The Reading Life

Making time for reading in the age of distraction

Last month, I worried a mild reading slump had me in its clutches. Holding on by its fingertips, but still. It’s not a desirable state. Even a “mild” cold inconveniences.

Open book - reading slumpThe phrase “reading slump” has become so ubiquitous that it has lost some of its meaning to me. What do I mean, actually, when I say I’m “in a reading slump”? This month, I realized one thing it means is that I’m distracted. Very, very, very, very distracted, like one of those people who run marathons while juggling, except that I wouldn’t make it two steps. I start thinking: Reading? I don’t have time for reading! I have to … and then … Plus I have to be at … and after that … and I need to … So. Many. Things. 

Yeah, right. Except how come I found 20 minutes to kill reading Cracked.com, then? And yes, hedgehogs are the cutest, but were 15 minutes of scrolling through photos of them really necessary? Would 15 seconds not have sufficed? Yes, I’m juggling all the things, as is everyone else in my world. But that’s not what’s keeping me from reading. What’s distracting me from reading is that once I get on the Internet I can’t tear myself away from it. To help me help myself, I’ve come up with a few rules of engagement:

Always have a book within reach. Always. This is a given since I don’t like to be more than two feet away from my Nook at all times. It’s also true of whatever paper book I’m reading: Keep it close, and when the Internet beckons, pick up the book instead. And even though I’m more likely to forget my phone than my Nook, I installed the Nook app on my phone anyway. This way, when I’m on a long line at Stop and Shop and tempted to kill time reading my Twitter feed, I can pull up a book instead. Which reminds me…Digital books - reading slump

Have one digital book going. I love my Nook, but I also love paper books. Which means my current read isn’t always a digital book. When I’m on that aforementioned long line, I’m just not going to pull out a big, fat hardcover. I’m going to pull out my phone. Ergo, having at least one digital book going means I’m providing myself with a distraction from distraction. I especially like poetry or short story collections for this purpose.

Read first thing in the morning and right before sleep. No more using my phone as an alarm clock: It’s the reason my phone is the first thing in my hand every morning. That 15 minutes I subsequently spend updating myself on social media could be spent reading. Duh. As for reading right before bed, science recommends it. So.

Be wary of numbers-based reading challenges. Do these inspire you to read? They did for me … until they morphed into uncomfortable obligation. I became hesitant to abandon books that weren’t working for me (but I’ve already invested two days and 100 pages!). I became hesitant to read long books (but that will take all month to read, and then I will be behind my reading goals!).

Audiobooks: Station ElevenRemember audiobooks. It has taken a long while, but I’ve finally figured out how to make audiobooks work for me. It feels a bit decadent, being read aloud to, but it’s allowing me to read while also accomplishing some of those endless daily tasks that suck up reading time: exercising, washing dishes, folding laundry, etc. An awesome side benefit is that I feel myself becoming a better listener.

Schedule reading time. When all else fails, I remember that I have a schedule app for a reason: To organize my day into manageable pieces. When I’m feeling, Ahhhh! I don’t have time to read, I schedule “reading” into a half hour or 45-minute time slot, set my timer, and allow myself to treat reading as an essential part of my day. Which it is. Not because I’m obligated but because I’m a happier, more balanced, more productive person when I read books. Which reminds me…

Reading is a luxury not an obligation. I’m insanely fortunate to have access to books and the time to read them, for no other reason than I want to. So if a book isn’t working for me, I will set it aside, in the full understanding that the book not working for me is not a reflection of its quality or value. Enough with people telling us what books are (and are not) worth reading. Enough with people trying to bully or manipulate us into reading books that aren’t working for us. I don’t owe authors my time and attention any more than they owe me “my kind” of story.

Stay connected to a community of readers. Plenty of my Internet time is spent catching up on my favorite book blogs and websites and bookish Instagram (also known as bookstagram) feeds. But the paradoxical excellence of these: They encourage me to get off the Internet and into a book. Drop-in book discussions at the library and coffee with a dear friend who is also a reader not only result in recommendations but also enrich me in the way reading a book itself does.

Making time for reading in the age of distractionKnow what inspires reading. Unless it’s coming from someone who is literally my boss, I do not like to be told what to do (see item eight above). Seriously. My mother will confirm this. For this reason, it’s extremely important that I not fall into feeling required to read. Instead, I focus on figuring out what will entertain and enrich me in this moment I’m living through – Do I need a good laugh? To feel hopeful? To take a reality break? Am I trying to think through a particular question or curious about a particular time?

And yes, I do realize the irony of this whole entire post with its endless links. 🙂 Any distraction-busting tips for me?

4 thoughts on “Making time for reading in the age of distraction

  1. Praise hands! These tips are GREAT and I find myself employing quite a few of them to keep myself reading consistently and try to avoid slumps.

  2. I love these tips – and the very mean way you included links to distractions in your post! 🙂

    One thing I would add, if I may: Keep a book by the toilet. It sounds gross or TMI to many, probably, but honestly – the toilet is great: You’re in this isolated environment where you have to sit down at least for a little while. It’s the perfect place to get some reading done! I know that strategy has often helped me, especially because I haven’t gotten into the habit of bringing a phone or tablet with me in there, instead.

    1. Thank you, Alysa! Excellent logic, and I hadn’t thought of it at all. It’s amazing how smartphones/tablets have become such a default distraction. I sometimes wonder if our skin will eventually grow around and absorb them into our bodies!

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