Lifehacking Your Reading

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[Note from Laura]: Libby is my book guru— I go to her any time I’m stumped on what to read next and have loved every book she has recommended. When I first started working with her, I was wedding planning and didn’t have time to read for fun…or so I thought. Libby helped get me back into reading with her 20 page rule, which she details below. Similarly to working out, it’s easy to make excuses and not find the time to read. However, it’s important to satisfy your mind with something outside of work. Again, it’s all about striking balance in life— body, mind, and soul. I hope Libby’s tips and recommendations help jump-start your reading!

We all know that the benefits of reading are numerous: it stimulates us mentally, reduces stress, improves our vocabulary, and gives us something more interesting to talk about with acquaintances than the weather, among many, many other things. However, so many of us don’t think we have time to really make it a habit.  Between work, after work happy hours, workout classes, commuting, and trying to eat well on top of all that, there aren’t enough hours in the day, so we collapse in front of the TV and try to not feel guilty about it.  Ultimately, though, it really is true that you’ll find time for things you deem a priority.  

I grew up in a house with 4,000 books (by actual count one summer), so reading has always been a part of my life, but, especially in the last few years, my reading motivation has ebbed and flowed quite a bit.  Finding it hard to make reading a priority in your life?  Use the tips that work for me to hack your habits:

Tip 1: Give Yourself a Timeline
One of my all-time favorite things is a finished “to-do” list— there’s nothing quite like that feeling of checking off a task and moving on (and, yes, I’m totally guilty of adding things I’ve already done just to get that shot of dopamine).  Knowing this about myself means that sometimes I’ll set up goals that are, admittedly, totally arbitrary, but that give me the motivation I need to finish a task that may otherwise be put off.

In the case of reading, there are a few ways to do this.  If you decide that you want to read X number of books a year or a month, it’s easy to back that out and figure out how much time you have per book.  Finish one early?  Awesome, now you’ve got more time if you decide to tackle War and Peace or you can try to squeeze another book in and up your total number.  Or maybe your nonfiction tome is great, but you’d rather having something lighter for your beach vacation next week (like anything by Liane Moriarty or Anna Kendrick’s new memoir).  Pick out a new book that you’re excited to start once you finish your current read, and then use the trip as a deadline.

Want to help your budget, too?  Get a library card.  I’m a big fan of the library— you can easily save money on books you’ll only read once while still getting to read the latest best sellers (add yourself to the ‘hold’ list as soon as you hear of a book being released and it will be on the shelf with your name on it in no time), you don’t have a bunch of books that you may not want to keep a copy of forever (especially great if you move semi-frequently), and it forces you to have a two or three week deadline with each book.   

If you don’t give yourself a deadline, it’s easy to let the time it takes to read a book expand indefinitely.  Build it in and get it done.

Tip 2: Bring It With You
It goes without saying, but if you don’t have your book with you, you can’t read it.  Whether you’re a Kindle devotee or love to dog-ear a physical copy like me, get use to carrying it with you and times to read will present themselves.  Sneaking in pages during a break at work or in waiting rooms also helps break the bad habit of staring at our phones out of boredom (trust me, there’s STILL nothing interesting in your Facebook feed).  

That being said, it’s also good to carve out some dedicated time that you always set aside for reading.  Before bed?  On the train in the morning? During your lunch break? Hold this standard time sacred, but supplement it and squeeze in some reading where you can.

Tip 3: Shoot For 20 Pages a Day
This hack originally grew out of timeline I set for myself, but it stands on its own, too.  As I mentioned before, setting mini-goals is helpful for me.  Am I going to finish a book a week indefinitely? Highly doubtful.  Can I find time to read 20 pages a day? Yep, usually. Pick a number that works for you, and stick to it.  “A chapter” can be hard — some books have two page chapters and some are hundreds of pages, if they’re broken out at all.  Having a standard number makes these chunks palatable no matter what you’re reading.

Tip 4: Find a Book Club
Want a side of friendship with your reading?  Join or start a book club!  When I lived in San Francisco, I was a member of a club that a former colleague started.  She brought together a handful of her friends on Sunday mornings every month or two, each of us brought snacks, we poured some mimosas, then discussed the book we had all read (despite the well-worn trope of the boozy book club that doesn’t actually read, we not only read, but had some really deep conversations about the stories, the characters, and the themes they contained).  Having these in-person meetings builds in a timeline, while also exposing me to things I might not normally have read, and our discussions made me think deeply about the content while I was reading it and after.

Ask around to find a friend who may be in a book club (or be interested in starting one with you), look at coffee shop or bookstore bulletin boards for postings, or check out or similar sites to find existing groups that you can join.

Tip 5: Don’t Pick Books That Feel Like a Chore
The worst thing you can do for yourself when you’re already finding a hard time making reading a priority is picking books that you don’t love.  If you’re slogging through something that you’re not excited about, don’t hesitate to quit halfway through— life’s too short and there are too many awesome stories out there to waste your time. Obviously there are some books that are just duds (or things that just don’t speak to you) and you won’t always know that until you get into them, but find trends in what you like.  Do you love a specific genre?  Is a certain author your literary soul mate?  Or, to see a list of books similar to your favorites, check out

Treat yo’self— get outdoors and pair a great book with a delicious glass of vino.

Tip 6: Treat Yo’Self
Finally, make your reading time feel like a treat, not a burden.  This is time just for you to relax and enjoy.  If you have a couple of hours, take yourself on a date to a coffee shop or restaurant and bring your book.  A story on a sunny outdoor patio with a side of rosé or in a big leather chair with a latte truly can’t be beat.  Make self-care a priority and build your reading into it.

Libby’s Book Recommendations:
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, Maria Semple
Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs, Chuck Klosterman

Somewhere in Between:
The Paris Wife, Paula McLain

What are your go-to books or what are you planning on reading next? Please share in the comments section below!
  • Divs


    I love this post so much. I was just talking to a coworker today about how hard it is to find the time to read these days. Have you read ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette’ yet? Think I’m going to order it on Amazon!

  • lsquaredsf


    Agreed! It is tough carving out time, but Libby’s tips are so helpful. Once I started using her 20 page rule, I started plowing through books. I need to get back into it and stop making excuses. I did read “Where’d You Go, Bernadette?” and it was excellent— you’re going to love it!

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