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5 Strategies to Build a Sustainable Reading Habit

Mairéad Mc Keown, Manager, Knowledge & Critical Capability

This article in three words:

Strategy, Reading, Habit

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Photo by Kaushal Moradiya on Pexels


Did you know?

According to the Harvard Business Review, “deep, broad reading habits (across fields) are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyse insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness (Coleman, 2012)”.

Now that we’ve established the benefits of reading, this insightful article will share Five Strategies to Build a Sustainable Reading Habit. These strategies are based on James Clear’s highly acclaimed book - Atomic Habits. You’ll also find some useful supports and resources to kick start your reading habit included within.


Five Strategies to Build a Sustainable Reading Habit:

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1. Start with an incredibly small reading habit.

Does the following scenario sound all too familiar?

You want to build a new reading habit but often find yourself thinking:

  • “I need more motivation to read.”
  • “I just can’t carve out enough time for reading.”
  • “I wish I had as much willpoweras Warren Buffet (5-6 hours of reading a day!).”


The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. A simple strategy to get over these hurdles is to establish a new reading habit that’s so easy it won’t require too much motivation. So rather than aiming to read for 5-6 hours a day like Warren Buffet and setting yourself up to potentially fail, why not start by setting a really achievable goal to read for just 5 minutes a day (Investor Archive, 2015). Make it easy to just do it.


2. Increase your reading in very small ways.

Tiny improvements, like reading for one extra minute a day, add up surprisingly quickly. So if you start small and work on steadily improving as you go, your willpower and motivation will increase in tandem. All of this ultimately makes it easier for you to build a sustainable reading habit.


3. As you build up, break your reading into manageable blocks.

If you continue adding one minute each day, then you’ll find yourself increasing the amount you read within a couple of weeks. Try to not to run before you walk, the amount you read should also be reasonable, so that you can easily sustain it.

Want to build up to 20/30 minutes of reading? Try splitting your reading habit into two blocks of 10/15 minutes at first. You can maintain or continue to increase this amount, when you find what works best for you.


4. When your reading slips, get back on track quickly.

Research shows that missing your habit once does not have a lasting impact on your long-term progress. Top tip: if you miss a block of reading, admit that perfection is unobtainable and what matters most is getting back on track as fast as possible.

None of us set out to fail, but those of us who wish succeed should have a strategy in case things slip. Taking the time to think about what might derail your reading habit will help future proof your success.


Consider some of the following common constraints:

  • Other things keep getting in the way

Set a reading goal, then strategically think about the optimum time to read. Each morning, before you even open your inbox, why not try to complete your first block of reading. Indulge your need to read before the day gets away. Perhaps end your day with your second block of reading to help unwind before you go to sleep?


b.) Not having easy access to your reading material

Make sure your books are close to hand at your dedicated reading time and place e.g. on your desk at work and/or on your bedside locker at night.


  • Formats that don’t suit your busy life

Consider the time of the day you plan to read and importantly where you’ll be. If it’s during your daily commute and you walk/cycle to work a paper book won’t suit, so think about trying an audio-book. After all, it’s a really great way to learn and burn! Find the right book format that works for you. You could also practice a combination of listening and reading for diversity.


  • Not having reading material that’s relevant

Tie professional reading into your role activities/career growth for material that’s practical and relevant. But it’s also worth noting that reading fiction helps people develop empathytheory of mind (understanding others’ mental states), and critical thinking  (Elder & Paul, 2004), (Kidd & Castano, 2013) (Seifert, 2020) and (Bal & Veltkamp, 2013). Ultimately, reading broadly across fields is recommended. As you build your reading habit, you might want to try mixing some business books with fiction, other genres and/or poetry.


  • Distracting push notifications from digital devices

If you’re easily distracted, this one’s simple, turn off your device/s or mute your push notifications while you read. On the flipside you may find using digital calendar notifications helpful, in which case why not set up digital reminders of your reading blocks?


  • Just don’t know where to start

Leverage the skills and expertise of Bord Bia’s Librarians and/or Librarians in your local library/staff in your local book shop for suggestions and recommendations.

Consistency is key, whilst perfection is not. If you can focus on being known as someone who never misses your reading habit twice, you’ll quickly become a star reader. If it’s been a while since you picked up a book, try going back to a book you really enjoyed to re-establish/kick-start this positive habit!


5. Be patient. Stick to a reading pace you can sustain.

You can carve out more time to read if you practice consistency and learn to be patient with yourself. When you start to build a new reading habit it should feel easy in the beginning. By staying consistent and slowly increasing this habit over time, it will stretch you in a sustainable way.


Implications for Irish Food, Drink and Horticulture Professionals:

According to the Harvard Business Review, “reading more can lead to a host of benefits for business people of all stripes, and broad, deep reading can make you a better leader (Coleman, 2012)”. Irish food, drink and horticulture professionals who wish to read more should practice these Five Strategies to Build a Sustainable Reading Habit. Those who do, can contact Bord Bia’s reference Librarians at for support with their professional reading journey. We have a vast collection of business books, including the highly acclaimed HBR 10 Must Reads on various topics, which can be read at the Library by appointment. Those who want to read broadly (across fields), can check out some of the additional supports and recommendations listed below.


Useful reading supports/recommendations for reading broadly:

Looking for suggestions on the best business books of 2022?

Here you can explore all of the books listed for the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award


Looking for book recommendations from one of the most successful investors in the world?

Here you can check out 52 books recommended by Warren Buffet


Looking for free and easy access to thousands of books (across different fields)?

Your public Library service offers over 33,300 eBooks and 25,200 eAudio books, which incorporates a wide range of business and fiction titles. To learn more click here

And, if you’re interested in any of the McKinsey and Warren Buffet recommendations listed through the links above, you could try sourcing them at your local library.


Looking for access to millions of free books, including audio and poetry?

Check out what’s on offer from this useful Internet Archive here



Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (2013). How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. PLoS ONE, 8(1).

Clear, J. (n.d.). How to Build New Habits: This is Your Strategy Guide. James Clear.

Coleman, J. (2012, August 15). For Those Who Want to Lead, Read. Harvard Business Review.

Elder, L., & Paul, R. (2004). Critical Thinking... and the Art of Close Reading (Part II). Journal of Developmental Education, 27(3), 36–37.

Investor Archive. (2015, January 26). Warren Buffett: I Read 5-6 Hours A Day | January 26, 2015.

Kidd, D. C., & Castano, E. (2013). Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind. Science, 342(6156), 377–380.

Seifert, C. (2020, March 6). The Case for Reading Fiction. Harvard Business Review.


Related reading:

(Sneyd, 2021) Want to be a better thinker? Here’s the secret, read more fiction.....