My late grandmother loved to read, and it was important to her that my sister and I became readers too. When I was a little girl, she bought me storybooks and read to me. When I started reading on my own, she pretended to care about The Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High. As I got older, she recommended novels and memoirs, and she always asked what I was reading.
I read all the time through my early 20s, but at some point later in my 20s, I stopped making it a priority. My grandmother still asked me what I was reading, and I made up excuses. All of them were variations on “I’m too busy.”
When I told her I didn’t have time to read, she would simply say this: “20 minutes, every day.”
Twenty was her magic number of minutes for forming a habit. It’s long enough to get into a book, but short enough that it’s doable. Pretty much anyone can find 20 minutes to spare; it’s pocket change. Wake up a little earlier, stay up a little later, take a lunch break, watch less TV at night.
I wish I had taken her advice at the time, but I spent four or five years in cycles of reading kicks and dry spells. I slowly realized that I felt more rested and fulfilled during my reading kicks. So just last year, I committed to 20 minutes every day.
Now I read every weeknight before bed, and in the morning on weekends. Sometimes I fall asleep too early, but most nights, 20 minutes turns into 30 minutes, or 40, or an hour. On Saturdays and Sundays my morning reading time sprawls into the afternoon. Being under a blanket reading a book makes me happy and gives me energy. It’s the perfect kind of alone time for me.
Self-mandated daily reading has come with a lot of positive side effects. Since I read more books now, I put less pressure on my selections. I read what I want. If I don’t like what I’m reading, I’ll have another chance tomorrow. This little freedom has led me to books I wouldn’t have picked up otherwise. I also have more things to share with people now. Books make great conversation starters. I’ve had pop-up book clubs with friends when we discovered we had all read the same thing. I’ve had long conversations with my sister, who lives across the country, but we read the same books.
All those gifts from just 20 minutes a day!
I think the 20 minute rule would work for forming other habits too: writing, cooking, yoga, painting. If you’re struggling to find the time to do something you want to do, I encourage you to start with just a few minutes every day.
There is never enough time. But there is always enough time.