As you may already know, I read a lot of books. Some of these are just for fun. Other books are to learn more about business, or negotiation, or marketing – and with these books it’s important to me that I retain as much information as possible. I want to squeeze the knowledge deep into my brain, make it my own.
Over the years I’ve developed a way of reading that maximises retention and I’d like to share it here with you.
Process the book in many different ways
What I’ve found, and this seems to be largely supported by research, is that writing down what I read helps tremendously with memorising the information.
I’ve also found that reading notes out aloud again intensifies the learning effect – especially when I read them out to another person and a short discussion ensues.
I haven’t done much research on the psychological underpinnings of this technique – it works for me and perhaps it will work for others also. Maybe all it is, is that processing the same information in different ways helps the brain the keep more of it for future use.
Anyway – what is it you’re going to read next? And how are you going to make sure it sticks?
My technique for maximum retention
Here is my technique in a nutshell:
- I read the book in a few sessions – it usually takes me a day or two. Quick but no special tricks like speed reading or anything like that.
- While reading, I highlight key paragraphs or phrases. The phrases I chose are those that jump out at me, that trigger little ah-ha moments. The aim is not to summarise what the book is about but to capture the key pieces that give you the most value – and it’s those pieces that are worth highlighting. The process makes the result personal to you, everybody will have different results.
- Once I have finished the book, I go back through and type out all the highlighted bits, one by one, verbatim, into a Word document. No interpretation, literally copy them out word for word. In essence, this creates a much reduced version of the book, containing just those parts that are important to me. The result is generally around 5 to 7 pages long.
- Finally, I find a willing victim and read them my typed up notes. This can lead to onward discussion and explanation. If I’m completely alone, I’ll read them out aloud to myself.
- Although I haven’t tried it, I have heard that some people will record themselves reading their notes. You can then listen to that recording at a later date for even stronger retention.
There you have it – I hope you’ll agree that the process wasn’t part articularly difficult. Nevertheless it allows me to devour books quickly and retain the information in them for a long time.
The most recent book I read like this was the excellent How to win friends and influence people. Using the above techniques I’ve essentially made it part of me and hope to benefit from its knowledge for many years to come.
Thanks for reading. Let me know how you read books in the comments – and tell me about the book that was most meaningful for you.