13 Tips for Getting More Reading Done

Of my hundreds of happiness-project resolutions, and of the habits I’ve tried to form, one of my very favorites is to Read more.

Reading is an essential part of my work. It forms an important part to my social life. And far more important, reading is my favorite thing to do, by a long shot. I’m not a well-rounded person.

But reading takes time, and there aren’t many days when I can read as much as I’d like. Here are some habits that I’ve adopted to help me get more good reading done.

1. Quit reading.

I used to pride myself on finishing every book I started. No more. Life is short. There are too many wonderful books to read.

2. Read books you enjoy.

When I’m reading a book I love—for example, I’m now reading Charles Portis’s True Grit — I’m astonished by how much time I find to read. Which is another reason to stop reading a book I don’t enjoy.

3. Watch recorded TV.

It’s much more efficient to watch recorded shows, because you skip the commercials and control when you watch. Then you have more time to read.

4. Skim.

Especially when reading newspapers and magazines, often I get as much from skimming as I do by a leisurely reading. I have to remind myself to skim, but when I do, I get through material much faster.

5. Get calm.

I have a sticky note posted in our bedroom that says, “Quiet mind.” It’s sometimes hard for me to settle down with a book; I keep wanting to jump up and take care of some nagging task. But that’s no way to read. Incidentally, one of the main reasons I exercise is to help me sit still for reading and writing — if I don’t exercise, I’m too jumpy.

6. Don’t fight my inclinations.

Sometimes I feel like I should be reading one book when I actually feel like reading something entirely different. Now I let myself read what I want, because otherwise I end up reading much less.

7. Always have something to read.

Never go anywhere empty-handed. I almost always read actual ye olde print books, but I travel with e-books, too, so I know I’ll never be caught without something to read. It’s a great comfort.

8. Maintain a big stack.

I find that I read much more when I have a pile waiting for me. Right now, I have to admit, my stack is so big that it’s a bit alarming, but I’ll get it down to a more reasonable size before too long.

9. Choose my own books.

Books make wonderful gifts – both to receive and to give – but I try not to let myself feel pressured to read a book just because someone has given it to me. I always give a gift book a try, but I no longer keep reading if I don’t want to.

10. Set aside time to read taxing books.

For Better Than Before, my book about habit-formation, I tried a new reading habit, “Study.” Every weekend, I spend time in “study” reading — which covers books that I find fascinating, but that are demanding, and that I might put down and neglect to pick up again. The kind of book that I really do want to read, but somehow keep putting off for months, even years. Right now, my Study book is E. H. Gombrich’s Art and Illusion: a Study in the Psychology of Pictorial Representation.

And finally, three more tips from great writers and readers:

11. Randall Jarrell: “Read at whim! Read at whim!

12. Henry David Thoreau: “Read the best books first, otherwise you’ll find you do not have time.

13. Samuel Johnson: “What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.”

Maybe you don’t love to read, so finding more time to read isn’t a challenge for you. The larger point is to make sure you’re finding time to do whatever it is that you find fun. Having fun is important to having a happy life, yet it’s all too easy for fun to get pushed aside by other priorities. I have to be careful to make time for reading, or, even though I love to read, I might neglect it.

Also, having fun makes it easy to follow good habits; when we give more to ourselves, we can ask more of ourselves. If reading is a treat for you, it’s a good idea to make time for it. I discuss this further in Better Than Before.

If this list appeals to you, check out Daniel Pennac’s The 10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader.

Have you found any good strategies to find more time to read – or to do whatever it is you find fun?

  • Deb Anderson Weaver

    Gretchen, how do you manage your online reading? I have several blogs sent to me by email and struggle to find time. I prefer to read on paper so sometimes I print articles, but there is so many things that look good to read.

    • gretchenrubin

      I find that tough, too, because I so prefer reading printed materials. I work it in somehow.

    • I create bookmarks on my browser toolbar. That seems to help (and draws my eyes away from those distracting and non-useful top 10 lists sites). I believe it is the strategy of Availability…but let me know if I’m making that up, Gretchen!

  • Kate @ Savour Fare

    I do love to read, but I’m also busy. I find my reading waxes and wanes, but I work in the television industry, and my coworkers all give me the side eye when I tell them I don’t watch TV. “What do you DO?” they say. And I tell them I read in the evenings. When I’m watching an absorbing TV show, though, I do read less, but I ALWAYS read at bedtime, without fail.

