After writing my post on “100 books every teacher should read” I received a number of emails about finding the time to read all of those books (without going broke or insane!). There is something to be said for enjoying books (I am still an English teacher at heart), but it can also be easy to slowly fade away from reading as we take on more and more responsibilities in life. The past three years I read 42, 43, and 49 books respectively.
To put it into some context. I’m the proud dad of 4 kids (age 7 and under), in an administrative job, have published four books, and still spend most of my time at night binge-watching Netflix with my wife!
I love creative work, and quite frankly, probably spend too much time thinking of new projects and ideas (as well as books and blog posts!). But, I’ve found that spending time reading every day has helped ground me in high-quality content and information. There is something special about a book that a blog post or article cannot replicate. Maybe everyone does not feel this way, but books (to me) are one of the purest forms of creativity and thought.
Here’s how I find the time (and money) to read 40+ books a year. And how I plan on changing it a bit to read over 50 books this year. I call it the “nerdy way” because it’s built on reading the most amount of books, in the shortest amount of time, for the least amount of money (can’t beat that right?).
1. Be Intentional to Make Reading a Habit
As a teenager I used to binge read books. I’d spend hours a day sometimes reading a book (or a series) and the go weeks without reading. When a book or story caught my attention, that was it, I was hooked and would not stop until I finished.
In college, I slowly started to read more non-fiction. I was interested in how the world worked and wanted more information on specific topics. Again, I would read a book start to finish in one sitting sometimes.
When my family started growing, and job responsibilities began to pile up, my binge reading quickly stopped. I’d start a book, then pick it up again in a month or two, and I remember going on vacation one week thinking, “I have six books I want to finish because I started all of them at different times in the past year!”
That’s when I decided I had to make reading a habit. Even if I read a tiny bit each day, I could make progress on the books I wanted to read, and finally finish all those great books I’d started during the past year.
Then I came across a post by habit-guru James Clear. James wrote about how he reads at least 25 pages each day. I did the math…
If an average book was 250 pages I would finish a book every 10 days by reading 25 pages a day. That 25 pages a day would lead me to read 36 books a year!
I started reading 25 pages a day as a daily habit. Two things became quickly apparent:
a) It didn’t take long to read 25 pages.
b) I usually went over the 25 page mark because I was into the book!
I read over 40 books that first year, all by using a method that I had repeatedly told my high school students to do as an English teacher (but never followed the advice myself).
Now, I’m increasing the habit by just a little bit, and it’s going to build over time. I’m challenging myself to read 40 pages each day. That 40 pages will ultimately lead to one 280 page book each week.
The trick is that I’m not reading all those pages with my eyes, I’m spending a lot of time reading with my ears.
2. Read With Your Ears
When I took my new job as Director of Technology and Innovation, I also moved my work way closer to my home. This cut down on the time I had in the car each day when I previously listened to audiobooks.
But that’s not the only time I have to listen to audiobooks. There are also the ‘in-between’ moments of life. This could be a long drive, waiting for a train (or on a plane), while working out, or while doing chores around the house.
Most audiobooks are between 5.5 hrs and 7.5 hrs long. But a book I highly recommend, Anything You Want by Derek Sivers, was only 1.5 hrs long. One week. One book down.
I blame Audible.com for my audiobook addiction. I signed-up for free and got two free audiobooks downloaded straight to my phone (Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks). Reading with my ears has only increased the number of books I’ll read this year. It’s also a different type of reading/listening experience. Often I’ll have to rewind the past minute of audio to catch a quote or insight or story that I want to remember. It’s almost a form of “close-reading” while listening.
3. Find Great Deals
I love BuckBooks.com for great Kindle book deals. Sometimes they will have free books, and usually the site features books on price for 99 cents. This is a completely free service to sign up for and then they’ll send you emails with featured books that link directly to Amazon (Kindle store). In essence, they do all the hard work in finding books that you’ll like to read…and that are cheap. BuckBooks recently came out with a new Audiobook promotion (for a dollar) each week as well and I can’t wait to check out that feature (sign-up here!).
