I am a goal setter and find this helps me more than anything else to stay on track with reading. If you’ve ever trained for a marathon, then you know the importance of varying your routine while staying disciplined. And the most important thing is to make a little bit of progress everyday, so following Haruki Murakami’s advice in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, when reading, never take more than two days off in a row.
First things first, decide on a number of books you’d like to read and then break it down into smaller goals.
The first thing I do is make one large goal for the year. I typically do this at the very end of December as I think through anything else I want to accomplish the following year. I try to account for any new transitions I might be anticipating and consider different seasons of life. In grad school, for example, you read a ton of articles and chapters about a handful of books that you actually read cover to cover. I don’t think I read more than 40 books per year while in grad school, and that even sounds a little high. My first couple years of teaching were just as busy. So.much.work. goes into preparing to teach a course you’ve never taught before. It does not leave a whole lot of time for pleasure reading. And then there are always seasons of life you can’t plan for like being pregnant and being kissed by the first trimester sleep of death. That threw me off for about a month and a half.
Nevertheless, I’m going to share my goals with you and explain how I try to accomplish them:
- My goal for 2014 was to read 100 books.
The past few years I have tried to read widely because I felt like I was lacking the breadth of knowledge I need for being effective as reading and writing instructor. Because of that, my reading goal for 2014 was a little high. At 10 months in, I was only at 60 books. I finished the year at 66 because pregnancy and a new love child change everything about your world, including reading habits. I don’t read a ton of fan fiction or the kind of books you can breeze through in a couple hours. Otherwise, I’m sure my numbers would be a lot higher. I shoot for quality books that will make me a better wife, mother, professor, and allow me to know and love God more. All that to say, here is what goal setting and reaching looks like all year long:
At the beginning of the year, I read as much as I can to hit the ground running. I usually have almost all of January off to read, write, and plan my courses for the semester. Once I get ready to go back to school, I break my big goal down into smaller goals:
- My goal is to read about 8 books a month.
That averages out to 2 books per week. This is almost always doable with Audiobooks, but not guaranteed. The trick again is to stay consistent and that is where an even smaller goal comes in:
- My goal is to read a minimum of 100 pages a day.
In college, one of my professors explained that if we were to read a mere 30 pages a day as students, we would always get through our required reading for all of our classes and then some. Based on his advice, I started reading 30 pages a day. In graduate school, I increased that to 50 pages a day. This number is a bare minimum that ensures I am always making some kind of progress toward required and recreational reading. Often I read much more than this. Now I set my goal even higher because my brain is better trained to read for longer periods of time. I know during January and the summer months, I typically read more than 100 pages per day, and during heavy grading seasons, I might not reach that (I still reach that, but unfortunately student papers don’t count toward my yearly reading goals). Reading is like everything else in life: it teeter totters. At my current pace, 100 pages will take me between 3-4 hours. Fiction will breeze by while professional development or theology books typically take quite a bit longer. It all depends.
Set goals that work for you. Next year I am really looking forward to reading some of the longer books (classics, contemporary, theology, theory, etc.) that I have yet to digest. If I read between 20-30 books this year, I’ll be elated. Nonetheless, I try to set each year’s goal a little higher.
I’ve made a pretty substantial list that I am hoping to get through, which brings me to my next point. The sense of accomplishment you get from reaching a goal can be a pretty significant reward in itself. This is grounded in the why or the purpose I read in the first place (more on this later). There is nothing I do to reward myself further for reaching my page goal for the day or my book goal for the month, however, the more I read, the more books I get to buy. It’s simple supply and demand, an economic reality that my husband and I have worked into our budget. But if that sense of accomplishment is not enough for you, then create a reward that will motivate you. Maybe it’s watching an hour of TV or playing a cell phone game. As long as you get in the habit of reading first, then by the end of the year you will be that much closer to the seemingly intangible book goal you set in January.
Steps for goal setting this year:
1. Decide how many books you want to read this year.
2. Break down you goal to see how many books you’ll need to read each month.
3. Decide the least number of pages you can wrap your mind around reading each day based on mental energy and other obligations.
4. Make a little bit of progress everyday and never take more than two days off in a row.
On a final note, encouraging your kids to goal set is extremely effective. In elementary school, my second grade class won ski lessons and rental equipment at Kirkwood Ski Resort for reading the most pages out of every class in the school. If you know me at all, then you know I like to win. Sometimes that kind of extrinsic motivation and reward system is necessary when first beginning to build good habits. That’s why diets have cheat days; this follows the same logic. Find something really exciting to reward your kids with after they reach their long-term reading goals and help them to work toward those goals one day at a time. Stay tuned for Tip #2!