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Let Your Biggest Problem Speed Up Your Reading

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Books standing on the table

This is a guest post by Brandon Wentland. Brandon runs a company called Optimal – a growth hacking company. He is passionate about continuous improvement, optimization, and teaching others.

I once heard a teacher of mine say that you must have a question before you can learn something. Questions are like hooks that information and learning are placed on. Unless you’ve opened your mind and become curious, there’s no place to store new information.

I have applied this concept to reading books with a technique I call “Just In Time Reading.”

Girl with books

JIT (just in time) is a lean manufacturing concept, where you cut waste by keeping inventory and supply lines low. You work on creating systems to swiftly pull items you need, so you’re not stocking unneeded inventory. Some of my clients have had entire warehouses empty after adopting these processes.

Adopting lean processes eliminates waste, so you no longer need the extra space.

Your tower (or, let’s be honest, half your book collection) of “to read” books is causing the same sort of waste. You buy books on recommendations and fear of missing out, collecting and hoping some day they will be valuable. Inside that clutter might be a book that can help you solve a burning problem you have right now — but you can’t see the signal through the noise.



The value you bring to your world is directly proportionate to the level of complexity of the problems you can solve. Books can help you speed up this problem-solving process by leveraging other people’s experiences. Why not learn from someone else, especially someone smarter than yourself?

So what is the problem you are trying to solve? What is turning your insides upside down, keeping you up at night, or pumping adrenaline through your body? What would level up your personal or professional life?

Somewhere there is a book that can help you solve that problem — you just need to find it.

Instead of stocking up every time you’re at the bookstore or impulse-buying the new popular book, reflect on what this one thing is. Ask your network what book they recommend on that topic, Google it, or check out Amazon or Goodreads. It’s easy to find the right alignment.

Once you find this alignment, you won’t need to force yourself to read. You’ll tear through books in a fraction of the time it used to take because somewhere buried deep in these pages is your answer.

Leverage your curiosity, and reading becomes an exciting adventure.

I have increased my rate of reading by over 900% by following this method.

If you’re not struggling with the rate of your reading, then you’re most likely struggling with how to apply what you have read. As you’re reading books that hit dead on the biggest problem you’re trying to solve, the solution will come automatically. To bring this concept full circle, your problem and question become the hook to place the writer’s teachings.

I have found some useful tools to help me apply this system.

Digital Books

Everyone has their preference, but for me the choice was clear once I added up the pros and cons.

When you buy physical books you feel compelled to buy and collect — increasing your unneeded inventory. That book is on sale, or you don’t want to make a special trip back to the bookstore. Not so with digital books.

To scratch that collector’s itch I use Goodreads. Goodreads allows me to create a “to read list” and “read list,” replacing their physical counterparts with some added features. I can file away books to read with a tap of my finger and reflect on the ones I’ve finished. I can also follow other people I admire to find out what books inspire them.

Goodreads also syncs with Amazon, making my list-compiling even easier.


Kindle Highlights

Another added benefit of the digital approach is how effortless it is to save highlights. As I read, I highlight anything that jumps out at me for later review.

To export all your highlights, you can use this simple bookmarklet to get them in a easy-to-digest text file.


Instead of diving right into the next book, take some time to reflect. I like to read or re-read these text highlights in place of my normal reading time. Let the book sink in.

Next write a single-page summary of the book. The constraint is important — the shorter the better. This is where you make the book your own.

Save the highlights and summary to a single file (Evernote, Bear, or plain text works fine). That way, you can refer to the summary and full notes later at a moment’s notice.

12 Week Year

Here is a sample of a summary I did for the 12 Week Year.


Spending the time to read, highlight, and summarize is valuable — why not share it?
I have enjoyed some incredible conversation over coffee with friends talking about a book’s concepts or how we will apply what we learned. This further solidifies the concepts and application.

These are the hacks that work for me. I hope they help you tear through books faster, absorb more, and cut waste. Happy reading!

P.S. Check out a quick video summary of my process:
GoodReads Video

This is a guest post by Brandon Wentland. Brandon runs a company called Optimal – a growth hacking company. He is passionate about continuous improvement, optimization, and teaching others.

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Posted by Sandra  | June 16, 2017 at 6:39AM | Reply

Thanks for the hacks) I love the smell of physical books, but I read them only when I’m on vacation. The rest of the time I read digital books. But I never shared with friends. I think it’s time)

Posted by Samir  | February 19, 2017 at 2:04PM | Reply

Thanks for the tips on bookmarklet to get highlights. I would copy them from the Amazon website and paste it into a Word document. Then I have a macro in Word that strips the extra text and turns it into a table with comment, page/location number, and any tag I added. The bookmarklet should make it easier.

Posted by Rhonda  | February 18, 2017 at 8:04AM | Reply

A great tip here; thank you, Brandon. Highlighting and recording what jumps out from a book is an ideal way to record notes. (I remember the SQRRR method in school for remembering content; this is probably better.) Physical books are still my preference, but for the ones I own or can get from our library (it has a “to read” list for account-holders as well), I can still type notes, write a summary, and review it.

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