How to Finish More Books This Year (+ a Free Cheat Sheet)

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Motivate yourself and get started on your reading list by cultivating a simple reading habit that allows you to finish more books!

When was the last time you finished a good book?

If you’re like most of us, it’s probably been a while.

Many of us have a strained relationship with books. Whether you are scarred from being forced to read As I Lay Dying in high school, or simply overstimulated and overworked from your daily life, it’s not always easy to squeeze in a few pages.

Is reading really that good for you?

YES! Reading is that good for you. Reading is one of the best things you can do for both your brain and your body. Researchers found that 30 minutes of reading had similar stress-reducing benefits as 30 minutes of yoga or humor. It also increases your neural connectivity, which keeps your brain active as you age and more agile overall. It aids in building your vocabulary, which can improve your communication skills (and maybe even impress your boss).

The best benefit of all? Reading is pretty fun. Very few movies and tv shows can come close to visually recreating the amount of detail and care an author puts into a novel. There’s a reason why the book is usually more loved than the movie or miniseries (though an argument can be made for Sharp Objects and The Queen’s Gambit).

Unfortunately, like most things that are good for us, we tend to avoid reading for more immediate pleasures. Since these immediate pleasures are pretty much always available, it takes a little more work to pick up and focus in on a good book these days. Don’t worry, because after reading this post (and downloading your cheat sheet!) you will be able to finish more books and tackle that growing reading list.

Your Cheat Sheet to Finish More Books

Last year, I read 40 books (60 less than my yearly goal but hey, shoot for the moon) and through this process I realized that reading was a lot simpler than I made it out to be. I was also sabotaging myself in a variety of ways, making this habit far more difficult. Since I established reading in my daily routine, I’ve had time to reflect on the physical and mental blocks that stood in my way.

Today, I am incredibly passionate about reading. It allowed me to travel during a time when sitting on the beach was illegal, and continues to provide me with escapes into vivid worlds that inform how I see my life, and the people in it, today. Being able to finish more books allows me to feel good about myself for doing something positive for both my brain and body, and it empowers me to have more agency in other areas of my life.

While compiling this post, I put together a handy cheat sheet you can print at home to help you strategize when you’re going to read, what books are on your list, and a reading tracker so that as you finish more books you can jot them down.

Questions to ask yourself:

To get you started, I’ve composed five questions that will help you narrow your focus in creating a reading list. I believe this is essential to finding joy and focus in your reading efforts. These questions are also listed on the cheat sheet above.

  1. What subject or topic am I curious about?
  2. What was the last book I couldn’t put down?
  3. Who are some authors that I’ve enjoyed reading in the past?
  4. What is my favorite movie genre?
  5. What do I want to get out of this book? (purely entertainment value, a good laugh, poetic prose, lessons for life, etc.)

Mistakes to avoid:

  1. Starting with the last book you were trying to read. Start fresh with a book that gets you excited. Once you’re well established in your habit, try going back to that other book if it still interests you.
  2. Reading what you think other people expect you to read. This may sound strange, but when we’re told from a young age what books are “important” and which ones aren’t, it can be difficult to open ourselves up to genres that we like.
  3. Trying to read that book from high school that you never finished (or just pretended to read). I’ve made this mistake over and over. While it’s not a bad goal to read those books you didn’t read in high school, that shouldn’t be the place you start. Begin with trying to give yourself a reading success, and build from there.
  4. Only reading one book at a time. I used to think it was “bad” to be in the middle of multiple books. However, reading several books at a time can allow you to have more freedom with your reading material. Just like with tv shows or movies, you’re not always in the mood for the same type of media every day.
  5. Don’t force yourself to read (and finish) a book you don’t like. I usually give myself 30-50 pages to see how I feel. If I find that I’m constantly distracted or irritated by the characters and the writing, then I let it go. To save yourself from purchasing a book that you’re unsure if you’ll like, download a sample from Amazon to try it for free. I picked up Supermarket on a whim at Target and to this day that is 250 pages of loathsome writing I will never get back.

*This post may contain affiliate links. If you purchase some of the items listed, I get a small percentage at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products I love and use.**

Set an Intention for Reading

Since reading is something most of us were forced to do in English and Literature classes, diving back into what feels like homework isn’t something we’re excited to do. All this strained relationship with reading needs is a little love and care.

Before you rush back into whatever book you started seven months ago, take a moment. Write down the benefits you want to get out of reading and why you want to spend time on it. Take note of how you feel when you read regularly, and how that has helped you.

Begin Small

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear discusses the importance of making your habit so easy that it would be ridiculous not to do it. When it comes to reading, making a goal to read just 1-2 pages per day is easily attainable. Plus, it’s likely that those 1-2 pages will turn into 10 or even 50 pages before you even realize. This is by far the easiest way to finish more books, because those little steps add up before you even realize.

