Tip 1: Capturing Reading Time

On the first day we moved into our home in Maryland, our gracious friends arrived in work clothes to help unload furniture and boxes from the truck, to fill the air with sweet fellowship, and to assemble beds. O, the sweet taste of hard labor accomplished within the ceaseless hum and energy of joy-filled fellowship.

On the second day I said, “Let there be a library.” And by the end of the second day there was a library—my library. All my books were unboxed, organized topically, and aligned properly on the bookshelves. It took the entirety of the second day. The boxes full of, oh little things like clothes, toys, and my wife’s books could wait until the third day.

I love books. I love to buy new books, collect old books, and cover my walls with books. Books are the scholarly jolts that begin my day and the literary nightcaps that bring my day to a close. Books are my hot chocolates, my Irish cream coffees, and my hot lattes with extra shots of espresso.

Are my biblio priorities healthy? I suppose at times I lack self-control, like the jogger who runs for 20 miles when he should only run 5. Or maybe like the chocoholic who measures serving sizes by the bag, not by the piece.

Vice aside, I suppose it’s out of a love of reading that I invest so much time in the discipline. But a question I receive a lot, and even more frequently now that I’m posting my reading digests, is this:

How do you read so much?

Which is a misleading question because it can be interpreted and answered in any of three different ways:

(1) Often the question arrives more in the form of a rhetorical exclamation than a question, more like: How do you read so much!

(2) Sometimes the question is asked with a schedule in mind, like: How do you find all the time to read?

(3) Sometimes it’s asked with achievement in mind, Like: How do you read so many books?

In the case of (1) let me just say that I’m a normal guy. Maybe less than normal. One fact I try to forget—and would forget if not for its value as a bludgeoning cudgel to smack pride in the nose—is that for at least one third of my college years in I found myself on “academic probation.” Which sounds a lot like criminal probation, except that criminal probation is a recovery phase following a guilty verdict. “Academic probation” is what you get on the spiral downward before someone officially pronounces you guilty of stupidity and kicks you out.

So I don’t read a lot of books because I got born smart.

In the case of (2) I don’t think I spend much more time reading than some of you. My calendar is full, my honey-do list is long, my kids are hyper, and my boss is active (or is it the other way around?). My running shoes are muddy, my weight bench is dusty, and my 10-foot front yard needs to be mowed at least twice a year.

And this leads me to the first of three tips.

Tip 1: Capture Reading Time

So, when do I read? Everytime I get a spare moment. Sometimes I read over my morning bowl of Crispix, sometimes I read over my lunchtime can of tuna, and sometimes I read over my evening cup of decaf.

I read at the DMV. I read when I’m waiting on my barber. I read when the kids are climbing all over my back on the living room floor. And on Mondays I retreat for 4-6 hours to read at Starbucks.

Books I have no intention of reading cover-to-cover are kept beside my bed. I’ll grab one of these volumes and read for about 20 minutes each night before falling asleep. This stack is constantly cycled, but here is a current picture:


A month ago a friend introduced me to the Kindle, Amazon.com’s electronic book reader ($359). Having immediate access to 200 books on this one device has improved my reading productivity, especially while traveling. The little device switches between books quickly, allowing me to pick up books where I left off. I’ve found ways to make my own free ebooks of Spurgeon sermons and the works of Jonathan Edwards. Really any text document can be converted into a book (via Mac OS X and the free program Stanza). And there are more than 23,000 free books already formatted for the Kindle. The Kindle is a traveling library of sorts.

Hours x WPM =Books Read

In sum, I read for about 15 hours a week. This sounds like a lot, but you can capture 15 minutes here and here and easily come up with 5 hours of reading time per week.

Here’s a quick calculation (from someone who took the same college Algebra class three times) to prove how small moments of reading time really do add up.

