In May 2020, I made a commitment to read for at least 10 minutes every day, and this challenge has had a big impact on my life. I have gained self-worth and perspective, I sleep better, and I feel overall happier and more productive.
I wanted to share this journey, and who knows, maybe inspire you to take a 🔥 challenge 🔥 of your own.
- The context
- My 5 tips to create long-lasting habits
- The terms of my reading challenge
- How is it going so far? Some statistics
- How this challenge changed my life
🔖 I created this Table of Contents using BitDownToc. If you are curious, read my article: Finally a clean and easy way to add Table of Contents to dev.to articles 🤩
I used to love reading when I was a kid and even started writing as a teenager. As I got interested in programming and spent more time on my computer, I found it increasingly difficult to pick up a book, until I stopped trying completely. I missed the feeling of being completely immersed in a story though and wanted to start reading again. But How? How can you (re)create a long-lost habit?
My 5 tips to create long-lasting habits
Based on my research, here is a summary of the most useful tips I found to challenge yourself the right way:
Set a specific and achievable goal (aka. start small). Avoid generic, new-year-resolution-like challenges such as "I will work out regularly". Instead, give yourself a very specific goal that is doable and easy to measure, for example, "I will go to the gym twice a week for an hour." This will help you stay focused and motivated.
Make it fun. To avoid burnout, try to make the habit enjoyable and varied. For example, go to the gym with friends or try different classes or locations to mix things up.
Keep things flexible. Don't be too rigid with your routine. If something comes up that hinders your progress, try to adapt and make adjustments rather than giving up entirely.
Monitor your progress. Being able to prove your achievements (or to be reminded of your failures 😉) is the best way to stay motivated. May it be a full-featured habit tracker app or simply an
Xmark on a calendar, as long as you have a way to "officialize" your progress.
Allow yourself some "get-out-of-jail" free cards. It's okay to miss your goal a few times. Don't beat yourself up over every small setback; you are human, it won't be perfect!
The terms of my reading challenge
I set myself the goal to read for at least 10 minutes every day. To keep it light, I only choose materials that I think I will enjoy, and don't perceive as work: literature, strange books, soft science fiction, ... No self-help and programming books! I try to vary as much as possible the genres, languages (French/English), authors, and lengths.
I have specific times in the day reserved for reading: before bed, in the loo, and during public transport - those weren't very productive times anyhow. Instead of watching videos, spending time on Reddit, or working on my computer, I now use that time to escape through imagination!
I track my reading habits thoroughly using different tools:
- I start a timer every time I read using the Boosted app (one book = one task). Knowing that a clock is ticking helps me focus on the reading, and ignore distractions
- I keep a list of books read (along with some notes) using a custom-made Android app called MyBooks, which saves the data as a JSON file in DropBox (I wouldn't remember half of the books I read without it 😆)
- I maintain two lists on GoodReads: want-to-read and read
- I publish all my stats online: https://derlin.github.io/reading-stats/. For the curious, I use Python to merge data from Boosted, MyBooks, and GoodReads, react to create the interface, and GitHub Pages for hosting. (The update is not fully automated yet, so there is a slight lag in the data)
I allow myself to skip a day once in a while, but keeping my stats out in the open helps me stay motivated: I don't want too many missing data points on my graphs 😏.
How is it going so far? Some statistics
I started the challenge on Monday, May 18th, 2020. By the end of 2022, I read about 39,359 pages (121 books) in 52,691 minutes, which is equivalent to 1 month, 5 days, 14 hours, and 11 minutes of non-stop reading.
My reading time has remained consistent over the years 😊, but I tend to use more and more get-out-of-jail-free cards 😬:
I read an average of 20 hours per month, with high peaks during the summer break:
Against all odds, I tend to read more consistently during the week, as I have my routine in place (I go to bed early and use more public transport):
See more at https://derlin.github.io/reading-stats/
How this challenge changed my life
In 2020, I struggled with sleeping and often felt unproductive and frustrated at the end of the day. My mind was constantly racing, and I couldn't seem to shut it off. I needed something to be proud of at the end of the day.
