How would you like to read more books? Would you like to retain more of the books you do read? What if I told you I’ve discovered a way to read more books, retain more of what you read, and actually put what you read to use? Well,
Most people I know say they’d like to read more. But, they have a list of reasons why they don’t:
- I don’t have the time.
- I’ll start a book, but rarely finish.
- I’m a slow reader.
- There are so many books I want to read; I struggle to get started.
Do any of those statements sound familiar? They do for me. I’ve had each of those thoughts and more. So, over time I devised a system that helps me read more books, enjoy the books I read, absorb the content, and incorporate the lessons into my day to day life.
It’s a simple 3-step system:
- Read a lot of books at once.
- Summarize each book.
- Take action on at least one lesson from each book.
That’s it — three simple steps. You can stop reading this post now and implement those three steps, and you’ll be reading more, learning more, and enjoying it more. And, if you’d like to learn my full step-by-step process, keep reading.
Read Lots of Books at Once
Don’t let those numbers intimidate you. I’m not some super-hero reader, and I’m not trying to brag.
If I had to concentrate on one book at a time, I’d feel like I was missing out on other books. And, I don’t want to feel obligated to finish one book before moving onto the next.
Also, I am a slow reader. So, if I were to concentrate on one book at a time, I would read very few books. And, I’d miss out on the lessons from many others.
Finally, reading a lot of books at once allows me to read several books about the same subject matter. That enables me to learn more about each topic.
Reading a lot of books at once gives me the freedom to not get trapped by any one book. It allows me to notice similar concepts in different books. And, it adds to my learning and comprehension.
The Truth About My Book List
I mentioned above that I have 109-books downloaded onto my Kindle, right now. Here’s the truth about those books.
Many of those books are ones I want to read, but haven’t yet started. When someone recommends a book, or when I come across one that I know I want to learn from, I buy it and download it. Doing this ensures that I always have plenty of books to read on a variety of subjects.
Many are books that I started, but couldn’t get into. I don’t want to waste my time with books I don’t enjoy, or books from which I’m not learning. I keep them on my e-reader in case I want to revisit it in the future.
An example is Walter Isaacson’s Benjamin Franklin, An American Life. For whatever reason, the book struggles to hold my attention. But, occasionally I’ll pick it up, and I inevitably get a few nuggets, which I’ll highlight or note. Then I’ll get bored with it and put it down again. Eventually, I’ll finish it — even if it takes years.
Some of the books on my reader are books I have not yet summarized (more on that below). I keep them on my device as a reminder to document my learning.
Read What You’re Compelled to Read
As I said, there are currently eleven books on my active reading list. Now, that may seem daunting, but it’s not really. I’m not reading each book every day. I may go weeks without reading a section from any one of the books.
I read what I am compelled to read. Some books will hold my attention for a while, maybe even to completion. Some books I revisit occasionally. And, some books are so compelling I read them more than once.
That’s the beauty of this system. I don’t feel obligated to finish any of the books on a schedule. My interest, attention and intuition guide which book I choose to read from on any given day. I jump from book to book, based on my mood and what I feel I want to or need to learn.
The only rule I have is to maintain a habit of reading. My practice is to read at least two pages from a book — any book of my choosing — each day. It is a technique I picked up from Stephen Guise’s book Mini Habits: Smaller Habits, Bigger Results, and James Clear’s Atomic Habits.
Using that technique, I find I will typically read a chapter or more each day. But, if I don’t, two pages a day will still get me through at least 12-books a year on average.
Highlight and Take Notes
As I read I highlight any key concepts. I look for a word, a sentence or a phrase that does any of the following: confirms a belief I have, contradicts a view I have, sparks a question in my mind, creates a desire to explore the concept further.
While I’m highlighting, I also take notes. It’s part of the reason I read with a Kindle versus a physical book. It is much easier to compile my notes and highlights, which leads me to the next step.
Create a Book Summary
Once I’ve read the book, I document my key learnings from the book. I do this by summarizing the book. I edit my notes into a quick summary, a full overview, and critical highlights and notes. My goal is to get that down to two pages. I’ve not yet hit that goal. Most of my summaries are four to five pages long. You can see an example of my books abstracts here.
Compile Your Highlights and Notes
While there is some value in the act of highlighting and note-taking, it is much more useful if those notes and highlights are searchable. I use two tools to compile my notes: Evernote and Readwise.
Readwise syncs with my Kindle. It downloads all of my highlights and notes automatically. And, as I’m reading, I can tag my notes and highlights into fundamental concepts, which is useful for review and research. Readwise also sends out daily highlight emails. Each day I get small clips of several of the books I’ve read. So, I get to continue to learn from the books on a daily basis.
I sync my Readwise account with Evernote. Readwise automatically downloads my highlights and notes to Evernote. Evernote is one of my most valuable productivity tools. I use it to store all of my notes, reading or otherwise. It makes everything searchable, which is useful for research and to revisit my thoughts at a later time.
Summarize the Book
Once I’ve finished a book, and I’m ready to summarize it, I copy my book notes from Evernote to another document. I do this for a couple of reasons. One, I want to keep all of my original notes for review later. And, two, I also know that those notes can be narrowed further into a few key learnings.
I could duplicate the note in Evernote and then use the second copy for editing. But, I prefer to copy it to a Google Doc, because I like the editing features better. I use Google Docs instead of Word or other text editors because Google Docs are searchable and available across devices.
My goal in summarizing is to eliminate all but the essential notes and highlights. Once I’ve edited the notes, I group them into critical concepts. I then write a few paragraphs summarizing the book. After that, I distill the full summary into three to five sentences that I call a quick summary.
Learning is great, but the purpose of knowledge should be action. So, I try to take action on every book I read. And yes, I have a process for that.
The very act of reviewing my notes and then summarizing the book begins to internalize the learning from each book. After I complete the book summary, I then document 8-lessons from the book. Eight is an arbitrary number; you could choose three, or five or ten. The key is to look for principles and actionable concepts. From that list of 8-lessons, I pick one idea to take action on in the next 24-hours.
Why Do It
The process described in this article may seem like a lot of work. But, what I’ve discovered is that it gives purpose to my reading. It makes the reading process more enjoyable. I get more out of the books I read. And, I learn from more books, than I otherwise would. That’s important to me because I’m a firm believer in the following quote:
“Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body.” – Joseph Addison
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