When I’m choosing the next book to read, I typically gravitate to non-fiction. I’m super motivated to learn new information and always am excited when I come across insights that can improve my life in some way.
My problem has never been in finding enough wonderful material to read. My problem is recalling the really great ideas soon after I complete my reading. Many years ago, I read this fabulous book that was jam-packed with amazing content. But just a few weeks after I’d finished it, I struggled to articulate all the concepts that had so impressed me.
At first fearing I’d begun to lose some of my marbles, I later came to a more rational conclusion. It’s challenging for anyone to read 300 pages and then retain all the content. Tied to this insight, I got into the practice of summarizing every non-fiction book I read. Generally, these summaries are five to 10 pages and take me a couple of hours to produce. Let me explain what I do and why I think this is such a good idea.
My process is simple. I write in my books. As I read, I underline, asterisk and otherwise highlight all the best thoughts – information I find really insightful and worth remembering. And when I’m done reading, I go back through the pages and type up my notes.
I’ve never regretted the extra time I’ve put into preparing these summaries. Besides sharing them with my employees, friends and subscribers to my blog (my tribe) and helping to enrich their lives, I make a point of re-reading them as a means of keeping the most impactful and compelling information top of mind.
By coming to summarize the books I read and then making time to review them frequently, I discovered that repetition was the most effective way for me to internalize information I’d decided was really valuable. My key insight: reading something once can’t possibly yield understanding. Through a process of reading my book summaries at the beach, on planes and before I go to bed, over time, I’ve been able to internalize superb ideas from many great thinkers – insights and information which have helped me become a far more effective person and a leader.
I’ve also discovered that the full meaning of most great ideas tends to unfold gradually – long after we’re first exposed to them. And our being reminded of splendid concepts and wisdom also tends to keep our lives in greater balance.
While I hope you’ll adopt my practice of summarizing the great material you read in life, at the very least, I encourage you to never read anything without nailing down its most essential message – the golden nuggets – and then writing those ideas in a notebook.
To acquire the knowledge you really need to have in order to excel in life, I’ve learned you have to really work at it. Take away something valuable from everything you read and build a resource of great ideas.
La Jolla resident, Mark C. Crowley, is a leadership consultant, professional speaker and author of Lead From The Heart: Transformational Leadership For The 21st Century. To contact Mark or to read more of his blogs, visit his website: markccrowley.com.