I can't tell you how to find time to read.
Time won't churn up like change between the cushions.
You won't find it peeking out of your mailbox like a refund check.
And, despite what the life hackers say, you can't make more.
There are moments when life is beyond your control. When crisis knocks on your door, and you have to adjust your reading habits for a while.
But sometimes crisis moves in and starts sleeping on your couch. 'Crazy-busy' becomes a main character in your story.
I'll just speak for myself: it happens more than I care to admit. It's too easy to slip from dealing with small crises, to simply living in crisis mode.
And here's what I've learned--one 'busy' person to another:
When your time doesn't seem to belong to you anymore, finding time to read is a fool's errand.
It's the other way around. You're going to have to read to take back your time.
Read to take back what's yours.
I'm NOT talking about the parade of 'how to' books designed to literally help you 'find' time.
Mind-boggling, isn't it? The number of books on organization, time management, minimalism, thoughtful consumerism, even saving yourself from the pitfalls of social media.
I've read more than my fair share of those books. And I'm not against being more efficient.
In fact, my mission used to be to squeeze every last drop out of my day. Guess what I learned from that quest?
Being super-productive doesn't stop you from being super-busy.
You can fill your day with productive tasks and check one 'success' off your list at a time... and your life can still lack meaning.
So let's shelve the 'how-to' books just for now.
Reading to take back your time is not about the information (or the hacks) but understanding and perspective. Or even better, the meaning we create (together) as we read.
Read to make your time count.
How do you read to take back your time--to make that time meaningful?
If you skip the 'how to' books, what's left?
In my humble opinion, taking back your time is best done by
reading someone else's story (fiction or fact),
traveling in someone else's shoes,
reading books that will change your perspective (forever).
Which books should you choose to change your perspective? I don't have an answer, just a question:
What if there is no such thing as the 10 books you 'must read' this year? Or the 100 books to read in a lifetime?
You don't need me to tell you that life is short and the number of books you'll read is finite. But since we're reading in hopes of asking more questions...what if we skipped 'the cannon?'
It's a beautiful world of life-changing books out there: fiction, stories, memoir, poetry.
Books you might stumble upon entirely by accident. Books you find because a friend recommended them--or wrote them.
What hidden treasures will you discover? (Please share!)
Read to ask the right questions.
No, you won't read one book and change the world, or even your life, but...
Books have a way of dropping that first domino and sending us crashing head-first into unexpected places.
On that note, here's a post I love: Why We Need More Readers by Austin Kleon.
My favorite quote from this post is part of a longer discussion about what happened in the 1950s when the Bell company experimented with giving their executives a 'humanistic education' (including lots of book reading).
The company finally stopped the program because of the unintended consequences of reading:
[W]hile executives came out of the program more confident and more intellectually engaged, they were also less interested in putting the company’s bottom line ahead of their commitments to their families and communities.
Sounds like evidence of the domino effect to me.
Fiction and books that tell stories will change your perspective. They'll make you wonder if you're using your productivity and potential to the right ends.
They'll challenge the way you measure out your version of 'success.'
Read to face reality (without getting mugged).
You're on your coffee break when someone sneaks up on you, punches you in the stomach, and snatches everything you hold dear.
You're left squirming and gasping, trying to rebuild your worldview--checking your pockets to see if you've still got your humanity.
Or maybe it's just me: that's how I feel when I watch the news--or worse--when I allow myself to be bombarded it them on social media.
I'm embarrassed about my reaction to something so banal as a news-feed, but I'm talking about it anyway. Why?
Because I have a hunch it's not so much a personal problem as a sign of our times.
Because I've learned a new trick for avoiding that daily sucker-punch and then scrambling to reaffirm my faith in humanity: staying informed with books.
Books contain more depth, more understanding within their pages than any news article.
Stories (fiction and real) also contain a full dose of humanity and meaning: just what you need to understand, forge meaning and decide how you must respond.
Read to understand...and act.
What could you accomplish if you weren't dealt a paralyzing media blow on a regular basis?
What if you...
Scanned the headlines (weekly or daily)
Selected an article or two per week to read over closely.
Saved the rest of your time for achieving new understanding of our most pressing problems with books.
Books will help you find new perspective and understanding on the challenges we face with depth and perspective that mere news reports simply cannot deliver.
An a book will never leave you with the feeling that you've just been attacked and that someone has made off with your meaning.
Here's a snapshot of some of the books I read for perspective this past year. (Remember, I don't believe in the '5 books you must read' these are just possibilities.)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. Fiction that will sneak up on you and change the way you feel about race and racism forever.
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Fiction that will give you a near-anthropological understanding of race, immigration, colonialism...
I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai/Christina Lamb) or The Girl From Aleppo (Nujeen Mustafa/Christina Lamb) True stories to help you understand some of the most complex and defining social crises of our time?
We seem to be in a time where we're served up blows to our humanity on a regular basis.
We're going to get knocked down. But I think we can get back up gain faster with the perspective that books bring.
Books can help you travel from shock to understanding...to action if you choose.
Whatever you do, don't 'find time' to read.
I should tell you--I'm biased. I read because I'm drawn to human stories, the lessons we learn from each other, the truth in fiction, the essence in poetry. I'm a teacher and a writer and a human--for all of these reasons, I love books.
I admit it: I don't read because I want to make my time meaningful or to take back my time. Or even to become a better writer.
I read because I have to.
If that's true for you, you probably have already started taking back what's yours with books. But...
Just in case you're thinking you don't have time to read in this fast world. Or that you'll read (someday) when you find time, know this:
Taking back your time and making your time meaningful are two of the best side effects of reading.
Start with a book. The rest will follow.