phone! (I make heavy use of RSS feeds, and my feed-reader syncs with a website that makes it easy for me to read RSS feeds from my iPhone.) If I'm going to be somewhere that there is even the potential for a wait-- restaurant, doctor's appointment, picking up the kids from school, etc.-- I will use that time to read, if I can. BUT not (usually) to the neglect of social interaction with others I'm with.

  • Place your reading in strategic places. I leave books and magazines around the house where I know I'll be when I might have a few minutes to read. I've usually got a stack by the chair where I usually sit in our living room and on my nightstand. (Yes, I also keep some reading in the bathroom.) And I keep something on my desk to grab when I have a minute or two at work.

  • Learn to read multiples. I usually keep three or four books going at once. One of them typically emerges as the "go-to" book of choice, but for some reason I've found that my reading pace slows if I'm only reading one book. If you can train your mind to follow more than one book at once, you'll get a lot more reading done, in my experience.

  • Learn to read efficiently. Not every book is one that I feel compelled to read every single word of. A professor in seminary suggested that, to read more efficiently, a good examination of the table of contents and/or index might suggest some emphases, and you may be able to determine that there are sections (even chapters) that you can skip without missing too much. Another technique: Read the first and last sentence of each paragraph, and thereby determine if the whole paragraph is important to read. (One would hope that this method wouldn't be necessary, because every word should be important, right? But in our day, editing is done with a light hand, if it's done at all, and books are often repetitive.) Two notes here: first, this doesn't work for fiction books! Second, I don't employ this method for most of the books I read, and you may find that, like me, you prefer to read more slowly and absorb a book, rather than skimming it quickly.

  • Know when to stop. Here's a freeing concept: you don't HAVE to finish every book you start! If you find that a book just isn't offering you much, or you think that you've probably gotten the gist of it, feel free to put it down-- for now, or for good. Not all of every book was written for you; some books aren't really suited for you at all, while others will have sections that just don't apply. Discerning when these are true can free you to use your valuable reading time more effectively.

  • Make time to read. This one seems obvious, but most of us have a dozen things that we would do with endless amounts of time that get neglected in day-to-day life. Just like everything else, if reading isn't a priority to you, you won't "find the time" to do it. It helps me to know that, several nights a week, I will read at night before going to sleep. Often, I sacrifice a few minutes of sleep to read a few more pages.

  • Read quickly. Some people have found that taking a speed-reading class is very helpful. Others (like me) just process words rapidly. If Marcie and I are both reading the same article, I usually finish it when she is about two-thirds of the way through it. I don't know why, but I just read fast. If there's a way to develop this, you might benefit from finding it.

Another important thing to keep in mind: part of my job is to read. I'm currently preparing one sermon, plus lessons for two other teaching times-- each week. As a result, I do a lot of study, and a big part of my study is reading. If your job doesn't call on you to read, then it isn't fair to compare your reading habits to mine. There are a lot of people that read much more than I do; it is said that Theodore Roosevelt read a book a day, even while in the White House. A friend of mine reads about 100 books a year-- which is probably twice what I read. I don't find it helpful to compare my accomplishments in reading to others, but simply to read as much as I am able.

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