Five Tips for the Distracted Reader

I used to think I hated reading. I know, I know… you’re about to clutch the pearls!

Reading and (more importantly) telling everyone what you’re reading right now is so on trend, right? I mean now more than ever— readers are celebrated on Pinterest boards and podcasts alike. They’re rewarded with great swag like scarves made up quotes from “Pride and Prejudice” to witty library totes that proclaim, “Not tonight, I’m reading”.

Open up your Instagram feed and you’ll find your favorite Bibliophile wearing these momentos with a certain literary smugness as they head out to the library or book club. The world needs to be super impressed because on Dec. 31 they met their Goodreads goal last year like the book bosses they truly are.

But here’s the thing: I didn’t meet a single book related goal in 2017.

I mean, I wrote a book, but read a whole one cover to cover… nope. Not at all.

Don’t get me wrong, I did read last year, but most of my reading was for study. The only book I read last year that I can remember actually reading (not listening to because there is a difference, y’all) was something sent me on Kindle for review.

I did not seek out books and nor did I make it a priority. Instead of feel shame about this, I sat down towards the end of the year and examined why my reading life has suffered.

I came to terms with something I think I always knew but didn’t want to admit because I feared the bookish internet would come for my library card—I am an easily distracted reader.

I sit down with a book and immediately my mind goes to my to-do list or re-hashing an argument with my husband or how the author’s description of the hero reminds me of the super hot lead in that new medical drama on NBC. My mind rarely stays on the page.

So instead of setting myself up for failure this year with a book count and a reading challenge, I decided to do one thing: make peace with the distractions.

The truth is, we are surrounded by distractions—our phones, our kids, or homes— all vie for our attention.

Unless I take to the woods like Thoreau and even still while I wander, I’ll notice the distractions: hello little squirrel! How are you today? My you have a ton of energy…I wonder how many calories a squirrel burns scampering up and down trees… how many calories are in a nut… am I eating about healthy fats… oh I could really go for some almonds right now…

See, my friends. Distractions. Everywhere. Especially when I’m reading.

And yet there’s something magical about the page.

It transforms our minds and opens our hearts, so I’ve come up with these five hacks to take control of my brain that feels like I’m herding squirrels every time I sit in down with a book in my lap.

Usually one or two of these are enough to help me focus in so that I can get lost in the book.

Distracted Reading Hacks:

Learn about the book before you read it

Because I’m such a nerd, I like to know as much as I can about the book before reading it.

So, I take a few minutes to google the author and the book. Sometimes, I find a podcast, interview, or book reading to help give me  some context about the book.

I like podcasts where the author is interviewed or book club discussion—they give me an opportunity to connect with the author and other readers on an emotional level. That emotion and relational investment I’ve made with the author makes me want to dive back in and focus on the book.

To find a podcast that features a book, I use the iTunes podcast app (because it has the best search function) and then I’ll type in the name of the book and listen to the top rated results.

Create a Reading Commute

Last month when I went to Canada to speak, I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane simply because I was out of my regular environment, I had lots of waiting time, and I was on a three hour flight each way.

I’ve noticed, I’m less distracted when I travel so if I want to replicate this in my life to help me get through a book, I’ll choose a coffee shop that is a good drive away from my home— enough that it feels like an adventure but close enough to make it back home in time for school pick up and schedule a couple of hours a week to read!

When we lived in Boston, it was not uncommon for me to just jump on the train and ride it to the end of the line simply to get in an hour or two of reading while the kids were in school. I’ve given up driving on longer trips so that I can read.

Start With the Audiobook

Sometimes, what’s really helpful for to have a voice in my head of the narrator.  This is why I love the “sample” feature of Audible.

With copy of the book in hand, I’ll look up the audio version of the book, start the sample, and follow along. It personalizes the story and helps me make connections to people I may know who remind me of the characters.

Read Out Loud

I was sitting on the plane when I noticed that was making my grocery shopping list in my head instead of reading the words on the page. This happens to me often, sometimes the author will mention something— in this case it was eggs, and off my mind went, planning a list.

I really hate that feeling of re-reading the same page over and over again because my mind is drifting. On the plane, I actually started reading the chapter under my breath until I was invested in the story again.

Sure, the person next to me gave me the side eye- but that’s ok! Science has proven that we retain more information when we read out loud—plus it’s really fun to do the voices.

Get a Small Win

If I’m reading a new author, especially one whose style or voice is different than I’m used to, I’ll clock in a small win for me by reading short stories or essays written by this author before diving into their 400-500 page novel.

