Getting the Most Out of the Books I Read

Any leader worth their salt will be investing in personal growth by, among other things, reading. It is incredible the vast resource of knowledge and insight that is available via all the books being written today! It is a tragedy if any leader is not feeding themselves from it!

For some time I’ve wanted to write a post about the system I follow when it comes to reading. Here it is:

1. Cultivate a “to read” list.

There are literally thousands of books published every day and our access to these books is unprecedented.  The hardest thing anyone has when it comes to reading books is actually choosing which books to read!  That’s why I cultivate a list of books that I want to read at some point.  Here’s how I get my list:

  • bibliography of books you’ve benifited from – if you’ve just finished a GREAT book and it has a bibliography of some sort, that provides a great resource for finding books to read.
  • other books written by authors you like – like what a particular author has to say?  Chances are you’ll like other books by that same author.
  • recommendations from leaders you respect – This is an important one.  I have discovered many books that I might not ordinarily take a look at because a leader I respect has recommended it.
  • recomendations from blogs you read – Similar to the above point.
  • books written by blog authors you’ve read – If you read other blogs, or articles in magazines by a certain author and like what they have to say then you will probably find their books interesting as well.

It’s important that you have a method of collecting this list of books so when it’s time to go to the next book you can easily pick one.  I’ve used many different methods over the years but my current method is using an online app called anobii.  The reason why this is cool is because I can put books on a wishlist (and all I need is the title they take care of adding all the other details of a book).

I also have a “to read” shelf on my bookshelf that contains all the books available  (*ahem) to read.  It’s a good way of keeping new books easily accessible when you’re ready for a fresh one.

2. Schedule your reading.

If you don’t have a set plan for reading, you won’t read anything. Take advantage of the normally wasted moments that always pop up in life.  That’s one of the reasons I always have a book handy in my laptop bag.  With the growing popularity of e-readers (such as the Amazon Kindle, and now the iPad [drool]), there’s even easier ways to have books ready to read on the go.  I haven’t quite jumped on the e-reader bandwagon yet but know I’ll get there eventually.

It’s worth repeating.  If you don’t plan to read a book, you won’t read the book.  Are there certain times each day that work better for reading for you?  Do you travel a lot?  Can you read while on the plane or on the train/bus?  Do you have time during a lunch break to read for 30 minutes?  Do you have a few minutes before going to bed each night to read?  Are you always waiting at meetings for the late-comers to come before getting started?  There are plenty of places you could discover for a few minutes of reading time if you’re looking for a place to plan your reading.

3. Don’t sweat dropping a book that doesn’t wow you.

I have a terrible propensity to have to finish everything I’ve started.  Sometimes it makes my life really miserable because frankly,  there are things that don’t need to be finished.  Books are one of those things.  I’ve learned that nothing kills the momentum of reading than forcing yourself to get through a dry and uninteresting book.  Here’s the thing, not everything you read is going to be of value to you.  So if you are reading something dry and uninteresting and you are dreading picking up the book to read…PUT IT DOWN!  Leave it!  Put it on the shelf and don’t sweat it.  At some point you may want to come back to it but it’s okay to let go and pick up a different book!

One exception however –  if a book is making you uncomfortable, finish it. Usually the books that make you uncomfortable (in a stretching, growing kind of way) are the ones that have the greatest impact in your life.  After finishing a book like that, evaluate why it made you uncomfortable.

4. Develop a system of recording (and using) what you learn.

I’ve read a lot of GOOD and GREAT books over the years.  Unfortunately, some of those books I remember the title of and not much else.  I’ll say to someone, “That was a GREAT book” and they’ll ask why, and I’ll answer, “good question…” and will quickly pick up the book and read the back cover to try to remember.  Here’s the thing, it’s one thing to read a book, it’s another thing to learn from a book and remember what you’ve learned.  There’s two ways to remember, record and apply. So it’s important that you develop some sort of system for recording and applying what you are learning from the books you’ve read (if they are going to make any difference in your life).

Here’s mine:

  • Highlight everything significant – if I like a phrase an author has wrote or there is something they suggest that really resonates with me I will highlight it.  I also pay attention to emotional cues.  If something creates an emotional connection with me – it get’s highlighted.  If something makes me uncomfortable, it get’s highlighted.
  • After I finish reading the book I will record all the highlighted quotes in my stream.  Why?  I want all these important connections I’ve made with this book to be recorded in a way that is easily searchable and accessible no matter what platform or computer I’m at.  Currently tumblr does this for me (as a side benefit – I’m sharing highlights from my reading with others who may happen upon my tumblr stream)
  • I’ll pick one or two things from the book I can apply to my life and make an action step from it. (I’m not always able to do this but I try)
  • Reread the books that really impacted me at least once a year (another thing I’m not great at because my list of “to read” books is so huge!  I often do this though when I’m wanting to read through the book with other people I’ve recommended it to or I’m working through an area in my life that the book will help with).
  • Sometimes I’ll record a review of the book in Lately has become my place to rate all the books I read and keep track of when I read them.  I wish I had of known about this resource earlier.


5. Read books just for the fun of it to break things up.

Why?  Because sometimes your brain just needs a break!  Pick up a fiction book once in a while or pull out a comic (yeah I still read comics occasionally).  Or even biographies can be a really cool break from the usual reading to inspire and encourage!

So, do you have a system for reading books?  What’s your system?

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