How to read and learn more

“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few are to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.”

Francis Bacon

Reading a book is the most efficient way to get condensed knowledge, learn new concepts, and get inspired.

For many years I do “50 books a year challenge”, which is reading one book per week. It’s not always perfect, and some months I slack. But I have this intention and it’s in my Morning Ritual to read at least one hour a day.

Choosing the right book

I’m a slow reader. I read a couple of books on “fast-reading”, but it’s mostly about skimming and scanning, which I do anyway with some books. So I have to trust my gut, relax, and just read at a comfortable speed. But I don’t want to waste my precious time on reading a useless book.

Not all books are equal. There are many books full of water and bloated unreasonably just for better sales. But it is still harder to get your book published, then make a blog post, or a youtube video.

Choose your book wisely. Get recommendations, read reviews from other authors and people you trust, and that have the same values as you. Do your research. And even after this, some books are not just for you, or maybe it’s not the right time.

Get to know your book first. Decide if this book deserves more of your time and attention by running a quick check of the book: (1) scan the table of contents; (2) read the preface; (3) check the first and last paragraphs of the chapters you found interesting.

Not all types of reading are the same. Some books are just for superficial reading (passive reading), and it’s okay. Some books are for an analytical reading, an active type of reading, by making notes, writing out the quotes, etc. And if you are doing serious research – you will need a comparative reading.

Feel free to stop reading. Don’t feel bad, put off or quit your reading habit, just because you didn’t finish your last book. Move on. Find something better. Something that works for you right now.

Audiobooks are fine too

I save hours of time by listening to audiobooks at 1.5x the speed. New research shows that speed-listening from 1.5x to 2x has minimal costs to comprehension. Combine it with a habit stacking technique, listen while you do your daily chores, or something that doesn’t need your full attention – and you will get even more time.

Audiobooks are also a great way to learn more about the book and decide if you want to get the actual text, make notes, and read it thoroughly. Recently I was listening “Ultralearning“, a book by Scott Young. Although the stories at the beginning of the book were inspiring, I found that only by chapter 3 the author starts talking about his method. Also, I learned about the structure of the chapters, and when I finish listening to it, I will come back to the ebook version to make my notes, by knowing what and where to find.

Making notes & Processing

My paperback books are full of notes, marginalia, highlights, and bookmark stickers. On the inside jacket I also write page numbers for stuff I found interesting. For example: p. 56 Q (page 56, quote); p. 128 R (page 128, link to outside resource). For ebooks: I use highlighting, notes (comments) and bookmarks.

But it’s not enough. After I finish reading a book, I would create a document in my Evernote, go through all my bookmarks and notes, and write it out all out.

All this is very useful and already can increase your learning and retention rates for reading (how much of the stuff you’ve read you remember). But if you want to take it to the next level, try using The Feynman Technique.

Richard Feynman was a famous physicist, a Nobel prize laureate, and also known for his ability to learn fast and explain complex topics to his students. The Feynman Technique in the nutshell:

  1. Select a concept to learn.
  2. Teach it to yourself, using your own words, like you would explain to a child, or your granny.
  3. Return to the source if you get stuck. Review and refine your understanding.
  4. Simplify your explanations and create analogies

Back to our note making, the point is to write down everything you found interesting in the book using your own words, with simple explanations, and analogies. Only this way you will truly understand and remember what you have read.

Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.

Harry S. Truman