If the new year has you on a bit of a self-help kick, I’ve listed a couple of my favorite books below to help you tackle your reading habit and finish more books.

Atomic Habits by James Clear

Mini Habits by Stephen Guise

Start with a Book that Gets You Excited

Loving classic novels is great, but sometimes we set standards so high for ourselves. If it’s been a while since you’ve read a book, ease into it. Pick a book that sounds so interesting and exciting that you will want to read it the moment you get it. Take time to pore over reviews, lists, and read samples. Don’t hold yourself to any arbitrary reading standard set by someone else.

While I love Toni Morrison, her novels are packed with meaning, emotion, and are heavy in terms of the content discussed. I’m not always up for this kind of novel. One of my favorite genres is the mystery/thriller, as in Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware. These page-turners remind me why I love reading and how exciting it can be. Most importantly, they keep me reading.

If the thought of figuring out what genre will keep you reading feels overwhelming, try this. Think about books that you loved in the past and jot them down. Contemplate stories that keep you thinking about them to this day. Write down the tv shows and movies you’ve loved that were based on books (in my experience, the book is almost always better).

Remember, these are your rules. If you loved a book and it moved you, there’s no harm in rereading it. If this will get you started and excited to read, then it’s a win for your reading habit. Remember, the goal is to read and finish more books and there’s nothing wrong with a little shameless fiction to get you there.

Replace Another Activity with Reading

If you typically spend hours after work watching tv, try replacing that habit with reading. You can plan to start small with 1-2 pages, but you will likely find that reading will allow you to destress more effectively than Selling Sunset.

If this sounds like too much of a commitment, you can use reading as a checklist item before you get to whatever your guilty pleasure activity is. Just in case you’re very much into another habit you don’t want to forego altogether.

Try Audiobooks

Audiobooks are the perfect way to squeeze reading into a busy schedule. Listen while you make dinner, workout, or go through your morning routine. Set aside your audiobook time for when you have to do chores or run errands as a way to make them more enjoyable.

While listening to audiobooks doesn’t have all of the same benefits as reading what’s on the page, this is an easy way to finish more books and tackle your reading list.

Join a Book Club

Joining a book club will hold you accountable to read and keep reading. While you may not always get a say in what book you’re reading that month, it will help you expand your genres and motivate you to finish your books. Plus, you get to discuss what you loved or didn’t love about a particular book with a group. You will likely be exposed to new authors and books you wouldn’t have chosen otherwise. On top of that, you may learn of new interesting reads from others in your group.

Plan a Reading List

If you want to read more but don’t know where to start, you can begin by making a reading list for yourself. List out the books on your shelf that you want to get to, or borrow from a friend. Research your favorite authors from the past and brush up on their new, or even less popular works. Make a list of short reads like the Alchemist or Their Eyes Were Watching God so that fit’s easier to finish a book.

Try Reading Aloud with Your Partner

If there’s a book Evan and I are both interested in reading, we will talk about reading it aloud to each other. This may sound strange, but it’s a fun way to spend time with your partner and get in a few pages. We had so much fun reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (that Mark Twain really is a hoot), We Do (a therapist-recommended book on marriage and relationships), and The Old Man and the Sea.

Alternatively, you can listen to an audiobook together while making dinner or doing chores. This is a nice way to enjoy something together that isn’t a tv show or a movie. This will also give you plenty to discuss that isn’t gossip or politics, which is always a plus.

Take a Book with You Wherever You Go

Off to lunch? Bring a book. To the doctor’s office? Bring a book. Waiting in your car until the last possible second before you go into work? Bring a book.

One sure way to keep your mind focused on reading is to have the book (or books) you’re currently reading around. Bring it to work, keep it in your bag, or have it somewhere you’re likely to see it often. This will make it just a little bit easier on yourself to get in those 2 pages every day. Even if you’re not sure you will be in the mood to read, bring the book anyway. Once you start paying attention, you will find you have lots of reading windows throughout your day.


9 tips for finishing more books:

  1. Set an intention for reading
  2. Start with a small reading habit
  3. Read a book that gets you excited
  4. Replace another activity with reading
  5. Try audiobooks
  6. Plan a reading list
  7. Join a book club
  8. Read aloud with your partner
  9. Take a book wherever you go

Overall, reading is kind of like eating healthy. It takes some time to acclimate to reading more once you incorporate it into your schedule, but it will be a point of pride and personal accomplishment as you finish more books and cross them off your reading list.

In case you missed it above, don’t forget to download your free cheat sheet!

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