How to keep a book summary and remember everything you read
Let’s be honest. You forget most of what you read. Me too, until recently.
I like to read non-fiction and learn about different topics. Psychology, Human behavior, Software development, Product design and more. All of these aren’t directly related to each other, at least not at first. So it is hard to remember everything I read. So I started taking notes after every book I read so I can remind myself of the main points. These notes are not a short version of the book but more like “lessons learned” type of document.
After a while this evolved into a set of questions and guidelines that not only help with the retention but also with my reading speed.
Step 1. Read with purpose
You picked up the book to learn something. To become better at something and to fill gaps in your knowledge. Write these expectations and targets you want to achieve after completing the book. Define the purpose for reading the book in the first place. Then as you read, you will notice yourself hunting for your answers with an increasing speed. As you get to the relevant chapters that have your answers slow down and properly digest the information, maybe even come back for a few times to make sure you didn’t miss anything.
Step 2. Lessons and Applications by Chapter
After finishing each chapter answer 2 questions.
- What are the top 3 things I learned in this chapter?
- Which 3 things I could apply from this chapter?
I use 3 as an upper limit because if you write 10 things you will not apply any of them. On the other hand there might not be anything to apply or learn from a chapter. In this case force yourself to come up with at least 2 things no matter how small they appear.
Step 3. Final Lessons and Applications
At the end of the book you will have many things you’ve learned and many to apply. Force yourself to pick the top 3 lessons and top 3 applications from all chapters.
Step 4. How does this fit into your existing knowledge base
Three more questions to answer after finishing the book.
- What lessons contradicted your previous understanding?
- What lessons confirmed your previous understanding?
- What lessons filled gaps in your understanding?
Strategies for reading
When reading a book for learning purposes it is very important to be consistent. I have two strategies that I use.
Strategy 1: Devour the book in 2-3 days.
These days need to be consecutive while all the material is still fresh in your mind. This works great when reading books that contain practical knowledge and will get you closer to your goals. Motivation is a powerful tool but it doesn’t last long. That’s why I recommend 2-3 days.
Strategy 2: Just 30 mins per day every day
Another way is to allocate only 30 minutes per day. I usually do this at night when I have no more energy left for working. When using this approach it is important to make it a habit and do it every day. If you skip more than one day this can easily get out of your short term memory before it has a chance to stick long term. However answering the questions after every chapter will make it easier to get back on track even if this happens.
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