Most readers at some point start wondering whether they are reading enough or too little.
It is recommended to spend at least 20-30 minutes reading per day. However, the exact amount of time that one should spend reading daily can vary depending on the individual’s reading speed, level of comprehension, and personal reading goals.
Read on and learn how to discover how to exactly determine how long you should read and how much time others generally spend reading.
What is the minimum amount of time you should spend reading daily?
In general, there are many benefits to reading1 such as learning new things, improving your brain and vocabulary, empathy, etc. If you want to capitalize on these benefits you should consistently read at least 20 minutes every day with the goal of developing a reading habit.
The primary reason for developing a reading habit is that it makes the act of reading itself more effortless and automatic, resulting in reading more and gaining the main benefits of reading with less effort.
When developing a reading habit the number of repetitions each week is more important than the actual amount of time you spend reading. Thus, you should read at least a bit every day. Even 1 page is sufficient, as long as you do it daily. Although ideally, you should spend at least 20 minutes since reading just 1 page might be insufficient to make any significant progress.
I have written a whole article on developing a reading habit and if you want a clear action plan on how to do it you can check it out here.
Another reason, for why you should read at least 20 minutes is that generally, it takes some time for us to actually begin reading, to pick up the book, to find a quiet place and sit down, to remember what we have read before, etc.
By the time you begin actually reading, you will have spent about 5 minutes getting ready to do so (at least that is how much it takes for me). So if you read only 1 page (which for an average person takes about 2 minutes), you will have spent more time preparing to read than actually reading, which is a rather wasteful use of your time.
Of course, 20 minutes is not some sort of magic number, 15 or 30 minutes will work as well. However, if you start getting below 15 minutes then due to the above-mentioned reason you will be using your time not effectively.
Still, it is important to note that reading for 10 minutes or even 5 minutes is better than nothing given that it might help you to build a daily reading habit. But if you read for 10 minutes, you can manage to read a bit longer to reach at least the 20-minute mark.
How to figure out your ideal daily reading time?
While around 20 minutes is the recommended daily minimum it does not mean that you should not read more than that. Your ideal reading time will depend on your goals.
In the famous book “How to Read”, Adler and Doren2 indicate that there are three main goals of reading:
- Reading for information – a low-effort activity that leaves you essentially unchanged, e.g. reading a newspaper.
- Reading for understanding – an effortful activity that changes how you understand things, e.g. reading a historical book that makes you interpret your country’s history in a new light that you have not considered before.
- Reading for entertainment – requires the least effort, an activity that you perform for enjoyment, such as reading a fantasy novel.
If you are reading for information or entertainment, you should just read for as long as you want. There are no rules here. As long as you have the time and it does not impact your health or life negatively you can read for as many hours as you want.
After all, every reader, at some point in their reading career, has encountered a really gripping book that they spent reading all day or even throughout the night.
However, if you are reading for understanding or to learn something, you should experiment with the optimum amount of reading. Often deep, analytical reading takes time and effort – you might need to take notes, and use different books for reference while reading. You might also want to take breaks.
Furthermore, depending on the book, you might need to perform certain exercises or activities outlined in that book. For example, if you are reading a book on programming, you might want to stop reading and solve the programming exercises in that book.
Generally, when you are reading for understanding, 20 minutes will not be enough. I would personally recommend dedicating at least 1 hour or even more each day. There is a reason why lessons in most schools last for at least 45 minutes3 – it takes time for us to learn something new.
“for someone new to such practice… an hour a day is a reasonable limit. For those familiar with the rigors of such activities, the limit expands to something like four hours, but rarely more.”Cal Newport, “Deep Work”4
Such reading is effortful and could be described as deep work. And according to Cal Newport4, there is a point after which our deep work, or in this case deep reading begins to provide diminishing returns.
For most people, it is 4 hours. Thus, if you are engaging in deep and complicated reading it is recommended to read for from 1 to 4 hours daily. While you can definitely read deeply more than that, it is likely that after that 4-hour mark, you will not be as effective.