    I also have a long commute and listen to audiobooks in the car. If I have a somewhat challenging book I’d like to read, I find that listening to it in audiobook gets me more absorbed – I’m not tempted to skip ahead, and the alternative to listening is driving without a book, so I’m less likely to put it down! I also find it’s better to listen to slower-paced books in the car, since I like to turn it on and off when I finish my drive, instead of driving around the block several times to finish a particularly thrilling segment. I find this is a good strategy for finishing some of the more challenging books on my list, which I do enjoy reading.

    • Mimi Gregor

      I find it telling that people will ask “What do you DO?” when they find out you don’t watch TV. People are always saying that they don’t “have time” to do things, but they always seem to know what’s happening on all the popular shows. I would tell them that I am doing all those things that others say they “don’t have time” to do: read, exercise, meditate, clean, actually cook a meal from scratch…. There is SO much to do when one releases oneself from the addiction of constant TV watching.

  • Karen

    I would add “Schedule time at the library and/or a great bookstore”. I just had the chance to visit Powell’s in Portland, OR, and just walking into a place with SO MANY wonderful books made me feel happy. The same thing happens in a great library. Both are a great opportunity to put together that big stack!

    • gretchenrubin

      I so agree. I’m so lucky because I have an open-stack library and a bookstore within two blocks of my apartment.

  • The best thing I have done is given up on having massive blocks of time to read. Instead, I’ve admitted that what I DO have is massive blocks of time to listen. So, about 80% of the books I read are now actually audiobooks. These rules still apply, however. A book I’m enjoying is devoured quickly. A book I’m not enjoying takes forever to listen to! Great list.

  • Kathi

    I used to finish every book – now, like you, if it does not engage me within a certain time I put it aside – there are too many great books out there to waste time on one you do not enjoy. I find the Kindle app on my phone so convenient – I always have a book with me if I must wait for an appointment etc.

  • Theresa Krause

    I think I read this in a Carlos Castenada book– it’s best to read at home/ inside so you can really focus on what you are reading (without the distraction of the outside world). Occasionally I’ll read personal finance books on the bus, but even those I prefer to read at home.

    I also like to read many books at a time (love to reread books over and over again also). Some I need to read a chapter at a time or maybe a few chapters at a time (I don’t read fiction). Example: “I AM THAT”, I read, I dog-ear the pages w/ quotes that mean something to me, then I go back to those and then keep reading. Love seeing similar truths in so many books, which is the nice thing about reading several at once. And yes, books, not kindle. I don’t even like reading online much, it’s hard for me to focus unless the info is chunked out.

  • Gillian

    I also love to read – as a child, it was my favourite activity. While working, I read only occasionally but since retiring I have returned to this wonderful pleasure via my local library. (One of the first books I borrowed was The Happiness Project). How I envy those of you with the ability to squeeze in some reading whenever you have the opportunity! My all-or-nothing personality doesn’t allow me to do that. Once I have started a book I enjoy, nothing else gets done until I’m finished. That takes a while. Firstly because I am a slow reader. Secondly, because most of the books I read are non-fiction (often about ecological/economic sustainability) and I have to return them to the library, I make copious notes – a slow process. I guess this would be what Gretchen calls study reading.

    I have currently put my reading on hold so that I can focus on other priorities but I have a very long list of books I want to read and am so looking forward to getting back to it. The last time I suffered through such a dry spell and returned to reading, I experienced a thrill of excitement when I opened the first book.

    All the great ideas in this post are about how to find more time to read. What I need to find is the discipline to put the book down so that I can attend to other priorities. If I could do that, I could have a book on the go all the time. I must say, I find the idea of having multiple books on the go at one time quite horrifying. I would spend all my time trying to decide which book to pick up and have no time to read any of them!

  • chacha1

    I have long since learned to “skim” not the book in my hand, but the TV. Husband and I both enjoy watching a variety of TV shows. What I’ve found is that very few of them require undivided attention. So I almost always read while watching TV.
    I pick up about 60% of the sense of what’s happening on-screen just by hearing it, which doesn’t interfere with my ability to comprehend what I’m reading. I assume this is a learned skill, but I’ve been doing it so long I don’t remember if there was a process. 🙂
    I also read on my lunch hours at work. I usually eat at my desk, and keep a more challenging book or two there – the type of thing that is difficult to sit down and plow straight through but that is engaging in small doses, such as nonfiction or classics.
    Finally, I almost always read before bed. We do not have a TV or computer in the bedroom. I lie down and read for a half-hour or so, and it’s a great way to quiet the mind and prepare for sleep.

  • Fantastic advice! I love this.

