Since January 2020, I have read (or listened to an audiobook) for at least 15 minutes a day as part of my New Year’s resolutions. Now, more than 6 months down the line, I look back on my new habit and the benefits I have felt since starting.
Reading for 15 minutes a day is an easy habit to develop and has been found to provide significant benefits such as developing your knowledge, improving your empathy and emotional intelligence, improved memory and higher overall sleep quality.
Let’s take a look at how to develop the habit of reading for 15 minutes a day, the benefits this can provide for you and some of the unique reading tips I use to get the most out of my daily reading sessions.
The benefits of reading for 15 minutes a day
Have you ever heard the theory that your personality is based on the 5 people you spend the most time with? What if this theory could be expanded to the 5 authors we read most often. As humans, we’re hardwired to socialise, learn from and imitate each other. How often, for example, have you started using a new catch-phrase shortly after your friend started using it? With books, we can do the same thing but with experts in the relevant fields.
Anecdotally, I can say that reading for at least 15 minutes a day has helped my general knowledge, understanding of the world and being exposed to new ideas and concepts that I otherwise wouldn’t have come across.
The research seems to support this too, The University Of Melbourne’s research (linked here) suggests that there is a correlation between children who are read to more often in their childhood and improved cognitive skills later in life. Whilst the pliable minds of children may stand the most to gain from reading, adults can also capitalise on the opportunities books present.
Some of the most successful people in the modern world are reported to be voracious readers – Bill Gates reads over 50 books a year, Elon Musk read 2 books a day as a child and Oprah described reading books as her “path to personal freedom”.
Whilst getting into the habit of reading for 15 minutes per day may not bring you the success of these 3, it’s almost certain to provide benefits within your life.
How to get into the habit of reading for 15 minutes a day
To develop the habit of reading for 15 minutes a day, pick a time you can stick to each day and make reading easy for yourself by downloading the Kindle app onto your phone or an Amazon’s audiobook service if you prefer to listen to your books. Use travel time to read.
In Charles Duhigg’s excellent book ‘The Power of Habit’, he suggests that willpower can become a habit by choosing a certain behaviour ahead of time, and then following that routine consistently. Reading every day is likely to feel strange or like a chore to start with, but if you force yourself to do it for a period of time, it will soon become natural.
To stay on track with my reading, I have made the following changes to make it easy for me. Firstly, I have downloaded Kindle on my phone which allows me to replace those periods I’d previously spent browsing social media with something more productive.
Generally speaking, I think physically reading provides greater benefits than listening to your books, simply as it allows you the opportunity to pause for reflection on what you’ve just read, which in turn helps you understand it better. However, I do subscribe to Amazon’s audible service which allows me to get reading time in even when I am unable to have a book handy, such as in the car or whilst at the gym.
The reason I commit to just 15 minutes of reading per day is that it’s a manageable chunk of time that I know I can achieve every day. Regardless of how busy you are, almost everybody can find a 15 minute period in their day to read even if it’s just before you go to sleep.
The sneaky trick behind 15 minutes is that quite often, you will go way past this amount of time and end up reading for 30 minutes or even an hour. This is a productivity hack that has served me very well generally – whenever you have a long task to complete that you’ve been putting off – tell yourself you will dedicate just 5 minutes to it and after that, you can put it to one side.
One of two things will happen next, either you’ll stop after 5 minutes and you’ll have at least made some progress towards the task or, more likely, you’ll end up carrying on for far longer than you initially told yourself. Give it a try, it really works.
If you’re someone who likes the idea of reading more but can’t seem to get into it, download kindle on your phone, buy a book off of the amazon store, set aside a 15-minute slot each day and force yourself to read for that period. You’ll be surprised how quickly it feels like an essential part of your day.
How can I read more effectively to learn information more quickly?
One of the best accounts I’ve ever followed on Twitter is @Naval and the content of his I’ve appreciated the most are his unique tips on reading. Some of the tips below are admittedly a little counter-intuitive and I imagine your initial reaction to them will be negative but if you give them a try for a period of time, I suspect you’ll come to use at least one of them.
The first tip, which for me was the most liberating, was that you don’t have to finish a book that you’ve started. For some reason, we can’t stand the idea of leaving a book unfinished, even if we’re hating every second of it or just can’t bring ourselves to read on.
Perhaps it’s the feeling of accomplishment that comes as you turn that final page in a book or maybe it’s simply a fear of missing out on what could be a key message in the final chapter but either way, this mindset stops you from reading as effectively.
For example, how many of you have ever been reading a book that you just can’t seem to make any sort of progress on? For me, I’ve had ‘Law for Small Businesses for Dummies’ loaded in my kindle, sitting at 18% read for over 6 months. The book’s interesting, well written and basically giving me all of the information I was hoping for when I bought it but I just can’t seem to make any progress with it.
Because of this, I went a number of months barely reading anything at all. I wouldn’t allow myself to start a new book until I had finished the current one, which I never felt like picking up. A classic vicious circle scenario until I broke the chain by simply breaking the habit and starting a new book.
Being ruthless with the books you read can make a real difference to the satisfaction and benefit you get out of them and it’s not just knowing when to stop that’s important.
Another tip is when starting a book, to scan the contents page first, find the chapter that sounds most interesting to you and read that first. If it’s good, carry on and read the rest of the book. If it’s not, you’ve wasted the time reading one chapter rather than an entire book and saved yourself a number of wasted hours.
The final tip (and the one that tends to face the greatest opposition) is to read a number of books at the same time. Naval, who I mentioned above, suggests that he has 20 books on the go at any single time, split across kindle, physical books and audiobooks.
For most of us, 20 would be a little excessive but the logic of having a few books on the go at once is based on scientific research regarding memory and learning.
Spaced repetition is a well-researched learning technique that essentially states that our brains are better able to learn and hold on to information when we learn the content repeated periodically over time rather than front-loaded.
For example, if I were to read a list of 100 words for the next four hours and then take a test, I would, according to this theory, perform worse than if I read the list for one hour a day for three days and then took the test on the fourth day. In the second scenario, I have had less revision time (3 vs 4 hours) but I am more likely to retain the information due to spaced learning, partially due to the role of sleep in forming memories.
The same thing applies to books, if I read a book about money, then a book about history and then a book about web design over the course of a month, I would likely forget a lot of the information. However, if I started these 3 books simultaneously and read them all over the course of a month (as shown below), I would retain a far greater proportion of the information.
The power of spaced repetition isn’t the only benefit of reading multiple books at once though – this technique will also help you read more in general. Taking our example above, let’s say you just weren’t in the right mood to read about history, you would probably end up skipping your 15 minutes of reading that day. However, if you had three books on the go, even if you didn’t fancy history that night, you could delve into your book about money or web design.
I am currently reading three books at the moment; 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Alex Ferguson: Leading and Law for Small Businesses (which I’ve since come back to) and whilst it does feel strange to read a number of books at once, I am starting to see the benefits.
Developing the habit of reading for 15 minutes a day should be quite simple. If you force yourself to develop this habit and stick to it it will quickly become natural for you. Once established, give the reading effectiveness tips I’ve shared above a go and see how quickly the benefits start to compound.
Please comment below with any books recommendations you have for me and I’ll read them and add them to the list of book reviews to add to this website.
Refer to the ‘TPP recommends‘ page to see my list of must-read books.
This article has been written by Luke Girling, ACA – a qualified Accountant and personal finance enthusiast in the UK. Please visit my ‘About‘ page for more information. To get in touch with questions or ideas for future posts, please comment below or contact me here.