Some evening late December 2020, my daughter caught me reading. Which is to say she entered one of the rooms in my home where I am prone to sit in a particularly favored chair and gaze happily into the page or screen of whatever book had my attention at the moment. Her odds of catching me at it were good since I tend to fill most unscheduled moments of my day with words.
“Reading,” she said. Sometimes, she finds, it is important to state the obvious facts. And then: “Do you have any idea exactly how much time you spend reading?”
It was the word “exactly” that caught my attention. Her question deserved my thoughtful answer. I knew with certainty I read somewhere between “a lot” and “a ridiculous percentage of my total conscious hours”. But, pondering the question, I realized I did not, in fact, know exactly how much I read.
I decided to find out. Me being me, I kept track.
First, I downloaded a counter app for my phone, something I could easily use to increment the minutes in my day spent reading for leisure. I used the Tally Pro app because it was already installed on my phone (I like to count things) and because it easily could be set up with seven separate counters, one for each day of the week. I set up the app for the week to run Monday through Sunday because, let’s be honest, Monday is the first day of the week and Sunday is the last.
Next, I set up a Google Sheet with 52 rows, one for each week of the year, with columns for each day of the week again running Monday through Sunday. At the end of those columns, a row to calculate the weekly total and then another column to calculate the overall total.
That part was easy and fun. The next part was even better.
I made myself a habit of timing every time I sat down to read for fun. My phone was usually at hand and it always wants something useful to do while I’m ignoring it, so I allowed it to track my reading time with the stop watch. Start. Stop. No big deal. When my phone wasn’t at hand, my Fitbit stopwatch served just as well. A few times, it was just a mere glance at the clock. Nothing fancy. The important thing was consistency and a careful habit of logging those tracked minutes into the TallyPro counter so they didn’t get lost.
Right now, you are probably thinking that neurotically measuring something you really enjoy might take all the fun out of the thing you are meant to be enjoying. Wrong. Measuring things compulsively makes things even more fun. Capturing. Documenting. Incrementing. You push the button to start the clock, set it aside and get lost into your reading. No big deal. Then you look up when you are done and are amazed to find how time compresses when you are making your bookish escape from this temporal plane into the next.
It was never a hard habit to maintain. Read. Measure. Record. Read. Measure. Record. Once a week, update the Google Sheet and reset the counter for a fresh week ahead.
Sometime in July, my daughter noticed me fiddling with my phone each time immediately after I read. “What are you doing?” she asked.
So, I told her.
“Of course you are.”
She rolled her eyes. If you have a teenager in your home, you know the look.
Yep. Of course I was.
I managed this process the whole year, all 365 days of 2021. And now, I can say with authority exactly how much I read: 11,324 minutes. Which is 188.7 hours. Which is 7.86 days if you were reading constantly without sleeping, eating or any of those other annoying life functions.
There were 126 days when I didn’t read at all. I don’t specifically recall those days but the idea of them makes me sad.
There was one glorious day, Wednesday, December 1 where I read 207 minutes at a stretch. I averaged 216 minutes a week so that one glorious December day was a week’s worth of reading at one go. My best weeks for reading were the weeks of January 4 – 10 (482 minutes) and April 26 – May 2 (476 minutes). Everybody gets to read a lot the first of January. That’s not weird. My April binge was while recovering from surgery.
I can’t pretend any of this information is actually useful. I also want to be clear that this is not a humble brag. I know people who read way more than me.
I think I just want you to understand that I am the kind of person who does stuff like this. All the time. I like to measure things. I like to keep track. I like to know “exactly” how much.
Also, I want you to understand that I stopped counting on December 31. Now that I know exactly how much I read in 2021, I don’t need to keep doing it. That way lies madness.
Of course, I do find myself getting curious about context. 11,324 minutes. So what? Is that more or less amount of time than usual spent reading? A lot more? A lot less? I can’t begin to know without doing the work. I have considered setting up a statistical sampling study to time myself during preselected representative weeks and then benchmark against averages from the previous year. I could do that. It would probably even be fun. I may or may not already be doing that. You’ll never know, nor will my daughter, until I tell you.