5 steps to be a better reader (and read better books)
Ministry leaders are often pressed for time, but we must make time to read. The reward is worth the work.
One of the questions I frequently hear asked of those who read a lot is how they “find time” to read. We’ll deal with the fallacy of “finding time” soon, but making the time to read is not as difficult as you would think. It is simply a question of making reading a priority and taking advantage of natural breaks in your schedule.
Here are five tactics that might help you read more efficiently.
1. Prioritize your reading
Let’s dispense with one of the most foolish phrases in the English language to get this started. We should stop using the phrase, “I’ve got to find time to.” We all have twenty-four hours and our lives have become increasingly busy over the last two decades. Then throw in longer commute times and the number of distractions waiting at our fingertips and you quickly realize that “finding time” to sit and read will be nearly impossible.
Since you cannot find the time, what do you need to do? You must make time for it. I ran into this personally with my exercise routine a few years ago. In the early years of our church plant, I took my gym bag with me in the morning and went to the gym during a break in my day. As our church grew and matured, I had a lot less hour-long breaks in the middle of my day and I didn’t want to be working out after work when I could be playing with my kids before dinner. My workout routine suffered for a long time before a friend and I started working out together before breakfast. I couldn’t “find” the time to do it, so a friend helped me make the time for it. In the same way, if you see the importance of regular reading, make the time for it. The discipline will pay off.
2. Establish a regular reading routine
We tend to make the most progress on our goals when we have a normal rhythm of doing things we find important. You will find it difficult to read a lot when you only do it in sporadic bursts. Instead, work towards implementing a regular pattern of reading in your day.
One possible rhythm is to do your more demanding reading in the morning and light reading at night. For example, you could get up a little bit earlier and read a good book for a few minutes after your devotional time. You are already in a reading and thinking frame of mind, so this would be a natural time to give yourself to reading. Then, in the evening you could read a novel before you go to bed. The blue light coming from your television screen or phone tends to make your body think it is daytime and messes with your sleep. Cut off the screens about half an hour before bed and read a good novel. You’ll redeem the last few minutes of your day and sleep better too.
3. Take advantage of small breaks in your day
Never leave the house without a book in your hand. You never know what your day may throw at you, so you could wind up in a waiting room for close to an hour or waiting for someone who is running 15 minutes late. Instead of taking a quick scroll through social media, use the time to make progress on a good book. These 10 and 15 minute blocks throughout the week can really add up.
This is one of the major benefits or reading on a Kindle or iPad. You can have your entire library at your fingertips. I am still partial to physical books because I do not read as well on a screen. However, if you can read well on a screen, this is a great option for you to get in some serious reading during your breaks.
4. Put down your phone
I heard someone say recently that if you printed out your social media feeds and bound them in a book, you would not read them. The constant distraction offered by social media makes reading difficult. When you are reading, you give yourself to sustained concentration and the payoff on reading does not feel immediate in the same way that opening Facebook and seeing a red notification does.
To free up more time to read, put an app on your phone like Freedom that blocks apps for a set period of time. Pick up your book, start a Freedom session, and enjoy the beauty of reading. When you finish an hour of reading, you will be better informed and enjoy a greater sense of satisfaction than you ever would after an hour of watching YouTube videos.
5. Listen to audiobooks
If you have a long commute, audiobooks are a great option for getting a lot of “reading” done. When you listen mainly to sports or political talk radio, you can’t really remember most of what you heard during the week. However, if you spend that time listening to an audiobook, you’ll remember a lot more of what you heard and you’ll find it to be infinitely more enlightening and entertaining.
The kinds of audiobooks you listen to will depend on how you read a physical book. When I read books on theology, biblical studies, or the Christian life, I do a lot of underlining and put those underlines in my commonplace book. (This is how I develop my best quotes posts.) Since this is my practice, I usually listen to novels or biographies. I have a membership through Audible that gives me one credit a month and this allows me to get what would usually be expensive books for less than $15.
Right now I am listening to David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, but my favorite audiobooks so far have been The Great Gatsby (read by Jake Gyllenhaal), The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (read by Nick Offerman), Of Mice and Men (read by Gary Sinise), and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent book on Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, The Bully Pulpit (read by Edward Herrmann).
Worth the work
Making more time to read will give you a greater understanding of the Bible and the world around you and will give you a lot more to talk about with the people you encounter every day. Take a few of these suggestions and implement them. The reward will be worth the work.