How To Read and Digest a Book

girl-reading

Photo by o5com

This post is focused on improving the reading we do for personal and professional learning and development, as opposed to leisure reading.

Charles Tremendous Jones believes that:

“The only difference between who you are today and the person you will be in five years will come from the books you read and the people you associate with”

All effective leaders are readers! Rudi Guliani mentioned in his in his book, “Leadership“, that “great leaders lead by ideas“, I can relate to this, I have personally experienced how great ideas from books have help me to develop and shape my leadership ideas, principles and philosophy.

To read and digest a book I use the following process:

Steps for Reading To Digest a Book

Steps for Reading To Digest a Book

Selection

When selecting a book it’s important to remember that the impact that a book has on your life is greatly affected by the current season of your life and where you are in your personal journey. It’s therefore necessary to choose the books you read wisely, you want to ensure, as far as possible, that the book you read is worth the investment of your time and energy. Some of the criteria I use when selecting a book to invest my time and energy in are:

  • I select a book based upon what do I need to learn or develop, given where I am in my personal journey.
  • I select books from authors that have previously impacted my life and with whom I connect. For me these are authors like Jim Collins, John Maxwell, Peter Senge, Warren Bennis, Tom Peters, and Noel Tichy, Posner and Kouzes, etc.
  • I select books that will help me grow in areas critical to my role.
  • I read books recommended to me by people I trust and respect.
  • I select books in key subject areas I’m interested in, such as, leadership, communication, management, and strategy. I do not read books just because they are popular or make the bestseller lists. When I select a book to read I select them with an understanding that my time is valuable and therefore reading a book is an investment of my time from which I expect a return! Choose carefully. Choose wisely.

Preparation

Effective reading happens best in a productive reading environment, this can be created by:

  • Removing ALL distractions!!! Humans cannot effectively multi-task.
  • Ensure the the lighting is sufficient.
  • A regular place to read, this helps to keep you focused when “reading to learn”.
    Its useful to keep in mind your primary purpose for reading, to grow and learn, this requires focus and  concentration.

Read Actively

To read actively you need to engage with the book, to do this its usually better to read a book in numerous short sessions, ranging from one to two hours, rather than in a single sitting. The Engineer2Entrepreneur blog posted a good article with suggestions for highlighting important ideas and principles as you read, including:

  • Using a highlighter.
  • Using coloured pencils, this allows you to colour-code your highlights.
  • Using a pen or pencil to make notes in the margin.
  • Using post-it notes, which have the advantage of being able to be moved around.
  • Using index cards or a clipboard to take notes.

Essentially reading actively keeps you focused and helps locate important concepts quickly for use later on. Don Blohowiak takes highlighting to another level by recommending that you indicate why the highlight was made, using the following notation:

  • R = Research this further
  • Q = Quote directly
  • T = Technique to integrate into the processes of my work or life
  • A = Action item to put on my To-do list related to work in progress
    Whilst reading then, highlight those ideas and principles that have meaning and application in your life. If you find that little in what you’re reading impacts you, it usually means, at least for me, that the book is not worth completing and I put it aside.

Reflect for Insight

After completing a first-pass of the book highlighting important ideas and principles, the next step is to re-read and reflect on the book’s big picture, to gain insight and understanding. Take a step back, and reflect on the whole book, seeking to answer the question “what does this mean for me?” This involves re-reading your highlighted sections to gain a deeper understanding of the key ideas and concepts. Reflection includes thinking though ideas, how they apply to you and how to respond to them.

“To doubt everything or to believe everything are two equally convenient solutions; both dispense with the necessity of reflection” – Jules Henri Poincare

The keys to good reflection are as follows:

  • Reflection needs to be intentional, this means I need to schedule time to reflect.
  • Reflect in a suitable environment removing distractions.
  • Seek insight and understanding, not just knowledge of an idea, but how it affects my worldview and personal life.

Systemise for Implementation

People fail to get the most out of a book because they don’t have a system in place to extract and implement the key ideas from the book that will benefit their lives. Systemise, then involves having two systems, one for extracting key ideas and principles from the book and placing them in a system so they are not lost and another system to integrate new ideas into our lives. If the book contained sufficient ideas and principles to cause you to spend time reflecting, then they are worth systemising!

The first step in systemise is to capture key ideas and principles. Fortunately, there are some tools available for use which can be adapted to assist in capturing ideas. Personally I prefer to use a Evernote to capture ideas and principles from the books I read. The result is a collection of notes I use to integrate new ideas and principles into my life.

The second step in systemise is to have a system to implement and integrate that which are meaningful to you into your personal life. Knowledge without application is useless. Its only as we allow new ideas and principles to change our lives that we become wise. There is nothing that will cause you to grow more than when attempting to put new ideas and principles into action. I do this using a “To Do” or “Action list” which I review daily, as described in David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done“. I review this list every morning to orientate my day and I then attempt to apply some of these principles throughout the work day. I do this until new habits are formed.

Other strategies I use to help with implementation are:

  • Teaching others these new ideas and principles. To teach is one of the best ways to learn and clarify new ideas.
  • Create motivational posters with key quotes and pictures to keep me inspired and focused.
  • Create reminders, in my calendar or on my computer desktop.

To integrate and apply what we learn requires us to be intentional, setting aside time to practice, experiment and apply new ideas. To systemise then I use the following key principles:

  • Extract key ideas and principles from the book.
  • File them into a system so they can be easily located when required.
  • Use a system, a step-by-step approach, to implement and integrate these new insights into my life.
  • Set a deadline for the implementation.
  • Develop reminders, questions or even posters to keep you motivate and focused.
  • Teach what I have learnt to others.
  • Experiment with the ideas and principles as I wrestle with implementation.

I use a daily and weekly review, part of “Getting Things Done”, to reinforce ideas and principles I an integrating into my life.

And that’s it, I then move onto my next book!!!

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