5 Ways to Find More Time to Read

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iStock

May is Get Caught Reading month, a nationwide campaign dedicated to reminding people how fun it is to get lost in a good book. Most of us are so starved for time, though, reading often seems like a luxury. However, there are a few clever ways you can squeeze more time for reading in between your work, gym, and sleep time.

1. MAKE IT A MORNING RITUAL.

It’s painfully easy to reach for your phone first thing in the morning to scroll through emails, headlines, and Instagram. Rather than start your day in work or news mode, put down the phone and pick up a book instead.

"For me, it is important to get in the right frame of mind before the noise of the day begins. That's why I get up at 5 a.m. so that I can read something inspirational before the kids get up and the daily responsibilities start,” says Brooke Thomas, an author and business owner. “It's easier to absorb what I'm reading when I am not tired and the house is quiet.”

Thomas says that this ritual helps her start each day mindfully and with a positive attitude that tends to stick with her throughout the day. Don’t see yourself waking up at the crack of dawn? Read during your commute instead. If you take public transportation to get to work, your commute is the perfect time to open a book or turn on your Kindle. If you drive to work, look into audiobooks. You can download them to your phone, then connect them to your car stereo to turn rush hour into story hour.

2. CARRY A BOOK WHEREVER YOU GO.

Woman reading a book on the bus
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“The hands-down easiest way to make more time to read is to always carry something to read,” says Gretchen Skalka, a consultant and coach from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

Skalka says we live in a service economy, which means we spend a lot of our time waiting, whether it’s at the doctor’s office, getting a pedicure, waiting in line for coffee, or sitting at the laundromat. These are perfect opportunities for reading, Skalka says. “Think of how many times you've been annoyed, or been in the presence of someone who was annoyed, over a wait for some type of service. Why be annoyed? Why not read?”

Over at Harvard Business Review, author Neil Pasricha recounts a story about Stephen King making good use of this strategy. Pasricha writes:

A good friend once told me a story that really stuck with me. He said Stephen King had advised people to read something like five hours a day. My friend said, “You know, that’s baloney. Who can do that?” But then, years later, he found himself in Maine on vacation. He was waiting in line outside a movie theater with his girlfriend, and who should be waiting in front of him? Stephen King! His nose was in a book the whole time in line. When they got into the theater, Stephen King was still reading as the lights dimmed. When the lights came up, he pulled his book open right away. He even read as he was leaving.

If you don’t want to carry a physical book, you can always download ebooks or bookmark articles on your mobile devices. This way, you’ll still have access when you don't have WiFi.

3. TRACK YOUR TIME.

We spend our time much the same way we spend our money: We don’t have much of it, and we’re not sure where it goes. To remedy this, track your time, says Lisa Gessert, a professional organizer and Productivity Consultant in Staten Island, New York.

“The key to finding more time in your day is to keep track of your day for one week,” Gessert says. “I will bet you spend way too much time on things that just don't matter. Social media, getting ready for work. Monitor your days for one week and see where you are losing your time. For example, I bet social media takes up way too much time in your day. You will find the time to read more when you let go of the other time sinks in your life.”

Free tools like RescueTime and Hours can help you identify these time sinks by automatically tracking how you spend your time online. You can get a detailed view of exactly which sites and apps you use the most. Chances are, you’ll be surprised at how much time you spend in certain areas.

4. START SMALL.

A man sitting on a park bench reading on his smartphone
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“Set aside 10 minutes to read. Just 10 minutes,” says Skalka. “You'll be surprised how much you can read in 10 minutes—and the sense of accomplishment stays with you all day.”

Skalka recommends setting an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to take regular 10-minute reading breaks. She also suggests reading when you’re eating breakfast or lunch alone. Again, this is a great way to trade your rushed, frazzled start to the day with a calming ritual.

5. TRACK YOUR PROGRESS.

Finally, keep track of your progress with your new habit. You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment, which will motivate you to keep up with it. Sites like Habitica make this fun by turning your goal into a game. The more you read, the more points you earn.

Skalka also recommends Goodreads, a social networking site for avid readers. “You can use an app like Goodreads to keep track of what you're reading, what you've already read, what you'd like to read—and it's social, so you can use the app to keep in touch with what other folks are reading and talking about.”

That social factor is a good way to hold yourself accountable, too. Let other people know what you’re reading, and you’ll likely feel more pressure to actually finish the book. But remember: Reading is supposed to be fun, so find something you want to read in the first place.

12 Creative Ways to Spend Your FSA Money Before the Deadline

stockfour/iStock via Getty Images
stockfour/iStock via Getty Images

If you have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA), chances are, time is running out for you to use that cash. Depending on your employer’s rules, if you don’t spend your FSA money by the end of the grace period, you potentially lose some of it. Lost cash is never a good thing.

For those unfamiliar, an FSA is an employer-sponsored spending account. You deposit pre-tax dollars into the account, and you can spend that money on a number of health care expenses. It’s kind of like a Health Savings Account (HSA), but with a few big differences—namely, your HSA funds roll over from year to year, so there’s no deadline to spend it all. With an FSA, though, most of your funds expire at the end of the year. Bummer.

The good news is: The law allows employers to roll $500 over into the new year and also offer a grace period of up to two and a half months to use that cash (March 15). Depending on your employer, you might not even have that long, though. The deadline is fast approaching for many account holders, so if you have to use your FSA money soon, here are a handful of creative ways to spend it.

1. Buy some new shades.

Head to the optometrist, get an eye prescription, then use your FSA funds to buy some new specs or shades. Contact lenses and solution are also covered.

You can also buy reading glasses with your FSA money, and you don’t even need a prescription.

