In this post I want to share my thoughts about how to dramatically increase the amount of information you can get from reading a book.
The process I’m going to describe only applies to nonfiction books, and in particular to physical books rather than e-books, as it involves a bit of management. Having said that, you can apply the foundamental principle to your ebook if you want to.
A bad approach to reading
The usual method used to read a book is to just go through it once and then put it back in your bookshelf. Unfortunately, reading a book just once is usually a bad idea, as you would only get a tiny percentage of all the information available in the book.
There are two foundamental problems with this approach:
- Remembering and understanding what you’ve read. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll remember everything you’ve read on the first time.
- Building knowledge. Chapters of a book are usually organized following a logical path, and some arguments will make more sense after you’ll have applied previous concepts in real life, therefore you can’t understand everything the first time and you need to build knowledge to access more advanced topics.
For some topics, these points are hard to miss. For example if you are reading a math book you’ll have to read it many times if you want to learn all the formulas. Similarly, if you want to build a website from scratch following a book or tutorial, you’ll have to refer to it quite often.
But for other topics, like entrepreneurship or personal development books, you are more likely to read the book just once. That’s a huge mistake in my opinion, as you are missing all the good parts.
A better approach to reading
Knowing that reading a book just once is not a good idea, is time to look for an alternative. Of course the quick answer is to just re-read a book many times, but it would be better to have a framework that supports our learning reading experience.
Ideally, I wanted a system that helped me to keep track of when I read a particular book but also to knew the parts of it that were difficult to follow.
After some trials, I figured out that it was straightforward to implement such a system. Here’s an example applied to a programming book I own:
As you can see, I simply put the date of the last time I read that book in the cover. I also include on the first page some notes about about the areas of the book I found difficult to understand the first time, so I can get back to them again.
Now, this was simple, but we can go a step further. Everytime you read a book, you can give it a rank from 1 to 10 and write it in the side of the book. This, combined with the fact that you know the last time you read a book, it’s a tremendous indicator of what to re-read next.
I apply this method to a wide range of topics from business to personal development and programming. My only concern is that I wish I had learned first about how powerful re-reading a book is. It’s astonishing to discover how much you would have missed after you re-read a book.
If you use a different technique, I would be hapy to hear about it in the comments.