I was reading an article recently that posed this exercise: List those things you wish you had more time to do. The article even helped the reader along by offering a list of possibilities that might make someone’s list: Exercise more. Travel. Go back to school. Spend more time with children. Work on a hobby. Develop a richer spiritual life. Do more writing.
I made a list, but it wasn’t as long as I expected, and when I got to the next instruction, choose the three most important, I realized there was only one item on my list that was really important to me given the specificity of the question. It’s not that I couldn’t have come up with dozens of ideas for my own self-improvement, but most of them had to do with developing a stronger interest in or commitment to something, as opposed to finding more time for it. I should be more politically active, more environmentally conscientious, and a lot of other things, but it’s not really a function of time that I don’t; it’s a function of my interest level.
When I winnowed my list with a critical eye, it revealed that the only thing I really wish I had more time for is reading. I never read enough. I read for 45 minutes every morning while I ride my exercise bike, but I start with the newspaper, which usually takes up about half the exercise session. That means I often read only 20 minutes or so per day, which given how many amazing and important books there are in the world, with more coming out every day, just doesn’t seem like enough.
So, I asked myself, how can I create more time for reading? How can I make it more of a priority? If I manage to find time for every single one of my other priorities – time with my family, writing, exercise, spiritual contemplation – how is it that I can’t find more time for reading?
Looking at my daily routine, I concluded that one answer is to spend less time doing nighttime tasks and try to get to bed early enough to read. Typically, I focus on the kids until they go to bed; then I start making lunches for the next day, folding laundry, returning e-mails, whatever I didn’t get to in the course of the day. I usually don’t get to bed until it’s time to go to sleep.
Could I cut down on those busy-work tasks in the evening? The laundry does need to be folded, but is there another time I could do it, like during the weekends? Would anything be lost if I spent less time e-mailing? Probably not; I could just turn my computer off early in the evening and catch up the next morning with whatever correspondence remained. The kids’ lunches need to be made, but maybe I could do that at the same time I’m preparing dinner.
So I resolved to try, and the pile of Books To Read on my night table is serving as a powerful incentive. There’s just too much great literature out there for me not to be able to find the time. If it’s the only thing I want more time for, I just have to believe there’s a way to make that happen.
Already, I’m making a little bit of progress. Holly has just started taking an afterschool pottery class that lasts 90 minutes. I thought about all the errands and tasks Tim and I could accomplish between drop-off and pickup. We could buy groceries; get the oil changed in the car; visit the office supply store and the drugstore; pick up dry cleaning. Instead, this week, we headed for the bagel store. I bought Tim a toasted bagel with bacon cream cheese (his favorite treat) and myself a cup of coffee and a chocolate chip cookie (which turned out to be of poor quality, but it made me feel entitled to sit at a table for an hour. Calories don’t count if you’re giving yourself an excuse to take up space at a café, right?). Tim had brought along Robin Hood, a childhood favorite of Rick’s that he’s slowly making his way through; I had a pile of sections from last Sunday’s New York Times.
And together, we read. For a whole hour, we just sat there in silence together reading. It was such a treat. I could have been doing so many other productive things, but I convinced myself that this mattered too. We’ll try it again during Holly’s next pottery class, and see if we can make it a regular habit. One hour more of reading a week? It’s a great start.