This challenge helped me on many levels. Reading before bed instead of watching a screen helped me fall asleep and eventually get rid of insomnia. Completing my challenge each day gave me something tangible to be proud of and helped me feel more confident. Keeping up with the habit showed me that I was capable of achieving something when I had the right tools and motivation. This really boosted my self-worth. Against all odds, I also became more productive: I largely compensate for the time I "lose" reading by being overall sharper, more focused, and happier.
Putting the whole "challenge" aside, reading by itself has many benefits. It improves my vocabulary, increases my knowledge, and boosts my critical thinking, analytical skills, concentration, and memory. It is an amazing stress reliever, as it allows me to escape, at least for a short while, from all my everyday worries. Reading has improved my empathy and social skills, allowing me to experience the world from other perspectives and forge new, more nuanced opinions. It also gives me something to talk about, especially when amongst regular (non-tech!) people 😉.
Reading is becoming even more important now that I spend more and more time on my computer (work, blog, personal projects, fitness in VR, ...). I believe having a few hobbies and habits outside of the tech bubble helps me keep my mind sharp and my motivation high. It is like a breath of fresh air that suddenly wakes me up and reminds me there is more than this nasty bug I can't stop thinking about!
I hope you also found something playing the role reading does in my life, and if not, I encourage you to start looking. It may change your life, as reading changed mine!
Top comments (26)
Thanks for sharing this. It's funny, I myself did the same commitment (30 minutes a day of reading for me) 4 months ago. I've already read 12 books, including some classics I'd always wanted to read (Anne Franck, Lord of the flies, etc.). That's the real beauty of this habit: you read things that you always had planned for later because now that you read a lot, every 3 to 10 days, you have to pick a new book and it's easy to pick an old classic because you know that even if it doesn't tempt you too much, you'll only read it in a few days before moving on to a book that was more tempting.
For my part, I've put everything on a Google Sheet (including when I started and finished the book, my review, etc.). I included a column for if the book appears in at least two lists of Great books to have read in your life (or the 100 greatest books, whatever), and I've skimmed many of these kind of lists. I also give a note out of 10 so that I can recommend books quickly. And I've put a dropdown list to indicate if it's a Fantasy book, a Self help book, a Biography, etc.
I have yet to plug my Google Sheet to an API like Goodread to be able to retrieve more info easily, like books cover or publication date.
Last but not least: it's such a pleasure to pick the next book, it's amazing. And you feel great by having an habit that make you happy/smarter/more confident.
Wow, awesome! The google sheet is indeed an easy and effective way to track everything :)
As much as I agree that picking the next book is a great feeling, I must admit it also became a burden in the past months. Finding original books is hard when you read a lot, and it takes some time! I usually try to keep a backlog in case I finish a book faster than expected and don't have the time to research another one.
I am reading on an e-reader (I use Calibre to manage the library btw). This is maybe why it is so hard: when switching to digital, you basically have everything at hand, which is quite overwelming compared to going to your favorite bookshop. And you, do you read paperbacks? Any good book to recommend?
I read paperbacks for now because I have acquired lots of them, and my wife told me that as long as I had not read all of the books at home, I wouldn't get a Kindle ;)
That's perhaps why it is indeed easier and fun to pick each next book to read: my personal library is filled with book I've been dying to read for a long time, and I have scores of them. When I'll switch to Kindle, my google sheet list with books that I've been advised to read or coming from the Top books lists that I've reviewed, will help a lot.
To find great new books, the other advice I would give is to ask some friends, colleagues or library sellers what are the 3 books they love the most, or the ones that changed their life or were just mind blowing or too fun to put down.
Books I would recommend to anyone (read sometimes many times):
Musk biography (by Vance, I think)
The name of the wind (Rothfuss)
Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
Flowers for Algernon (Daniel Keyes)
Rhapsody (Elizabeth Haydon)
Harry Potter (1 to 4, disliked the 3 last ones)
The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
The Ice People (René Barjavel). La nuit des temps in french (I'm French by the way)
Atlas shrugged (Ayn Rand)
The road to serfdom (Hayek)
Not without my daughter (Betty Mahmoody and William Hoffer)
The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
Wizard's first rule (Terry Goodkind)
Don't hesitate to share your favorites too!
Such an interesting and inspiring experience !
I didn't know reading "trackers" where a thing. Since I also want to read more, I will definitely try them 😄
I am curious, do you use the Boosted app that you mentionned for other activities ? Would you recommand it ?
