Get the Most Out of Reading

Friday 4 September 2020 - Filed under Default

As I’ve been reading more, I recognized the good feeling that comes from learning. For a time, a new tool in the toolbox has the potential to solve everything. Of course, that can’t really be true as there is so much to learn, and so many “silver bullets” in the past that didn’t hit the mark. Still, we all want to retain the value we find in each book. What follows is how I get the most out of reading.

Many people keep notes on the books they’ve read. Some write summaries, others amass collections of quotes, and sometimes notes turn into a review, selling the book to the reader.

For years while reading, I’ve kept a pen nearby and underlined key passages as they were found. Memory can’t be 100% trusted, but underlined text is proof the text was read with full attention. Later, a book can be skimmed for underlines to revisit the ideas therein.

More recently, I’ve been copying those underlined passages to a doc along with my comments. This is done at the end of each session, after a couple chapters, or whenever I’m losing focus. Such comments can add context for the quote, compare it to other material I’ve read, or imagine how the quote might improve efforts at some task.

The way you take notes on a book has a lot to do with why you’re reading, how much you trust your memory, whether the book is in eBook or physical form, or if it’s a practical book for education or entertainment. If it’s a practical book, it makes sense to summarize all of the important ideas and recommendations therein.

A college professor once recommended we review lecture notes within 24 hours. This is the first pass at what’s called spaced repetition which works by causing the brain to reinforce connections that naturally weaken over time. To extend this practice to books, notes should be reviewed on a schedule, for example after a week, a couple months, and a year.

Whether you choose to take notes, highlight paper copies of books, stick to digital, or write reviews for yourself, I highly recommend considering why you’re reading, and what you hope to get out of it. The above is my current process for getting the most out of what I read. I hope it helps you also to remember what you read.

2020-09-04  »  David Sterry