Reading Strategies for Exhausted Minds

3 Reading Strategies for Exhausted Minds

I’m pleased to introduce you to Dan from the insightful blog, Country of Quinn. Dan happened to read my post on reading crutches last week and decided to share some really great tips with us about how to rekindle your motivation for reading when you are over-tired, overwhelmed, or simply don’t feel like it.

Sounds like a great fit for our readers, right? Welcome, Dan, and thanks for being here.Here are 3 things to keep in mind if you have big book goals and limited mental energy.


I read Jessica Manuel’s post about a strategy to help exhausted minds read more with interest.  The challenge of making time to read in the midst of a modern life is real. I am convinced, however, that this struggle only exists in the minds of people who already know the value of reading.  The difficulty thus lies only in motivation.  This is an individual hurdle, but I believe that some basic strategies can rekindle even the most depleted of wills.

Making Time to Read

Being a voracious reader carries with it a paradox of personality.  On one hand, reading books and learning new things becomes a positive feedback loop in which the flood of new ideas builds increasing momentum to push you to even broader discoveries. On the other hand, the more you read, the more you realize that you will never be able to read all that you would like to learn.  You must make peace with the great equalizer, time.

As I get older, I think more and more about how I am spending my time. When I talk about books with people, the most common responses are, “How do you read so many books?,” and, “I just don’t have time for that.”  They don’t often realize it, but when people tell me that they don’t have time to read more, what they are often saying is that they won’t make time to read more.

Reading more requires making choices to allow you to read more.  Depending on the subject matter, I can get through about two to three books per week.  I can read most business, strategy, or productivity books in a single day, as I’m focused on message and lesson, and not a beautiful turn of phrase or word choice in these books.  Histories or biographies take longer.  I’m currently reading The Power Broker by Robert Caro, the biography of New York City’s Parks Commissioner Robert Moses.  It’s 1,300 pages of dense historical and political details.  Fiction most often takes me the longest, as I’m most focused on the rhythm and flow of language and narrative.

I’m a reader of average speed, I’d guess.  I have a full-time job and a family with two small children who require a lot of attention.  So reading the books I want to read is a product of making deliberate choices to choose reading over TV, movies, shopping, or other activities.  I’m not perfect, of course.  But if you remember that the average American is estimated to watch 33 hours of live television per week, it becomes clear pretty quickly that you can read a lot of pages in a day if you choose to do so.  33 hours is 1,980 minutes. Even if you only read half of that time, and read at a leisurely pace of one page per two minutes, you’ll hit 500 pages per week.  This is between one and two average size books per week.

I’m straying from Jessica’s point, which was not whether you should choose to read more, but how to do so when the mind is weary.  You are the only one who can find the specific tricks and triggers of your own psychology and motivation.  That said, these strategies work for me.

Read Multiple Books at Once

Try reading more than one book at a time.  I hear from some people that this causes a loss of focus, and I can understand that.  But I support the idea for two reasons.

First, it hinders boredom.  Even the best book can become a slog at times, often due to overexposure to an idea.  This particularly true with nonfiction.  If you can juggle a few books at once, you can move to a fresh text when your mind tires of what’s in front of your eyes.

Second, it encourages multidisciplinary thinking and cross-fertilization of ideas.  If you are reading analytically, and have a system to remember and synthesize what you read, you’ll find that your mind will begin to weave a web of connected thoughts across different texts and disciplines.  This is the path to growth as a reader and thinker.  This is how you get smarter.

Pick Your Book Based on Your Environment

One of the advantages of reading than one book at a time is that you can pick up different books based on your circumstances.  For example, when I’m running out the door in the morning to take the kids to school and head to the office, I’ll pick up something lighter and easier in case I can squeeze in a few pages at lunch or on a break in the afternoon.  In the evening, after my kids are in bed and I have a block of a few hours, I spend time with denser materials.

But you may find that your motivation curves are different.  It might be that you do best with difficult work when the sun is up, and that at the end of a tired day, lighter material suits you best.  No problem.  But consider whether you are choosing the right material for your energy level and time constraints.  If you pay attention to this, I’ll bet you end up reading more.

Find Motivation by Remembering Why You Read

Each of us has a unique landscape to our lives.  We each have our bright spots, loved ones, exciting opportunities, looming worries, heartbreaking tragedies.  We can read for different reasons: entertainment, information, or understanding.  There are differences between these purposes, but they share at a basic level the goal of improving our experiences in life.

Think for a moment about the reasons you read.  I read so that I can get better in life.  I read to learn from smarter people who have solved the problems I now face.  I read to  be a more present, supportive, helpful father and husband.  I read to be a more insightful problem solver for my business clients.  I read to grow, and develop a better understanding of what it means to be human. Your list will be different than mine, but you no doubt have one.

When it feels like a chore to read, think of your motivations.  Remember those things that you find for yourself inside books.  Remember that you won’t find those things in other places.  My bet is that if you take the time to do that, you’ll have your nose in a book again.

5 thoughts on “3 Reading Strategies for Exhausted Minds”

  1. Great tips. Most of my “reading” right now is audio book. I’m so busy keeping up with a toddler and infant that it’s a blessing to have that medium available right now. I truly find myself falling into bed completely exhausted.

    1. I totally get that and I only have the toddler to chase around! I think it’s really neat when I hear how exhausted another mom is- only because it means you busted your butt all day for something that really matters. I’m glad you get to read/listen at the end of a long day.

  2. Great tips! I wasn’t really on board with #2, but you do have a point there! Going to try it and see if I can stay focused! 🙂

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