  • Ella

    I love audiobooks for this. I walk to work about half an hour each way and listen to a book. I so look forward to listening to my books. Even better? My library has an app on my phone where I can borrow audiobooks and listen for free. Technology can sometimes bring a huge happiness boost!

  • I justed started reading your “The Happiness Project” and I love it! Every page is an inspiration for me. While reading it I also noticed how much I missed spending some quality time with a book. Your post came right in time for me to start making it a habit again.
    xoxo, Ronja

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific – I’m so happy to hear that.

  • Christy King

    I keep a book next to the bathroom sink and read while I brush my teeth. Added benefit: actually get in that full 3 minutes of brushing.

    I also listen to audiobooks while driving, and keep a book with me at all times (used to have a small paperback, now I use the Kindle app on my phone).

  • PolarSamovar

    I am loving all the reader tips about audio books. I just started using them, and I’m hooked. I listen to them when I’m driving, cooking, and cleaning. They make kitchen cleaning time fly by.

    • gretchenrubin

      I have friends who say they can shop for groceries while listening to audio books! I wouldn’t be able to do that at all. But they love it.

  • PolarSamovar

    Reading changed for me thanks to the Strategy of Identity.

    I didn’t do anything differently. But I used to see my voracious reading as a bad habit – what I did instead of all the things I was supposed to do, like have a social life, exercise, do housework, volunteer.

    Then one year I decided that I was going to treat my reading like a serious, worthwhile activity instead of a juvenile escape from real life. I started recording/reviewing my reading on Goodreads, both for myself and to share my mental adventures with friends.

    And it’s wonderful. Now I talk books more with friends, I started a monthly book swap evening at my house. I respect and enjoy my identity as “a reader” and get so much joy out of it, instead of shame at my excessive book habit.

    I won’t say that I socialize, exercise, clean, or volunteer more than before, but I don’t do them any less, either.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great example.

    • Runwright

      Joining Goodreads has helped me keep track too

  • Mimi Gregor

    One of my favorite things is going to used book sales, stores, and garage sales. Some may call it “magical thinking”, but I feel that if there is a book out there that I need to read, whether it be to improve my life or to delight me, the Universe will see to it that I find it at such a venue. You’d be surprised at just how often I’ve found a life-changing book in this manner.

    One of the best things we’ve done to make time for a lot of our favorite activities is to cut the cord — we don’t have cable or satellite TV. We do have Netflix — both disc delivery and streaming — so that when there is a series or a movie that we actually want to watch, we watch it. There is no more “watching by default”. Yes, we’re always behind by a season, but the trade offs — more time, no commercials, seeing a season in one fell swoop — make it so much more enjoyable for us.

    As for newspapers, I’ve only skimmed them for a very long time, but for a different reason: I’ve found that the news depresses me. If one watches it on TV or listens to the radio, one has no control over what one hears. By skimming the paper, I can pick and choose what I want to “glom” and what I want to read in-depth. I may not be well-informed on some subjects, but I sure as hell am happier!

    Lastly, the more you read, the faster you get at reading, and the more you can read. I visualize what I’m reading, and that helps me not only to process what I’m reading when I am reading it, but to remember it later.

  • Jennifer Howell

    For the last several years I have made a reading goal of 20 new books a year. This is quite daunting, actually, as I’m a writing teacher and I also like to re-read (especially Jane Austen – a year never goes by when I don’t re-read at least one of her books). Still, having the goal is the first step for me. The second step is that I have started writing very short mini-reviews in a Facebook note about each book that I read, to keep track of my 20 books and to share with friends. This also makes the reading feel more worthwhile once it’s done. Those are my strategies, anyway. And I’m happy to report that your book was one of my 20 from last year! Oh – one more thing – one of my favorite ways to read is taking a book picnic – me, a picnic mat, a coffee and snack and some time in the park with a few books and a notebook. It’s a cheap and enjoyable way of getting outside and getting some reading done. It feels like I’m on vacation.

    • gretchenrubin


    • Claudia Tiefisher

      I love what you’ve written, Jennifer! I especially like the idea of a book picnic. Something I’ve often thought of doing but have never actually done. I think it’s because of my dog, who I always feel compelled to bring with me, and he doesn’t hold still long enough to allow me to enjoy even a page.

    • Juice

      I do book picnics too, just never called them that (but I will going forward – brilliant!). You can pull off a book picnic with a canine companion, just give her a long walk beforehand and a big bone for her picnic. My dog loved book picnics because she got the messy bones that I would never allow in the house. One of my happiest memories is a book picnic on the day the final Harry Potter was released.

