Do you love to read? Well hey so do I!
Reading is an awesome activity. If you’re reading non-fiction to improve, you’re getting the privilege of learning from some of the wisest people who ever lived. Mountains of knowledge compressed and served on a silver platter for you and me, in just a few books.
Successful people read a lot too. Warren Buffett estimates that he reads for around 80% of his entire day. Bill Gates reads 50 books a year. As the former U.S President Harry Truman said: “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
With reading so many books comes the challenge of retaining all of that information. If you read a respectable 12 books per year, in 5 years you’ll have read 60 books worth of knowledge. That’s a heck of a lot of information to digest. We need a way to make sure we retain as much as possible so we can apply the lessons in the future.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve worked on developing a system to retain as much of what I read as possible. To do so, I needed things to be simple and practical since my time was limited.
Through my endeavors and experiments, I came up with 3 practical habits I use to boost my retention
Highlights, Cue Cards, and Notes
I record everything I read, especially the major lessons. This can be done using highlights, cue cards, or notes.
Whenever you see a really good quote, or line, or paragraph in a book, give it a highlight. You can do this in physical books with an actual highlighter, but a lot of reading apps like Scribd and Kindle also offer this feature digitally.
One of my favorite writers, Ryan Holiday, uses a notecard system where he writes down important thoughts and ideas from the books. Personally, I like to make my own notes in Google Docs since it’s fast and easy to type, plus it’s online so it can’t get lost or damaged.
Writing things down is a way of recording what you learned. Similar to how you write notes in school, recording summaries of what you learned from books helps to reinforce what you learned. You can then come back to your notes at any time for review. The knowledge you’ve gained from the books are always available to you in a convenient format.
Reading Time is Reading Time
Having dedicated time for reading is one of the most effective reading habits. A dedicated reading time means having a set time in your day where you always read. It could be 7 AM or 7 PM; on the commute to and from work, or after dinner with a cup of tea. As long as it’s consistent.
What we’re doing here is establishing a habit of always reading at the same time and in the same way, every single day. This technique will prime your brain every time you sit down to read.
Doing so allows your mind to become accustomed to your habit and sets itself in a “reading mode” at that time every single day. This priming will help you retain more of what you read since you’ve created the ideal conditions for it to happen.
On top of that, having this habit establishes valuable consistency in your routine. A lot of books have a very clear structure to them. In order to get the most value out of them, it’s helpful to read the entire book within a certain time frame. If you’re not reading at the same time every day, it’s very easy to fall out of your routine and go a week without reading the next chapter. That’s a sure-fire way to lose your train of thought and as you forget some of the important points of previous chapters.
Stay consistent and you’ll find it easier to stay on track and retain what you learn by reading.
Sharing and Practicing What I Learn
The final and most practical habit is sharing and practicing everything that I learn. Knowledge without application is knowledge wasted. I make it a point to apply the lessons I read to my life.
When you explain something you’ve studied, you’re forced to articulate the knowledge in a clear and concise way. You have to go through the exercise of breaking down the knowledge into more simplistic words. That process helps you to retain your knowledge because you’re forcing yourself to understand it.
The second part is to apply what you learn.
Immediately after I read the book Atomic Habits, I started to implement some of the techniques for habit building — it worked wonders! When I read How to Win Friends and Influence People, I used the knowledge from the book to land my first job. When I read The 48 Laws of Power, I applied several of the laws to advance my career.
The whole point of a good book is that it contains real knowledge from real people — knowledge that anyone can apply to their lives. Every non-fiction book you read will have a practical takeaway. Leveraging that new skill will help you retain the core lessons from each new book you read.
Reading is an amazing habit. But equally as valuable is finding ways to retain the knowledge you gain from your reading. There are 3 habits that I’ve personally vetted for retaining more of what you read:
- Having a dedicated reading time, to really give reading its own special focus and attention
- Highlighting and making notes, so you document the lessons you learn and have them available for study and review at any time
- Sharing and applying the knowledge, making it useful in the real-world and reinforcing the lessons you’ve learned