Don’t you love a great book? It feels like it makes you smarter. Lightbulbs go off. You know you’re on to something. When you finish you can’t wait to recommend it to your friends, peers and family.
A week later, you’ve forgotten everything and you’re now on to your next book.
Everyone says most non-fiction books can be summed up in ten pages or less.
Sure, there’s a few outliers so full of insight you need to read them multiple times. Most books, even great ones, give you a handful of useful bits hidden among its three hundred or so pages.
Here’s a simple method I use to glean the most important teachings from books. Learning is only half the battle. Gaining knowledge is useless unless you put it into practice. Once I nail down those lessons, I integrate them into my personal or professional life.
These five steps accomplish both goals.
Step 1 – While reading
As you read your book keep a pen handy. You’ll use this to make notations in the margins. If you’re reading on Kindle, use the highlight feature. Whenever you come across one of those “A-Ha” moments make a small notation in the margin. I make a little “-“ by the important words. Sometimes I’ll use a large < symbol to denote an entire paragraph.
Be a bit judicious with your notations but don’t worry if you’re doing too much. You’ll filter later.
Step 2 – From Book To Paper
After you finish the book, go back to the beginning. Flip (or scroll) through each page and stop where you see a notation. Read the surrounding sentences and determine if it’s worth keeping. If so, write out the main point in your document in bullet form. Do this for the entire book. I find that half the stuff I notate does not make it into the document. Often, I find the ideas presented are redundant. Other times, the information loses importance with the benefit of reflection.
Do this for the entire book. I find that half the stuff I notate does not make it into the document. Many of the ideas presented are redundant. Other times, the information loses importance with the benefit of reflection.
For an average size non-fiction book, you’ll end up with two to five pages of bullets.
Step 3 – Edit Your Document
Take a second pass through your notes. You’ll find more redundancies. You’ll find bullets that lack real impact and others superseded by later examples. Filter out all that extra junk.
Tip: For each learning, I keep one example. Most non-fiction books pack several examples or stories for each lesson it teaches. This is part of the redundancy. You only need one example to see how each lesson works.
When you finish this process, you’ll end up with one to two pages of notes. For real in-depth books, you may end up with as much as five pages.
Step 4 – Put it into Action
Pick one lesson and put it into practice each day. If your book is on improving your writing, try out one lesson each day in your daily writing. If your book is about productivity, add in one lesson each day to improve your productivity.
Measure the results of your actions. If it works for you, then it’s a keeper. What if it fails? Maybe you need to practice it in order to see results. Make sure you followed the instructions. Give yourself a few opportunities to keep or reject each lesson. When you reject a lesson, delete it from your document. This streamlines it even more.
Step 5 – Reinforcement
Each month I look over documents from a particular category. One month I look at productivity. The next month I review my copywriting notes. Spend time reading through each document in a category and evaluate which lessons work. Eliminate the stuff that’s not working. Focus on the ones you have yet to try.
Bonus Tip: I also use this process with podcasts and interviews. It’s a great way to keep valuable teachings that otherwise disappear in the netherworld of your brain.Read More →