  • Claudia Tiefisher

    So many great comments here! Gretchen, I was inspired after reading your list to construct a list: Tips for Getting More Piano / Organ Playing done. I started with your list as a template and then modified the focus of the points beyond the first few. I got 10 points listed which I think is great, as I have been so bored and aimless at the piano lately and I’m not happy about that at all! I have a gorgeous piano and lots of time currently as I don’t work during the summers, but the piano progress and even the enjoyment, is languishing badly. I like my list very much!

    I recently bought a stack of yellow legal pads from Staples, because I had the feeling they would inspire me to write (something I am very good at and have had success with, critically and commercially, but which is also languishing) and yesterday finally started writing out notes for a blog I plan to publish on my experiences with and the benefits of a low carb diet (this is thanks to you, Gretchen, for mentioning in one of your posts about having read Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise; I’ve now read Gary Taubes’s books and many others as well and am now a firm believer in the low carb way of eating).

    I also have a number of fiction book ideas (I’ve written one, though it isn’t very good and isn’t finished) which my legal pads will see the first notes on, maybe even today.

    • gretchenrubin


  • Michelle

    Thanks for the permission to “quit reading”. I feel so guilty not finishing a book. I will not let myself start a new one until I finish the one I’m working on. Needless to say it takes me months and months to finish a book and I just dread “reading time”. I will say two of the books I forced myself to read ended up being really good!

    I also skim newspapers, magazines and blogs.

    Great blog post today!

  • These are excellent tips. I have just “learned” to stop reading a book if I’m not enjoying it. I used to feel guilty about it especially if it was a book I’d requested for review consideration. I also don’t feel weird (anymore) about being in the process of reading more than one book at a time. If one book is better and I really get into then I breeze through it easily.

    You’ve covered everything, so I don’t think I have any other tips. I also keep my Kindle in my purse or bag just in case I find myself out with nothing to do with the urge to read.

    Great post. 🙂

  • Tina

    Gretchen – I love your idea of study reading. I have always wanted to “read the classics” but at times it’s such a slog to get through them. Study reading on the weekends might just be the ticket!
    As to the need of finishing every book, I stopped that years ago. I give a book 100 pages max and if it doesn’t draw me in then I stop and that’s OK. There are way too many good books out there waiting to be read for me to spend my time on ones that don’t interest me.

  • marie

    I have always been a voracious reader, so it’s not always about the volume of reading but the mental habits that go along with it. I have definitely learned to put down a book that is unsatisfying or irritating or simply hard to get through. I always have several in progress and flip between them if I am tired of one of them. Or I reread from my own collection. I looove reading of all genres. I also enjoy when my husband and I discover a new author or series. We’ll tag-team-read the books (sometimes stealing them from each other) and hash them over. I haven’t found a book group that works for me… yet.

    Now that I’m in grad school, I don’t get to read much for fun, but I have a ton of required reading to churn through. Even if it’s interesting reading, it’s dense with ideas which can make it slow going. Some strategies for getting through my readings: change locations to settle in to read, set a timer to keep myself focused for a period of time (fifteen minutes x1 or x3 seems to work well), take notes on lined sticky notes as I read and keep them in the pages, and in case of ready dense reading, I skim or read backwards from the end of a chapter (intro, conclusion, chunks by headings) to keep me from feeling bogged down. Whatever works!

  • Thanks for the tips. I love reading but I hardly get to finish one book in a month. Can you recommend some of the books that you enjoyed reading?

  • Thank you so much for the wonderful insight you shared. I absolutely LOVE reading, but feel like I don’t have enough time. Your first point, “Quit Reading” resonated deeply. You’re absolutely right. There really are so many wonderful books to give us our full attention. 🙂

  • My best strategy is utilizing treadmill time and driving time. I’ve got an adapter to use in the car for my Kindle that allows me to play it through the radio. Then I either play audiobooks or a computerized reading of the book. These two things alone add up to several hours a week.

  • Susan Harkema

    Oh reading…such a sticky subject for some. I have SUCH a hard time reading any fiction. It has to do with commitment and not wanting to “waste” time reading for fun. I know…sounds heinous. Especially since I have a PhD software programmer/linguistic husband who only reads fiction to give his mind something else to do from his workaday life.

    Also, I appreciate this list because, since I read really only non-fiction, I want to preserve so much of what I read and absorb so I am always looking for tips and techniques on how to maintain/contain what I learn.

