I’ve been on a writing about reading/writing kick this week. It’s not on purpose (we’ll cover that next week in How To Never Run Out Of Ideas), but it’s interestingly relevant right now. Seth Godin declared he’s no longer going to write traditional books and then Tim Ferriss wrote a “rebuttal” of sorts stating that non-fiction print books are still king.
But what really spurred this article is I was having a chat with Henri a few days ago and the topic of reading came up.
Specifically we were discussing taking notes and the Kindle and how it makes highlighting easy (and much quicker than pen/paper).
Tangent: I have a lot of issues with publishers of Kindle books, but the product itself is phenomenal. Publishers, like record companies, seem to be run by idiots.
We were also discussing how when we take notes we never really go back and read over those notes. There’s also the issue of losing the notes. This all defeats the purpose of taking the notes, doesn’t it?
But rereading notes is important for retention of what you just read. Double edged sword!
I’ve been known to read complete books and not remember reading them a year or two later. 40 pages into reading something (for the 2nd time): “Wait, I’ve read this before!”
Part of the problem is I read a lot (tore through 5 or 6 books in the past 2 weeks). But a bigger part of the problem is I’ve never had a successful note taking / re-reading / retention strategy.
I’m sharing this with you because I feel like if I’ve had a problem with reading retention then you may have the same problem as well. And if you’re like most of us, you probably also don’t have a phenomenal strategy for note taking.
1) Stop Taking Notes
It never worked for me and I don’t know many people who do it well. What I do instead of taking notes is take a few minutes after a reading session to think about what I read. Let the thoughts formulate as they will and mull them over.
It sounds very basic.
But it’s not easy for the simple fact that most reading sessions are probably not intentionally stopped, but instead, they’re interrupted. Which brings me to …
2) If You’re Reading Something You Want To Remember, Set Aside Time For It
If you’re reading something just for fun and it doesn’t matter to you whether you remember much of it then this doesn’t pertain to you. :)
If you’re reading most non-fiction books (95% of what I read) you’re probably reading them to learn something. In this case, it’s important that you’re focused on the reading, not on e-mail, your cell phone, or whatever else might come along.
If you’ve set aside 30 minutes for reading, read for 25, and spend the last 5 minutes simply playing it all back in your head.
Whenever I come across a passage that I think is killer I highlight it. Kindle remembers this highlight for me and I never have to think about “where did I put those notes?” The less you have to think about here the easier it will be to stay focused. Highlighting is a quick procedure that takes a few button clicks, barely interrupting your reading experience.
When you’re finished reading the whole book, immediately go through all the highlights. Kindle, again, makes this very easy. This will probably take less than 10 minutes, but it will help immensely in imprinting everything that’s fresh on your mind deeper into your brain.
If you’re the type of person who takes weeks or months to read one book then you’ll want to review your highlights more often. I finish most books in a few days, and I only read one book at a time, so everything is tightly focused and fresh on my mind.
This sounds like a sales pitch for the Kindle. In a way, I guess it is.
Not only has the Kindle revolutionized the way I buy, read, retain, organize, and travel with books, but it has revolutionized the publishing industry in general. And although I’m pissed I can get a new one for half the price I paid for mine, I’m happy that lower prices means more people will embrace the inevitable future of publishing.