This is how I started with Gillian Flynn. Before reading Gone Girl, I read, The Grownup in one sitting. Once I got a sense of her syntax, then picking up Gone Girl felt like reconnecting with an old friend who has a new story to tell me.

Sometimes, you can combine audio with this short story hack by listening to Levar Burton Reads. He has an amazing voice and well produced shows of his favorite short stories. If this hack intrigues you, listen to a short story and if you find one you love, then look to see if the author has a longer work for you to dig into.

Reading is vital to me living wholeheartedly.

Reading is an on ramp for peace and the making of it in our everyday lives.

Reading stories from new perspectives reminds us our shared humanity.

If there’s one thing our world needs more of it people who remember our humanity and protect it fiercely. Reading helps us get there.

If you’re like me and you are a distracted reader, try out my hacks and let me know what has helped you. I’m always looking for more ways to not conquer, but make peace with my distraction because the world is full of buzzes, beeps, and squirrels.

by Osheta

Reading Time:

6 minutes

 

 


 

 

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11 Comments

  1. Christian

    Sounds like you might benefit from a simple meditation practice. I know it helps clear and focus my mind. 🙂

    • Osheta

      I think you might be right, Christian! I’ll look into some meditation practices before reading.

  2. Allison Gonzalez

    HI Osheta,

    Thanks! I get distracted as well. I LOVE reading but I can never do it at home. I found when I go on vacation or away from the house I can actually read and honestly wondered why it was so much easier that way. LOL, I never figured in that I was just distracted at home.

    I’m going to try your hack about going to a cafe or coffee house, that makes a lot of sense. I also love people watching so I guess I better face the wall, lol.

    Best,
    Allison

    • Osheta Moore

      Yep! I have to face the wall or even better the fireplace! That is, if the coffee shop has one. Let me know which hack works best for you! I’m always intrigued to hear what works for other people.

  3. Grae

    This is just what I need. I’m easily distracted by everything — from making a list (which I would forget later on) to the sound of a ticking clock. The only way I could get to finish The Silver Linings Playbook was by reading it when I go to work or during heavy traffic when I’m driving (a bit dangerous, I know). At home, my parents and/or Netflix is always there to distract me. So, thanks! I’m glad that I’ve stumbled upon this article. 🙂 I might try listening to audibles while reading.

    • Osheta Moore

      Oh Grae… you know what’s really been the most helpful with these hacks… grace and patience and kind self talk. That way, I can just take up as much time and try as many little tricks I need to get through a book. Also, was “The Silver Linings Playbook” amazing?

  4. Sheila

    Before I hit the sack, I was just going to read a chapter in a book I have been on for sometime, but my husband said “I left the internet up.” So, here I am. I happened upon your article in Blogglovin’ and thought how true. Life is full of distractions…but that’s life! Never really called them that. I thoroughly enjoyed what you had to say and agree with it all. I live in a small town; no trains or subways – don’t travel much, so my reading is usually under the hair dryer when I shampoo! But you gave me lots of good tips and plan on trying them. Have done books on tape and love them. That’s one way to read stories I never would have picked up the book to read. Thanks and keep up the good writing!

    • Osheta Moore

      Oh I almost included going to the hair dresser as a hack because I’m usually there getting my hair done for at least three hours– that’s prime reading time. Thanks for commenting and happy reading!

  5. Kal

    Great article! Unfortunately, these days I have become a distracted reader. There is always too much going on in my mind and around me that i couldn’t focus on my reading. The way I tackle this is by allocating 10 minutes reading a few times a day (during commute, before bed, etc). I also joined a book club with a regular meeting to ensure I read at least one book a month. I am going to do the #1 hack you suggested and start connecting with the book and author before I deep dive into it. Thanks for sharing this!

    • osheta moore

      I wish I could find a book club reading the kinds of books I like or am in the mood to read. I’m so happy to hear you have one and that you’re allotting 10 minutes a day to reading. Sometimes, that alone feels like a total win!

  6. Colleen

    During grad school, I took a speed reading course. The teacher said part of the reason we get distracted is that we read too slow. Our thoughts move far more quickly than our mouths. Saying the words aloud slows us down and leaves us with time to ponder other things. (Who hasn’t done that while reading to their kids?)

    So, it may work best to stop reading aloud and actually move your eyes more quickly down the page. (And take a little time at the end of a few paragraphs to process what your eyes have seen.) I bet Udemy or someone has a speed reading course that explains it better.

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