    I use Evernote (web, desktop and mobile) to capture imagines, text, etc. and I also use the speech-to-text on my mobile devices to capture content I want to keep right into Evernote. Lastly, since I have a commitment issue with reading,

    I have compiled a system from reading others’ tips for previewing something (journal articles usually, but also online content). Here is is…hope it helps. Step one: Read the 1st and 2nd paragraph of the piece. Step two: Read the 1st sentence of the rest of the piece. Step three: Read the last 2 paragraphs of the piece. For many things, this gives me enough that if I look at diagrams and charts, I’ve got the salient points.

    Does anyone else have tips for getting more out of their reading OR how they capture the goodies they want to take away from their reading?

  • That is excellent advice Gretchen! I’ve always enjoyed reading and want to read more, so why does it feel like a chore?! Some of your tips are definitely going to help. Out with the books and magazines I could care less about. 🙂

  • Lisa Turner

    Love this post – so glad I came across it. I have a similar issue with reading and with painting and find that you just have to make time to do the things you like (I’ve recently blogged about my struggles with this). Agree with your comment that it’s much easier to find time to read when you’re reading something you really love. Thanks!

  • Liz

    I’ve set myself a goal to read all of my books (excluding study ones and non-fiction) by the end of next March – it works out at pretty much 1 a day (children’s books at several a day) and it’s forcing me to read different ones rather than just re-reading the same ones as usual. In some ways it’s hard work but equally I’m loving reading ones that I’ve not read for ages.
    Having previously been the sort of person who will read a book from cover to cover even if I’m not enjoying it yesterday I managed to give up on two books that I decided weren’t worth it! And I skimmed through part of George Orwell’s 1984 which I found tedious in places (and which will be going to a charity shop).

    • gretchenrubin

      Great idea.

      And I can’t resist making a plug for Orwell’s ESSAYS – I don’t love his fiction, but his essays are brilliant. Give that a try.

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  • Loved the advice!
    Specially the 1st one.
    But keeping a large stack of books to read… isn’t it stressful?
    Mine is currently 8 books-long. And I have a small-little-faint inside of me whenever I see it.

    Thanks! & take care

  • Runwright

    Awesome post. This is my first time on your blog but I read the Happiness Project a few years ago and loved it. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the reasons i started my first blog back then.
    I still have a note I created on my computer with tips I got from that book, which leads to Tip #14 for me… choose the book that FIRST grabs your attention in the store… There’s probably a reason it first caught your eye.
    Currently reading 100 Years of Solitude

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  • Mobius

    re: #10:

    A few years ago I decided I wanted to read Proust, so I settled in to read ‘Swan’s Way.’ Fifteen pages in, I realized I had made great plans for the weekend and solved a vexing relationship issue, but had absorbed absolutely nothing from the book. The sentence structure and language of Proust is just too complex for a breezy read, even a focused breezy read. I realized I had to read it like a poem, a short poem, in very short chunks. So I decided I would read two pages a day and only two. I didn’t have the pressure of settling in to read THE WHOLE BOOK, I only had to read a page, and then the back of it. Doing it that way, it was very easy to do a close reading and really absorb it. It was like a daily meditation. And about six months later, I had finished one of – if not the best – reading experience of my life.

  • DianeD

    i just found out about your books a few days ago and have been reading your blog & tips since. thanks for the good advice.

    in terms of book reading (which i love but can be a chore – can’t read at home but can in the laundromat), i have two things to note for different types of readers.

    i don’t have the option to record tv shows, but i mute every commercial that comes on because they are annoyingly loud and either sell cars, beauty products or medicine i don’t want or need. so i’ve taken up the habit to read a magazine during commercials. it’s light reading but informative.

    and for those of us that feel overwhelmed by stacks of things, like books, i need to have a small do-able stack with the rest of my books out of site but in a convenient place. otherwise i won’t read because i can’t decide which book to grab.

    • DianeD

      i have also tried to rely on getting books from the library instead of buying every book. i don’t have the space for everything i want to read and the library has a great on hold system to help me keep up with the books instead of staring at the endless books on my shelves that i never get around to but had good intentions.

  • Carol

    I “read” a lot of audio books. I have a 30 minute drive to work and a 30 minute drive to the horse stable. I also listen to books when I commute to work on my bike. That’s how I read two of Gretchen’s books.

  • Leslee

    Audiobooks! The perfect way to read while walking the dog, driving to work, etc.

  • Hi Gretchen, loved this article!
    I could really relate to your point that even if you love reading, it’s still important to actively set aside time for reading – so true!
    And I loved your point about not worrying about finishing the books that aren’t so interesting – very liberating advice 🙂

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