2. Try acupuncture.

Scientists are divided on the efficacy of acupuncture, but some studies show it’s useful for treating chronic pain, arthritis, and even depression. If you’ve been curious about the treatment, now's a good time to try it: Your FSA money will cover acupuncture sessions in some cases. You can even buy an acupressure mat without a prescription.

If you’d rather go to a chiropractor, your FSA funds cover those visits, too.

3. Stock up on staples.

If you’re running low on standard over-the-counter meds, good news: Most of them are FSA-eligible. This includes headache medicine, pain relievers, antacids, heartburn meds, and anything else your heart (or other parts of your body) desires.

There’s one big caveat, though: Most of these require a prescription in order to be eligible, so you may have to make an appointment with your doctor first. The FSA store tells you which over-the-counter items require a prescription.

4. Treat your feet.

Give your feet a break with a pair of massaging gel shoe inserts. They’re FSA-eligible, along with a few other foot care products, including arch braces, toe cushions, and callus trimmers.

In some cases, foot massagers or circulators may be covered, too. For example, here’s one that’s available via the FSA store, no prescription necessary.

5. Get clear skin.

Yep—acne treatments, toner, and other skin care products are all eligible for FSA spending. Again, most of these require a prescription for reimbursement, but don’t let that deter you. Your doctor is familiar with the rules and you shouldn’t have trouble getting a prescription. And, as WageWorks points out, your prescription also lasts for a year. Check the rules of your FSA plan to see if you need a separate prescription for each item, or if you can include multiple products or drug categories on a single prescription.

While we’re on the topic of faces, lip balm is another great way to spend your FSA funds—and you don’t need a prescription for that. There’s also no prescription necessary for this vibrating face massager.

6. Fill your medicine cabinet.

If your medicine cabinet is getting bare, or you don’t have one to begin with, stock it with a handful of FSA-eligible items. Here are some items that don’t require a prescription:

You can also stock up on first aid kits. You don’t need a prescription to buy those, and many of them come with pain relievers and other medicine.

7. Make sure you’re covered in the bedroom.

Condoms are FSA-eligible, and so are pregnancy tests, monitors, and fertility kits. Female contraceptives are also covered when you have a prescription.

8. Prepare for your upcoming vacation.

If you have a vacation planned this year, use your FSA money to stock up on trip essentials. For example:

9. Get a better night’s sleep.

If you have trouble sleeping, sleep aids are eligible, though you’ll need a prescription. If you want to try a sleep mask, many of them are eligible without a prescription. For example, there’s this relaxing sleep mask and this thermal eye mask.

For those nights you’re sleeping off a cold or flu, a vaporizer can make a big difference, and those are eligible, too (no prescription required). Bed warmers like this one are often covered, too.

Your FSA funds likely cover more than you realize, so if you have to use them up by the deadline, get creative. This list should help you get started, and many drugstores will tell you which items are FSA-eligible when you shop online.

10. Go to the dentist.

While basics like toothpaste and cosmetic procedures like whitening treatments aren’t FSA eligible, most of the expenses you incur at your dentist’s office are. That includes co-pays and deductibles as well as fees for cleanings, x-rays, fillings, and even the cost of braces. There are also some products you can buy over-the-counter without ever visiting the dentist. Some mouthguards that prevent you from grinding your teeth at night are eligible, as are cleaning solutions for retainers and dentures.

11. Try some new gadgets.

If you still have some extra cash to burn, it’s a great time to try some expensive high-tech devices that you’ve been curious about but might not otherwise want to splurge on. The list includes light therapy treatments for acne, vibrating nausea relief bands, electrical stimulation devices for chronic pain, cloud-connected stethoscopes, and smart thermometers.

12. Head to Amazon.

There are plenty of FSA-eligible items available on Amazon, including items for foot health, cold and allergy medication, eye care, and first-aid kits. Find out more details on how to spend your FSA money on Amazon here.

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5 Easier Ways to Water Your Christmas Tree

Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images
Artfoliophoto/iStock via Getty Images

A decorated Christmas tree adds instant holiday cheer to any room—for a few days, at least. If you neglect to care for it, however, it doesn't take long for that tree to start dropping needles and dry up into a brittle, brown fire hazard. The key to keeping your tree looking healthy until the New Year is to water it every day. Of course, that comes with its own problems, like sap-covered clothing and sore knees. Here are some alternative methods for watering your Christmas tree that won't have you wishing for the end of the holiday season.

1. Rig a funnel and PVC pipe.

The worst part of watering a Christmas tree is crawling around on your hands and knees, but once you've set up this funnel rig, you can water it while standing up. As Eric Palonen demonstrates in the video above, all you need to do is stick a PVC pipe into the tree stand, attach a funnel to the other end with an elbow connector, and pour in the water.

2. Dig out a pool noodle.

Don't have a spare PVC pipe at home? A foam pool noodle works just as well as the receptacle for your funnel.

3. Disguise a DIY water dispenser as a present.

On Instructables, Rickyspears shares his step-by-step process for building a Christmas tree-watering rig. Using a bucket and plastic tube with brass fittings, you can create a water-siphoning system that automatically keeps your tree hydrated. And because a big bucket of water beneath the tree isn't the most festive sight, Rickyspears also tells you how to disguise it by hiding it in a box decorated with wrapping paper.

4. Use a wine bottle.

Still have some leftover wine bottles from Thanksgiving (or the weekend) lying around the house? Use one of them to water the base of your tree while keeping a safe distance between you and the sticky branches. (Though if you do get some sap on your hands, there are a few easy ways to get rid of it.)

5. Invest in an automated watering system.

DIY watering rigs are inexpensive, but if convenience is your main concern, it's hard to beat a product that was designed just for this purpose. The Christmas tree watering bag from Elf Logic senses when your tree needs water and replenishes it automatically. Plus, it hangs on a branch like an ornament, making it easy to tuck away.

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