Other ways are to borrow books from your friends and colleagues that they have recommended, go to the LIBRARY, or get ebooks from your local library. When you’ve built the habit of reading into your daily routine, you’ll have no problem finding recommendations and talking to other readers. These deals let you read without going broke (hint: that’s still my problem with Barnes & Noble).
Try apps like Hoopla or go to websites like NetGalley to get free books (audio and digital) for your reading pleasure!
Creating Systems for Goals
In March of 2013 I started to write on a daily basis. I decided to “commit” to the writing process and a system and see what would happen. As I began to write 100 words a day, it became easier to write 250 words a day. My system allowed for constant improvement because I wasn’t focused on the end goal (writing a book or building a blog) but instead just the act of writing. Here’s what that first year of consistent writing looks like in terms of growth:
That summer I started writing 1000 words every day. I’ve continued that habit for over a year now. It’s hard to do some days. I’ll only get 500 one day, and have to make up for it the next day. I’ll miss a day here or there and have to catch up over the next week. But I’m committed to the system.
Here are a few of the things that came out of my 1000 words each day:
- Over 200 Blog posts
- Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom (my first book)
- Learning By Choice (my second book)
- Launch: Using the Design Thinking Process to Boost Creativity and Spark Innovation in Every Classroom (book I wrote with John Spencer)
- Re-designing Learning Spaces (book I wrote with Erin Klein, Ben Gilpin, and Bob Dillon)
- Intentional Innovation (almost finished this manuscript!)
- Scratch Your Itch (the book I can’t seem to finish writing!)
- Curriculum writing
- Unit and lesson planning
- Grant writing
- Emails (lots of them!)
- Weekly Newsletter
- Keynote and Workshop Presentations
- Consulting work
- Video scripts for courses on the Creative Classroom Academy
Since June of 2014 I’ve averaged writing 1000 words every day (which is only a few pages). That has led to over 900,000 words. Never in my wildest dreams would I believe I could write that much, but when I do it everyday bit by bit, it’s not only possible but also very doable.
The Power of Habits
Habits and systems are something we don’t talk about nearly as much in education as we should. If we want to improve student engagement and performance, the trick is to work on systematic change. As the quote above said, “take control of consistent actions.” What do your students do as soon as they walk into your classroom? What does your staff do as soon as they walk into a meeting? Are we building good habits?
My system of writing every day isn’t necessarily a habit. The habit part comes when I tell you that the writing almost always comes around 5:30am with a cup of coffee next to my computer. Habits have triggers, specific times, and repetitive actions. James Clear gives “3 Rules For Actually Sticking to Good Habits” and I think they are spot on:
Here are the rules:
- You have to start with a version of the habit that is incredibly easy for you. It must be so easy that you can’t say no to doing it and so easy that it is not difficult at all in the beginning.
- You have to increase your habit each day, but in an incredibly small way.
- Even after increasing your habit, all repetitions must remain easy. The total habit should be broken down into easier pieces if needed.
As a teacher or leader how could you implement these rules? As a writer I used these three rules to keep improving my system. So, even when I have days when my writing stinks (happens a lot), I’m still going through the motions and working.
When you ask yourself what your goals are, do you have a system of how you’ll reach those goals? For a long time I didn’t…and I thought they might magically happen with hard work. It’s not enough to have goals…everyone has goals. The systems and habits you create for yourself are where the magic happens.
What’s been really exciting for me is seeing how talking about “systems” can help other people I’ve worked with in the last year. Whether it is working with teachers, students, leaders, or other authors…I’ve seen the power of systems at work! In a few months I’m taking many of my ideas around writing, blogging, and publishing into an online course called Write Like a Nerd. If you’re interested and want to learn more, sign-up here.
And there you have it. Another 1000 words for the day. What are some habits or systems you’ve built up over the past few years to help you reach a goal? Please share so we can all learn!