One of the more common questions we get at Asian Efficiency is how to effectively read, learn from and implement a non-fiction book. This is a topic that comes up in our productivity community, The Dojo, as well.
There are many different systems for reading and successfully implementing a book. This is the system and process that we’ve developed at Asian Efficiency – it works for us, and we’ve been using it for years.
Note: this mostly applies to non-fiction. Sure, you can learn things and be inspired by fiction, but this process is better designed for “information” books on business or say personal development.
The first thing you want to do is to learn to speed read – it’ll just make everything that much faster.
Here’s the steps of effectively read and implementing a book:
- Reading, highlighting and taking notes.
- Mind mapping.
- Implementing via processes.
- Reviewing at regular intervals.
If you aren’t familiar with the term, “skimming” is a way of reading a text without actually reading the whole thing. What’s actually happening is that your eyes and brain are actually picking out keywords, key phrases and big ideas as you move quickly through a text. The point is to get a “general idea” of the subject matter, not to memorise all the details.
Here’s how you systematically skim through a book:
- As we mentioned in our article on speed reading, start with an objective in mind. In this case, it is likely to read, understand and implement the ideas in the book in your life and business.
- Start by examining the cover and blurb if you haven’t already done so.
- Look through the table of contents.
- Have a flick through the index.
- Skim through the chapter headings and some of the subheadings. If something catches your attention, read a bit more about it.
The key with this process is not worry about “getting ahead of yourself” in the learning process – that’s just a silly, irrational fear left over from our education system where they punish people for trying to “rush ahead”.
The main objective of the skimming process is to familiarize yourself with the concepts of the book and to begin getting a conceptual overview of the material before you even start reading it. If you have access to a summary of the book (or if the book includes one), you can and should read that. If not, you can just skim through the concepts and form a first impression that way.
One important thing to keep in mind is that lots of books are written with extraneous details – essentially filler and fluff designed to make books longer than they need to be.
Towards the end of the skimming process, if you start to form a good high-level understanding of the concepts, you may want to start a mind map. Simply open a new map, put the title in the middle and then list the concepts as your first-tier nodes.
If not, don’t worry – we’ll get to mind mapping in a bit.
The next step is to start reading the book. You can either speed read it or read it normally – it doesn’t really matter.
While you are reading, be sure to stop and highlight important sections, and make notes as you need to.
If you’re doing this on a Kindle or a tablet, highlighting and taking notes is a breeze.
You can read either start-to-finish or you can read the sections that are just interesting to you, in the order that you like. Remember: one of the easiest ways to cut down on reading time is identifying what you don’t need to read and skipping past it.
When you’re done with reading, take the book or load it up in the Kindle App on your desktop, and start a new mind map (or use the one from the skimming step). Take notes as relevant, to the level of detail that is appropriate for you.
This mind map is to be for your later reviews of the material in the book.
You can organize the ideas by chapters (author’s choice) or by concepts (your choice). If the book is really well-organized or well-written, organizing by chapters is usually fine. I personally prefer to organize by concept – it takes a little more time, but then I end up with a mind map that is custom-tailored to the way that I organize ideas.
If you are unsure about how to mind map properly, check out our mind mapping page.
This is the step that most people miss when reading books – taking action and implementing ideas.
Simply put, it isn’t enough to read something and “keep it in mind” – you need to do something to lock in the idea and make sure it is implemented in your life.
From the mind map you created you should be able to pull out things to implement – you can either highlight these on the mind map, or you can create a separate text file of action items and list them out there. You then want to take this list and process and implement them in your business or your personal life.
The question of how to implement really varies depending on what it is you want to implement – keep an eye out for future Asian Efficiency articles on different forms of conceptual implementation.
The last step in this reading-learning-implementing process is the review. You want to set up a regular review schedule to look over the mind map you have created, and to make sure that your implementations of ideas and concepts has actually been successful.
Here’s the review schedule we recommend:
- 3 days.
- 3 weeks.
- 3 months.
- 1 year.
- 2 years.
- 3 years.
- 4 years.
- 5 years.
Note: you can easily set up reminders for these in any task manager.
Reviewing at each of these time frames is simply a matter of opening up the mind map, reading through it and seeing if any new ideas leap out at you, or if the things you have highlighted for implementation have successfully stuck.
- Pick a book to read, learn and implement.
- Run through the above process.
- Remember to implement and review!
If you want more articles and tips like these, let us know where we can send them to:
Kindle ebooks work so well for reading and reviewing books, especially with the multicolor highlighters (that can be filtered and favored), and ability to read and even copy your highlights and notes from your Kindle Amazon page. I get more reading done now on my iPad because it’s easier to hold than a 300-500 page nonfiction book, and I don’t need a highlighter or pen at hand. Plus the text can be resized when needed for better reading. Mapping is good if you plan to apply the information for research or some other content.
“process is not worry about”
I heavily use audio books for my learning. How can this workflow be tweaked for audio books ?
Hmm. I like the approach and am very impressed by the shear tenacity of organizing such a thorough system to read and implement a book. I wonder how this could be implemented into the school system and also think about the concept of fomo (fear of missing out). What happens if you choose a terrible book to use and implement….? Great post. Thanks!
I used an earlier version of this system through the latter part of my time at high school and university.
If I pick a terrible book to read, I’ll probably know once I’m done skimming it or at worst 1-2 chapters in. Personally, I don’t like wasting time so I just won’t read it. If I really need to satisfy my curiosity I’ll go find a summary online for it.
Back in March 2013 I actually sat down to think about this and independently developed a system which is remarkably similar to this (here’s a photo of my whiteboard: https://i.imgur.com/zBtSLct.png). The only major difference between mine and yours is that my implementation process differentiated between action items and systems.
Action items are non-repeating tasks. Let’s say I just finished reading an AE article on organizing my computer with Hazel. My action items in Omnifocus could be:
* Buy Hazel
* Organize downloads folder with Hazel
* Set up Hazel/Omnifocus item integration.
Systems, of course, are repeating tasks and should be implemented differently. While you can put them in a task manager, it’s easier to make lists on paper and put them up around the house. For example, if I just finished reading an article on morning rituals, I would write my morning ritual down on a piece of paper and stick it next to my bed.
(Note: Gestalt systems are a little more difficult; reminders on post-it notes/calendar alarms are the best way to handle these)
I like your approach. AE approved :-)
The idea of papers around the house works well. I’ve done this many times with sticky notes for habits I wanted to incorporate, like flossing, taking supplements, drinking green tea, and many more. It’s a good way to remind yourself of these habits you want to build.