Mar 9, 2020

Reading in sips

I’ve been trying to read more. I’ve had a Goodreads reading challenge every year since 2017, and my goals have been at least 12 books a year. Even though I’m more serious about reading than ever, I’m actually reading less. It’s been difficult to come up with a reading strategy that becomes a habit.

My goal was to read a chapter a day. I read about a page a minute, and I assumed chapters are usually around 30 pages, so that’s about 30 minutes a day. I wanted those 30 minutes to be 30 uninterrupted minutes of reading. I tried to figure out the best time of the day to put those 30 minutes. The mornings? The evenings? Some other time while I was at work? It was never consistent.

I rarely do something for 30 minutes without interruptions. It’s become a lot more difficult for me lately, and it’s a bad habit I can’t change easily. I decided I wouldn’t try to start reading when I knew something else was on my mind and I would get interrupted. Bad idea. There’s always something else.

That’s why I was reading less than before. Then I found out about how Stephen King reads:

I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in. The trick is to teach yourself to read in small sips as well as in long swallows. Waiting rooms were made for books – of course! But so are theater lobbies before the show, long and boring checkout lines, and everyone’s favorite, the john.

—Stephen King, On Writing

I was initially skeptical—can you really read a couple of pages at a time and still make decent progress? Won’t you forget what you just read by the time you get around to another “sip” of reading? After trying it out, I learned you don’t. After years of mainly reading blog posts, tweets, emails, and Slack messages, it turns out I got used to reading little sips at a time. And I’m pretty good at it.

My goal lately is to read in a sip of 10 minutes a day. It’s an easy goal to hit. That’s like waiting for the elevator at the office, my mocha at Starbucks, lunch at the office, and a stroll around the parking lot. It doesn’t sound like much but that’s already 300 pages a month, or about 12 books a year!

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