Why Busy People Should Read More Books

When you’re crazy busy (which it seems everybody is these days), it can seem impossible to find any time to sit down and actually read a book — but in an amazing twist, it turns out that reading can actually make you less busy. Is this the best news or what? So put down that super-important email, and pick up a paperback instead.

At the end of 2014, entrepreneur Hugh McGuire realized he had only managed to read four book in the entire year — and he’s the founder of LibriVox! McGuire is so passionate about books that he set up the largest free library of audiobooks in the world, and yet he could barely make time for any of them. Instead of spending his time reading as much as he’d like to, he was hooked to his work, and feeling stressed and exhausted. And so he made an important resolution to make more time to read — in the hopes it would make him feel less busy and miserable. I followed suit, so I can back him up on this: it really works.

If you’re anything like me, you’re shaking your head right now in disbelief. Work follows us home from the office; we’re bombarded with emails all the way through dinner; a massive 71% of Americans actually sleep with their smartphones next to them, and chances are you’re one of them. How are you supposed to make time to read with all that going on? Here are just 3 steps you need to take.

Take A Deep Breath — And Put Away Your Phone

This is probably the scariest change to make, but it’s so worth it: after you get home from work, put your laptop away, and turn your iPhone off. I know, yikes. But do you really need to read that new email tonight? If it can wait — then let it. Hugh McGuire looked into the science of why we’re so reluctant to do this, and it actually makes a ton of sense. Our brains are hardwired to constantly look out for new information (we prioritize information even over food and sex), and so whenever we feel the promise of new information coming in, our brain releases a load of dopamine (which makes us feel warm and fuzzy). That’s why you get such a thrill every time you log onto Instagram and see those little orange hearts: it’s because your brain knows you’re about to get some new information, and it gets super-excited about it.

The more we allow ourselves to chase information like this, the more addictive it gets — and the less able we are to focus on tasks. McGuire thought reading books would remind him how to keep his focus on one thing, and he was so right. And the best part is that once you stop wasting time procrastinating and actually get your jobs done instead, you’ll find you’re not as busy as you thought.

Quit Your Netflix Habit

Most of us only have a couple of hours (if that) of genuine free time in the evenings, and we usually spend it watching Netflix. But here’s the problem: processing new information is exhausting. We’re constantly getting overloaded with (mostly useless) information from our News Feeds and our Twitter timelines, and TV is just one more source of crazily fast-paced information. So even though curling up with an episode (or three) of your favorite show may feel cozy, we’re still not truly letting our brains relax. (Just think about how much information you have to absorb in a single episode of Gilmore Girls.)

Instead, spend that free time curled up with a book. Reading a book still gives you the pleasurable feeling of absorbing information, but the slow release is much easier for our brains to deal with. Swapping TV for reading will make your stress levels drop at once, as your brain has time to actually unwind — which makes you far more productive when you do go back to work.

Make Your Bedroom A Tech-Free Zone

This is the one that’s made the biggest difference in my life. I have always been firmly in the portion of the population who sleeps with their phone under their pillow — often with my hand curled tightly around it. I fall asleep to its flickering blue glow, and the first thing I do when I wake up is scroll through my notifications. This is a terrible idea. The blue light is hurting my sleep patterns, and making me really, really tired, just at the time I’m supposed to be revitalizing with sleep.

Since banning technology from my bedroom, and settling down with a book before bed instead, I’ve woken up actually feeling refreshed — and way more energetic at work the next day. Mornings are a treat, too: now that I’m not defaulting to reading the whole of Twitter each morning, I have time for another few pages of my book before work.

But don’t just take my word for it, or Hugh McGuire’s. Give it a go, and fit a bit more reading into your day. I promise you’ll feel more energetic, more focused, and less stressed — leaving you to whiz through all your jobs for the day and free up more reading time. (And maybe a little bit of Netflix time; after all, you’re only human.)

Images: Alex/Flickr; Wifflegif (3)