Yes, you do have time to read

(istockphoto/Perkmeup Imagery)
(istockphoto/Perkmeup Imagery)

Wish you had more time to read? Well, you probably already have the time, says cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, professor and director of graduate studies in psychology at the University of Virginia and author of “Why Don’t Students Like School?” His latest book is “When Can You Trust The Experts? How to tell good science from bad in education.” This appeared on his Science and Education blog.

By Daniel Willingham

We all know that most Americans don’t read much. A recent poll showed that a common reason they don’t read is “lack of time.” Fifty-one percent suggested that was a major factor that kept them from reading more books.

It’s tempting to quote Sir John Lubbock: “In truth, people can generally make time for what they choose to do; it is not really the time but the will that is lacking.” That’s the line of thinking taken in this Atlantic blog post,noting that many of us spend plenty of time watching television.

This line of argument is true enough, but probably won’t help much. So without scolding, here are some ideas on how to think about reading and time differently.

1) Don’t assume that that you have to have a long block of time to read. Bit and pieces add up. If you think “I need at least thirty minutes of uninterrupted time to get into the book,” well, try fitting reading into the bits and pieces of time in your day. You’re ready to go out and your spouse isn’t? There’s five minutes. Long line in the grocery store? There’s five minutes.

2) Be prepared. To make use of these times, keep books in places where you find yourself with a few minutes. Bathroom. (Let’s not deny it.) Kitchen (if you eat alone). Car (also useful when you’re not driving, but at your destination. B. F. Skinner noted he read Thoreau’s Walden, which he kept in his glove box, in snippets when waiting for late-comers.) Get audio books for your commute.

3) The best preparation is on your phone. It’s not my favorite way to read, but you always have your phone with you. Get Kindle for your iPhone or Android. Reading emergencies–e.g., my kid was supposed to play but isn’t and now I’m stuck watching other people’s kids play pee-wee soccer–reading emergencies happen.
4) Don’t assume that you can only read one book at a time. If you’ve got books distributed in different spots, won’t you get mixed up? Probably not. But if you are really worried about that, start with books that have lots of short stuff: Uncle John’s bathroom reader in the car, Chekhov short stories in your purse, etc.

5) You don’t you have to finish what you start. For a long time I assumed that if I started a book I was in some way obligated to finish it. Or maybe that if I didn’t, I had wasted my time in starting it. This attitude makes no sense. Don’t fail to start a book because you’re afraid it might turn out too challenging or emotionally hard, or whatever. If you don’t like the book, abandon it.

No, seriously, I’m too busy. When was the last time you were bored? If you really can’t remember, then okay, you’re too busy. If you can name a time, then you could have been reading instead of being bored.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 7, 2013