The average reader moves through a book at a pace of 200-250 words per minute. In finding 15 hours to read each week, I read for 900 minutes. Assuming the average book is around 60,000 words in length, and figuring nothing more than an average pace, I am positioned to complete 3-4 books per week! Do the math: That’s a pace of nearly 200 books per year. At this pace, I could read the complete works of William Shakespeare (850,000 words) in a month (but that would be an awfully boring month).

Your personal goal may be 5 hours of weekly reading. Sounds like a lot. But you hit this goal if you set aside 15 minutes to read the morning, 15 minutes to read at lunch, and 15 minutes to read before you fall asleep. Reading at 225 words per minute, you could easily read one book every week.

My point is that time is a precious commodity for the reader. And we all can make extra time within our day to invest in reading. Reading 50 books per year is a realistic goal for most of us (paying for 50 books is quite another problem).


So perhaps you can now see, I don’t read a lot of books because I have an abundance of smarts or free time. I just try and capture moments throughout the day, and redeem the time.

Next time, I will disclose tip #2 for reading more efficiently and effectively (no Kindle needed).

45 thoughts on “Tip 1: Capturing Reading Time

  1. Is the Kindle worth investing in? I am an avid reader and the Kindle sounds like something I would enjoy, but I like the feel of a book in my hand and have a small distrust of electronic devices. So, is it worth it for a bookworm such as myself to buy a Kindle?

  2. 15 hours per week?! I even capture moments in the car (at stoplights, only at stoplights…) to read and can’t come close to 15 hours per week!



  3. Tony,

    I’m not familiar with Kindle. Do many books in “our” preferred reading categories come in this format (by this I mean titles by Crossway, Banner, Reformation Heritage, P&R, Baker, etc)?

  4. Thanks for your comment Aaron. But I bet you can get 15 minutes each morning. 15 minutes at lunch. And 15 minutes before bed. That will give you 5 hours a week. At 225 wpm you could easily read one book per week. I’m not trying to make 15 hours the standard. But you will be surprised at how much time you will find in your days to read if you are looking for those moments. Remember a 2-hour movie requires about the same time as roughly reading 1/2 a book. Hope this helps. Tony

  5. Thoughts on Kindle: I love the K for business books and really any popular secular books. More and more publishers like Crossway are moving towards the K. But I think why I most like the K is that I can take the text files of Puritans like Edwards, Bunyan, and guys like Spurgeon and create my own K books. So I find it most helpful to read electronic books I have downloaded online for free. So I like eBooks but will always read from paper, too. Some of my favorite K books–like excellent new business and communication books–I will also purchase as hard copies. So I never pit paper and electronic books against each other. Both have strengths where the other is weak. Hope this helps. Tony

  6. Hey Tony –

    Just out of curiosity, who was that friend that introduced you to the Kindle? You would think he might get some credit in this post.

    Good thoughts my friend!

  7. Good one, Bo. Thanks for saying what needed saying. I need more friends like my humble friend, Bo. :-) This morning over coffee, I was mentioning to Karalee that I need more time with Bo, to learn from his professionalism and his faithful fathering. After the new year? Blessings, my friend. T

  8. Tony,

    Do you actually read the whole book? Shorter books I can understand but going through your list of favorites, the Reformed Dogmatics, OT theology, those massive books that you recommend.. do you really read those cover-to-cover?

  9. i’m so glad my nightstand isn’t the only one with piles of books. i counted today and have 10 that i cycle through each night. :)

    thanks for the great thoughts. i can’t wait to hear more. i’d love to hear thoughts on what to do when you run out of books and don’t have the money to invest in more… i read e-books but prefer paper copies that i can mark up. and i’m not familiar enough with most authors/publishers to know whether or not what i find at a discount shop is worth my time.

    thanks, as always!

  10. Thanks for this great post.

    I was just wondering, do you make notes as you go along? Or do you just read them? I often make notes in the book which slows my reading right down. If you don’t make notes do you think it’s better to read widely than to spend the time on books making notes, or do you have certain ones you return to?

