Leaders are readers. But you have limited time, energy, and attention to give to reading. You need to maximize your reading.
Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog post on Why You Should Stop Reading Digital Books. I had a lot of interaction with readers after that post. While some people passionately defended digital books, many expressed that they, too, had stopped using digital books.
One common question emerged: When reading nonfiction, how do you get the most out of your paper book? I have 5 habits that I use while reading analog books.
1. Identify your overarching reading goal.
Why do you read nonfiction books? Whether you realize it or not, you have a goal for all of your reading. You wouldn’t dedicate time, energy, and attention to reading if you didn’t have a why.
The first secret to getting the most out of a book is to identify your overarching reading goal. It will help you be a more intentional reader.
My overarching goal is to positively change and lead positive change. In other words, I read so that I can be better equipped to lead myself and others.
I’m usually reading something because there is a specific leadership challenge that I’m facing or preparing for. For that reason, I’m looking for practical steps for personal, team, or organizational change.
What’s your overall goal of reading? If you can identify it, you’ll be better prepared to make the most of your reading.
2. Write your book-specific goal in the front of the book.
What is true for all books is also true for each individual book – you have a reason to read it. Before you start reading, determine why you want to read this specific book.Articulate why you want to read a book before you ever begin reading. Click To Tweet
For example, this month I’m reading Steal the Show by Michael Port because I want to improve my public speaking preparation and delivery.
Write your book-specific goal in the front of the book. This has a few benefits:
- Makes your reading more intentional.
- Reminds you to keep going if you get bored.
- Helps you evaluate if the book is helping you accomplish the goal. (If not, either change the goal or stop reading the book!)
3. Develop your personal marking system.
One advantage of analog books is the ability to create your own, personalized marking system. This lets you dialogue with the book. And it helps you look back through the book to see how you interacted with it.
Here is the personal marking system that I use:
1. Underline significant thoughts or sentences.
I underline liberally as a way to reinforce important ideas. Sometimes I underline a sentence that advances the author’s argument. Sometimes, it’s to help me reinforce the significance of the statement. Other times, I underline because the sentence is significant to my particular goal.
2. Circle major ideas.
Every chapter has a few major ideas that shape the author’s argument. When I think I’ve found one of these, I circle them.In
The Reluctant Entrepreneur, Michael Masterson introduces an important concept of the Optimum Selling Strategy and high-value customers.
3. Star key insights.
I underline a ton, but most of it is not critical. But if something is really important, if I have an “aha” moment, I put a star beside it.This helps me keep track of the most important ideas. This also makes it easier to flip through a book and find the pages where I had “aha” moments.Every reader needs a system to help them get the most out of a book. What’s your system? Here’s mine that helps me get the most out of my reading. Click To Tweet
4. Draw a box beside action Items.
Boxes in the margin indicate that I want to do something with it. I write the specific action in the margin.
5. Write notes in the margins.
Reading sparks new thoughts. I record those thoughts in the margins.Sometimes those notes are disagreements with the author. Other times, the book sparked thoughts that have nothing to do with the topic. I keep my notes in the margins so that I have a record of the “conversation” with the author.
6. Use Q for great quotes.
I tried for years to keep a database of quotes. But I didn’t find the practice fruitful for me. Others do. It’s just not the main reason that I read.
I do, however, write a Q in the margins when I find a quote that I love or want to return to. When I’m finished reading the book, I’ll capture the quote in Evernote.
7. Box words I don’t know.
Anytime I encounter a word I don’t know, I draw a box around it. If the context lets me know what it is, I keep reading. If not, I look it up and write the definition in the margins.
8. [Bracket] Lists
I use a bracket system [______] to identify lists that the author makes. Then I write the list numbers in the margin. For example, in The Reluctant Entrepreneur, Masterson describes what makes for effective leadership. He then describes 15 characteristics. This makes it easy for skimming.
4. Summarize each chapter.
When you’re finished reading the chapter, summarize it in a 1-2 sentences. Go back through your underlines, stars, brackets, etc. Then write the main message of the chapter as it relates to the whole of the book.
This helps reinforce the big picture of the chapter and reminds you of the whole reason you’re reading. This also gives you the ability to skim back through the book and see a summary of every chapter.
5. When you’re finished, review the book before moving on.
Do you know what my favorite book is? The next one that I’m going to read. I love the feeling of finishing a book and starting a new one. Because of that love, I run the danger of not finishing my books well. That’s why I started doing one final best practice.
Before you move on to the next book, digest the one that you’ve just finished. Skim through the whole book. Review your underlines and stars and action items, etc.
If anything stands out to you that you need to remember or take action on, write it inside the back cover of the book. This becomes a personal index for you. Check out how I did this in The Reluctant Entrepreneur.
Leaders are readers. But you need to be an intentional reader in order to make the most of your time. These five habits can help you maximize your non-fiction reading.
Question: What are your tips for making the most of non-fiction reading?