How to Read a Book and Get Smarter

July 20, 2018 by Bill Rice

Developing a habit of reading books is a proven way to increase your value as a professional and as a result your wealth potential. It’s well documented that reading can make you successful.

The key, of course, is that your reading is productive in a way that makes you smarter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about reading, and a variety of other learning methods, this summer. During this time of the year, I do a lot of reading, and our agency does most of our training for the year. As we move through this cycle, I always ponder how to make our learning more effective.

To place my musings in context, here is a little background.

Summer is traditionally one of the rare times of the year that agency life slows down. During this time I encourage our team to do two things that have always made Kaleidico a better marketing agency.

  1. Take time off and spend it enjoying friends, family, and other passions and pursuits. This rejuvenation is critical to putting fuel in the tanks for the more typical frenetic times.
  2. Take time to learn and train. I expect our team to be deepening knowledge as subject matter experts and getting some cross-functional training as well. We do that in a variety of ways. We have developers expanding their capabilities with Codeacademy, account executives using Skillshare and Lynda to broaden their marketing strategies and tactics, and business analyst drilling through various Google Analytics certifications.

As you can see, we lean on video as a favored training format, for sure. But personally, since I’ve spent a significant amount time traveling and traveling overseas in particular, reading has been a much better learning format for me. I can load up my Kindle and Audible I don’t have to worry about wifi or the quality of my bandwidth to learn.

This summer’s reading led me to think deeper about how to make my reading as productive as training platforms like Codeacademy, Skillshare, and Lynda. These environments are very much a learning and then doing processes. These learning frameworks are designed to activate your new skills as soon as possible.

As a result, I built this framework to mimic that process for my reading habit. Let me know what you think. Do you do anything similar?

  1. Study the table of contents – I read on a Kindle or listen on Audible almost exclusively, so this step has to be an intentional one. But, I think it’s super critical. It like reviewing a syllabus. I want to prepare and focus myself on what I should be taking away from this book. I also want to anticipate the chapters I might enjoy or need to focus on the most.
  2. Skim chapters that are less relevant or begin to stall your momentum – This is one thing that I think is very different from other learning formats. Unlike video or live training, where each section builds and is often essential to the next, most books yield value even if you skim or skip chapters. So, blow past parts that are slowing you down or boring you.
  3. Take notes – Although I occasionally highlight on the Kindle and theoretically it’s supposed to be super simple to gather those notes later, I’ve never really found that to be intuitive or natural enough to land in my workflow. So, I typically take notes in Evernote on my mobile phone, which is usually nearby (far more likely than my notebook, sadly).
  4. Turn your notes into something – The first few steps are pretty obvious, but I think the real money is made in these next few steps. Make sure you use those notes after you finish the book. So, often we highlight a book or take notes and then tuck it them away never to be seen again. What a waste of time and opportunity.
  5. Riff on what you learned – I like to review those notes and generate some quick content ideas out of them. I build a list of writing, video, and possibly webinar ideas where I can take what I learned and blend it with my own experiences and opinions to engage other smart people in my industry.
  6. Develop a small test – Here is another excellent way to get a high return on your reading. Design one or more experiments from the concepts in the book you read. Whether it is a book on leadership, productivity, marketing, programming, design or even a biography or memoir – there is always a way to try something new in your workflow, organizational processes, or a personal lifehack.

Okay, it’s your turn…

What do you do to make your reading make you smarter?

photo credit: Photo by Chris Benson on Unsplash