  11. “Just a few years ago, in fact, out of arrogance and deep ignorance,
    I said in passing from the pulpit, “Shakespeare was a bum.” One horrified
    literature teacher in our church very kindly offered to help me. A
    little while later, I spent an evening with a group of friends, including
    this teacher, watching a video of Henry V. As I watched, I came to understand
    something: it was really me who was the bum. Here was highly
    poetic speech, which I had once scorned, but it was incredibly powerful
    stuff, and not feminine in the least.” – C.J. Mahaney

    Shakespeare’s a genius, when did you write your last literary masterpiece? :-P

    Hope this comes out as tongue in cheek as it’s meant.


  12. thanks for the comment Ed. I have studied WS so I have a level of familiarity already. I was not making a categorical statement about the man but his works, just to be clear. I’ll be arguing later in this series that as readers we need to decide for ourselves if books are any good and be on guard agaist the WS-as-untouchable mentality that robs the average reader of interest in reading. Good readers are critics. I’ll come back to this in a later post. Tony

  13. I am personally benefitting from your post because it is full of grace. Far being being legalistic, you are showing forth a practice that is beautiful in God’s eyes because it is glorying Himself in more ways than one.

    Thanks for the excellent post and I look forward to reading the next related few (as well as making fun of your library). That must be one heck of a library to take several days to photograph it, I now have unreasonably high expectations of it ;)…

    Say ‘hi’ to Walt and Kim Alexander for me.

  14. … Or one heck of a dismembered library that needs to be reattached once I collect all the limbs from under the couches, and in every corner of my house, car, and office. :-)

    Thanks for the comment, my friend!


  15. So excited to see that your have had a great reading experience on your Kindle. I love reading in much the same way that you do. Your post seems to confirm that I too could use the Kindle!!!

    Thank you sir! Merry Christmas!


  16. Emily, I have been amazed at how many spiritual books and books by Christian Authors are available at the Public Library. Mine has several by Philip Yancey even.

  17. Tony,

    How easy is it to convert ebooks (PDF?) to Kindle format? Can it be done using a Windows program? That suggestion of yours is of great interest to me. My reading load has dramatically dropped off since entering the pastorate full time. Between family, sermon prep, and needs of the congregation (just try a building program!) I don’t have time to read like I did 10 years ago. I am guessing that the ability to take books around with me would be a big benefit. Thanks in advance for the help!

  18. I’ve found it pretty easy with Stanza. Amazon says their process is “experimental” due to formatting. Your best bet is to convert text files like Word documents, and running text off websites. Tony

  19. An excellent tip. I always like carrying a book where ever I go. It’s really good to have a book to read on a 45 minute bus ride. :)

  20. Tony – I appreciate this post. Just this year (09) I ‘resolved’ to read a book every two weeks. I thought that was a bit intense, but am very encouraged after reading your post here about committing time to reading. It seems to be a very reachable goal. Thanks!

  21. Hey,

    great post, hearing your Everest-like literary exploits inspires us lesser adventurers to buckle up and at least attempt ascend a Mount Blancian schedule!

    One small gripe- you think reading Shakespeare’s complete works in a month would be a boring month?! What a sleight against the towering giant of our mother tongue! I would be delighted, and I think deeply edified, if I could get through Shakespeare’s works in a month.

    Keep up your fine blogging, Joe :)

  22. […] My mind wanders, needs to process what I’ve read or simply needs other stimulation to keep from falling asleep (especially if I am reading something weighty.  meditating is tiring!). Sometimes I want to read something that will send my mind on a quick vacation by reading on some topic that I am interested in learning about, but do not wish to be an expert.  Tony Reinke would put it like this: Books I have no intention of reading cover-to-cover are kept beside my bed. I’ll grab one of these volumes and read for about 20 minutes each night before falling asleep. This stack is constantly cycled, but here is a current picture:  (Click here for rest of the article on finding time to read) […]

  23. Tony, I was wondering how much coffee one needs to drink to, in good conscience, occupy a seat at Starbucks for 6 hours. I’m thinking 4 Ventis at a stretch?

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