How to remember what you read?

We read that “Great Leaders are Great readers.” So we set up new year resolutions that say “I will read at least 10/20/50 books this year“.  Some of us even get to that number, but often we look back and can’t seem to remember any ideas from a book we really enjoyed reading and thought was great.

Most productivity Guru’s can’t list the ‘seven habits’ from the cult book, ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’ although they have read it several times and even train others on them. So how do we ensure that we not just read a book, but actually remember what is in it and make an impact in our life.

What to read?

The discussion here is relevant to non-fiction reading.

(1) Read with Purpose

Do not pick a book, because it has less pages, available in kindle or your library for free or even for the reason it is popular. Read it because you wanted to learn something from the book, that is relevant to you right now or in the immediate future. A book about what makes an ideal CEO is not relevant to you now, when you are a desk clerk. You can read that book when you are vying for that job. A book is a commitment for your time, several hours, make the investment worthwhile.

Read with a Purpose - Read to Learn
Read with a Purpose – Read to Learn

(2) References and Suggestions:

References from books that you have read and liked are great places to find books that you want to read to deepen your understanding on the topic at hand. People in relevant industries can also be a great source for suggestions. Have a list handy, and never run out of books to read.

(3) Read the book reviews/summaries to determine whether the book is relevant to you before buying them. If you haven’t learnt anything in th first 50 pages, discard the book.

What to Avoid:

(1) Information Overload:

If you are looking to start a business say export or media, read a handful of highly recommended books to get a overview of the business and get into action when you think you have a fair idea. You will never be sufficiently prepared and you will make mistakes and learn on the go. But if you try to read every single book in the market on the subject before you take any action, you are probably just using additional information as a crutch to postpone taking real action. Start with what you have and improvise.

(2) Distraction:

Unlike spending time in a chatroom or social media, reading a book requires a fair bit of focus. Allocate a dedicated time of the day, even if it is just 10-20 mins to read without distractions.

(3) Multitasking:

Research says multi-taskers perform worse than drunk people on cognitive tasks. We have all been the kid (at least I have been) who insisted on writing the homework in front of the TV and ultimately finished it under the school desk when teacher comes checking. If you are serious about the topic, avoid multi tasking. Listening to audio books while driving is still okay because of this.

The myth of Multi-tasking
The myth of Multi-tasking

How to Read:

(1) Skim the Book:

To start with, skim the book, look at the index, read the intro, see the info graphics, quotes and get a fair idea of what the book is about.

(2) Question:

Read the Headings, sub-heading and write down the questions that arise in your mind on reading that. For Ex: Rule 1 of Rich Dad, Poor Dad is that “Rich Dad don’t work for Money”. Here the question in my mind is, “So what is it that they work for?” List down your questions from the activity of skimming.

(3) Read to answer the questions you have noted down. Skip topics that you are familiar with already. For eg, case studies, research conclusion, stories that you have already read in greater detail earlier.

(4) Highlight and annotate with symbols ( $ for value, “” for quotable quotes etc) relevant points that you will want to come back for reference.

(5) After finishing every chapter, spend 30 sec to mentally review its contents in your head. You may also write a 2 line summary.

(6) If you are unable to recollect any of the points during review, go back and read the relevant portion only.

(7) Write a short summary at the end of the book after finishing it.

How to Remember:

(1) Use Acronyms:

Dan and Chip Heath are great at using an acronym to put their ideas together. For their book ‘Made to Stick‘, they used the analogy, ‘SUCCESS’, for ‘Decisive’ they used ‘WRAP’. This makes it far easier to recollect the main points in the book.

In the movie, ‘Evan Almighty‘ the director even when all the way to make ‘random act of kindness’ into ‘Act of Random Kindness’ to fit the acronym of ARK. That’s how powerful an acronym is.

(2) Use Analogies:

We have studied the earth to be a sphere/ball, the electrons move around nucleus like planets revolving around sun etc. The analogies help us form a picture of what we don’t know through what we know and can be a great tool of understanding.

(3) Use Feynman technique:

Teach it to a 5 year old.  Remove all jargons and simplify the concept so much that you teach it to a 5 year old or even better babies 🙂

Feynman Technique
Feynman Technique – Teach it to the kids

(4) Think through and discuss:

When I thought of this or any topic to write, I usually find enough ammunition to write from just one article or a video. But when I refer multiple videos or articles  and combine them together into coherent post becomes a bigger task than transcribing one video. But this is the one way through which I am able to contribute to the post as well absorb the maximum about the topic at hand. So think through the topic after collecting various facts, opinions and discuss or write about it to imbibe understanding rather than just parrot what you heard.

(5) Implement:

Nothing makes you remember a topic, as much as when you implement the learning from it at the earliest. Since we have already picked a topic that is most relevant to us, it should not be too difficult. Is it a cook book, go try one recipe, Is it a book on Yoga, schedule your Yoga session, Is it a book on social conversations, ‘Say Hi to the stranger and try out some tips you just learnt.’


It’s not what you get out of the book, its ultimately what the book gets out of you that matters. So read something that matters, think through it and get the ball rolling.

Inspired by John Spence, Proactive Thinker and Will Shroeder

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Why reading is a unique experience

At Amritsar, the Golden Temple looks magnificent inside a sparkling lake. The Harmandir Sahib Gurdwara is the most sacred place for the practitioners of Sikhism. Under its golden dome, in the centre of the sanctum sanctorum, lies an artefact that the Sikhs consider their Supreme Being. It is called the Guru Granth. It is a book. It is considered the ultimate Teacher to the Sikhs, prescribing how a Sikh should lead a life of honesty, respect and dignity. For the Sikhs, the Guru Granth is not just a book, it is a living being with a soul.

While other religions do not directly worship a book, they too revere books which teach them the way of life. Christianity swears by the Bible and Muslims look upto the Quran. Hindus do not hold any one book as their chief scripture. While modern Hinduism heaps a lot of praise on the Bhagawat Geeta, there are plenty more such as the Upanishad and the Vedas.

I am agnostic with no belief in religion. However I cannot help praising the fact that every religion revers the ‘written word’. Every religion I am aware of respects the experience of the people bygone and recommends that we read their ‘written word’ and try to make our life better by using that repository of knowledge. It is also what our parents told us during our childhood and what all successful people keep saying time after time. Let me make it short and sweet. “Read Books”! Continue reading Why reading is a unique experience

Get more out of your reading

Let us go through an exercise. Consider all your reading sessions during your day. Factor in all that you read: blog posts, magazine & newspaper articles, social network posts, books, novels, just about everything. On a scale of 1 to 10, how satisfying do your consider your reading sessions? Do you come away from each reading session having learnt something new and looking at the world or your career in a different perspective? Are your reading sessions pleasurable and relaxing, making you want to read on and on? Or are they rather stressful, making you shake your head and ponder how terrible the world is? Continue reading Get more out of your reading