Lastly, there are other types of reading goals, that do not really care about how or what you read, but rather are focused on finishing a certain amount of books or pages in a specific timeframe.
For example, people often have a new year’s resolution to read a book every week. In such cases, you can derive how long you should read each day from your goal.
In the example above you could do the following:
- Goal: read a book a week this year.
- There are 52 weeks in a year so you will need to read 52 books.
- An average book has about 300 pages5.
- An average page has about 300 words6.
- So per week, you will need to read 1 book, which is 300 pages, which is 300 * 300 = 90,000 words.
- Assuming your reading speed is 200 words per minute (this is slightly below the average reading speed8).
- This means that during each week you will need to dedicate 90,000 / 200 = 450 minutes to reading.
- If you divide by 7 days this means you will need to spend 450/7 = 64.3 minutes reading every day – so about an hour a day.
How much does an average person read a day?
A study showed that in 2021, people in the United States spent an average of 16.8 minutes, or 0.28 hours, per day reading. Older adults aged 75 and above were the most dedicated readers, with a daily reading time of more than 40 minutes. Conversely, young adults between the ages of 15 and 19 had the lowest reading time, with an average of fewer than 10 minutes per day.10
Of course, 16.8 minutes is just an average. This means that some people do not read anything and some read a lot. According to a survey conducted in 2020, nearly a quarter (23.7%) of American citizens reported that they did not read any books in the preceding 12 months.11
Therefore, most people who are readers generally read longer than 16.8 minutes per day. I believe it is safe to assume that they read about 30 minutes on average, which is quite close to the minimum 20-30 minutes recommended above.
How much do famous readers read a day?
Bill Gates reads about 50 books per year11. After some simple assumptions and math (see below), this means that Bill Gates reads 41.1 minutes per day or 41.1 pages per day.
A famous blogger and reader Shane Parrish reads a lot, for example in 2016 he read about 80 books12. If make some assumptions (see below) and perform a bit of math we get that Shane Parrish reads for about 65.8 minutes per day or 65.8 pages per day.
And then you have people like Warren Buffett, who spend most of their time reading. According to Inc.com Buffett dedicates a significant portion of his day to reading books, reportedly spending as much as six hours daily. He advises reading 500 pages per day.13
- An average book has 300 pages5.
- An average page contains 300 words6.
- The reading speed is a bit above average, let’s say 300 words per minute8
- They read the same amount of time each day
- Each year has 365 days
- Bill Gates – 300 * 300 * 50 / 300 / 365 = 41.1 minutes per day or 41.1 pages per day.
- Shane Parrish – 300 * 300 * 80 / 300 / 365 = 65.8 minutes per day or 65.8 pages per day.
How many pages should you read a day?
As mentioned, it is recommended to read daily for at least 20 minutes. Assuming your reading speed is average and you are reading a typical book, you should aim to read at least 13.3 pages per day. If it makes it more simple you should aim to read at least 10-20 pages per day.
- 20*200/30 = 13.3 pages
How much reading a day is too much?
If you are reading for information or entertainment then you should read for as long as you want and you feel healthy. Assuming you spend 9 hours on sleep, 2 hours on food, and 1 hour on exercising each day, this would leave approximately 12 hours available for reading (with breaks in between, of course).
If you spend any more than 12 hours (with breaks) reading each day, you run the risk of affecting your health negatively. In fact, these assumptions were made for the best-case scenario. I would personally recommend not exceeding 8 hours of reading per day. Even people who read a lot, like Warren Buffett, spend about 6 hours reading per day.13
Furthermore, as mentioned, if you are engaging in deep and complicated reading where you are trying to understand something novel, then according to Cal Newport4 you should not spend more than 4 hours on such deep work since otherwise, you will begin seeing diminishing returns.
Ultimately, the most important thing is not how long you read, but that you read every single day even a bit. Since this will help you to develop a reading habit, which will make you a more consistent reader and you will end up reading more books in the long run.
In fact, I wrote a whole article on how to develop a reading habit based on science – so if you are interested you can read it here.