So happy to hear it!
I only use Boosted to track hobbies. I have the premium version so I can export everything as CSV for my stats. For work, I use work log instead, which I find more suitable. And yes, I recommend it!
Try serial reader!
I didn't know about serialreader.org/ (Android + iOS app), that is an interesting product! I personally love the freedom of reading as much (or as little) as I want, but this may be beneficial to others, thanks for sharing!
Wonderful... By creating new habits we can create useful data to help us in the evaluation of how these habits are running... But at the heart is the commitment itself ... Thnx for sharing your experience..
I am more interested in the GitHub repo, can you make it more general [ or if you need help with that, I can help! ], so that people can fork it and use it for themselves.
That's an interesting idea!
Right now, the CSV format for the data is already quite generic - except for the meta.json which is tight to MyBooks. It is only used to link book titles to GoodReads, so we could do without.
For the code though, to be honest it was more like a toy project to try react, and I am quite displeased with the performance (especially the loading time). To work with CSV/DataFrames, I used Danfo.js, but it is quite a poor alternative to Python Pandas (that I used in my first version of the site, still available at derlin.github.io/reading-challenge/). I would thus definitely need some help to improve on this side.
If people are interested in collaborating on this, I would be thrilled to prepare a base on GitHub and start the discussions! Let me know :)
Cool, I am interested!
Give me till Monday I'll go through the repo.
I think I missed the point, just to confirm, is there a code repo for this?
From the top of my head, we can make it RESTful, I can work on the backend.
Forgot it was still private. I will notify you as soon as I find 5 minutes to change this 😊
I would personally like to keep it static, so we can use netlify or github pages to deploy it for free. What do you think?
With some googling Netlify looks better choice, so I think we should use netlify, now the only thing left is to learn it!!😅
But I am up for a challenge!👊🏾
I haven't had time to clean it up or even add a Readme (I am currently abroad for work), but it is now public at least. We can continue the discussion on github 😊 github.com/derlin/reading-stats
Good read! I agree with you.
Thank you Lucy for sharing that. I have to say I have a similar experience, meaning, used to read a lot and then got burried in work....long story and I aback on track with reading now. Yes, you right, you need to find some hobby outside the tech bubble (well works for me) to keep your brain going. Sewing is my meditation:-) and what helps me a lot with stress of everyday.
Keep up with reading.
I use "Loop Habit Tracker" (Androi) to track: Reading, Cold Shower, Meditation, Breath work, Drumming, Sports. You can easily export to CSV and it has own reporting features. I usually have one widget per habit on my home screen so I can easily tap it whenever I have accomplished one habit.
As for the reading I usually try to read 3-5 books per month. I then have a look at the total page number of each book and assign myself a daily rate of reading (e. g. 50 pages per day). I'm not very strict at it but it helps me to actually read more.
I use Emacs, ORG mode and org-roam to manage quotes and highlights from books (as part of my knowledge management system).
Awesome, thanks for sharing!
Wow, this was motivating and relatable. Also, thanks for sharing about the reading-tracker things.
Wow thank you very much for sharing! You inspired me on using the same tools and also build a similar app to track my progress too. I was always wondering how much time I end up spending on side-projects, reading goals etc and your logic will help me understand that for sure and improve! :)
So happy to hear! Keep us updated on your progresses, I would be very interested in seeing what you come up with 😊
Or maybe you could join @tafri and I, and we could try doing an awesome generic app together?
Out of curiosity, what are the features of the MyBook app, since you are using both GoodReads and MyBook?
Well, the best feature is that it is my doing, and it has an octopus logo :)
But more seriously, I tailor-made MyBooks to fit only one use-case: tracking my books read. Compared to GoodReads:
Bonus: the metadata are fetched automatically from GoodReads, you do not need to add them manually. Just search the title, clic on the right book in the result list, and fields get populated for you. I use goodreads-metadata-fetcher for that - a library in Kotlin I created and maintain myself → docs source
I put it on the play store once, but never updated it. If other people are interested, the source code is on GitHub and I can definitely improve a bit the repo to add a readme and an automated apk build, let me know!
It looks very interesting, I’ll definitely take a look.
Thanks for sharing.
OMG! You are really concentrated in reading)))
Anyway, the same thoughts, thank you for sharing, quite interesting text)