Despite my intense desire to read pretty much everything ever written, my neurobiology sometimes makes this task challenging. I have an exceedingly difficult time concentrating, which significantly impacts my reading life. If you have what I like to call “Tigger brain,” here are some things that I have found useful for increasing my literary productivity.
1. Listen to an audiobook.
I’ve written before about how listening to audiobooks is my version of meditation. I can’t for the life of me sit still and think of nothing for more than five seconds, but having something interesting or exciting to listen to helps me bring my attention back to the present when I find my mind wandering. Dramatized audiobooks are particularly great for this purpose.
2. Read multiple books at once, but not too many.
I think most people have trouble focusing on just one book at a time, so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t blaze through the latest bestseller in one sitting. In the past I’ve overcompensated for my short attention span by having six or seven books going in any given week. This may work for some people, but I find it spreads my focus too thin. I finally found a system that works for me. I have five books going at once–one fiction, one nonfiction, one audiobook, one book on a research topic that I’m studying over a long period of time, and one inspirational/devotional daily reader to start my morning with.
3. Set a daily reading goal.
Every night before I go to bed I jot down my reading goals for the following day. Instead of focusing on one or two books every day, I try to read a little bit of each of the five books on my nightstand. This breaks things up enough that I don’t get bored or distracted. I don’t always succeed in meeting my goals, but having a checklist helps.
4. Read books with short chapters.
I’ve tried reading short books, but of course no one can do that all the time and it’s not nearly as satisfying. While it’s not possible to do this every time, I try to select books that have short chapters or chapters that are broken up into small sections. I love to read those long popular history tomes and, luckily, I’ve found that most of them have chapters that are divided into bite-sized portions.
5. Read illustrated books.
Illustrated books are just the best. I don’t let myself look at the illustrations until I actually reach them in the course of my reading, which gives me a reason to push forward a few more pages when I feel my attention wandering. Having a visual incentive is helpful and rewarding.
6. Skip the ebook; go for the paperback.
For someone with a decent level of concentration, the ebook format may not present a problem, but for me it provides way too many opportunities for distraction. Also, I don’t know if anyone else feels this way, but I also find it far less satisfying to finish an ebook than a paper book. Maybe it has something to do with the physical feeling of flipping that final page. Regardless, I’m sticking with the more tangible format.
7. Accept where you are.
I’ve always envied people who can read 100+ books a year without even trying. I have to take regular breaks and reread a paragraph or rewind an audiobook sometimes when I realize my attention has wandered. Some days I can’t focus long enough to read anything at all, and that’s okay. When you consider that 33% of high school graduates will never read a book after high school, I’m not doing too shabbily. Accept your limitations and celebrate your victories.