Reading Better - Farnam Street - Deepstash
Reading Better - Farnam Street

Reading Better - Farnam Street

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How to get the most out of your reading

How to get the most out of your reading

One of the benefits of reading is that you can master the best of what other people discovered.

But it is only true if you can actually remember and apply the lessons and insights you read.

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Give up quickly

You will instantly know if you picked up a good book. It is well written, packed with ideas and insights and is well organised. Naturally, you will want to read the next page.

Good books finish themselves. Trying to finish a bad book is a grind. Instead, skim a lot of books and read a few.

You don't need to finish a bad or mediocre book. When you realise you can quit a book without guilt, you create the space and opportunity for a great book.

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Levels of reading

Levels of reading

Reading the words on a page or screen is the easy part. The problem is that this is often the only way we learn to read.

There are different approaches to reading. 

  1. Reading to entertain. This is what we are taught in elementary school.
  2. Reading to inform. You skim to get a feel for the book.
  3. Reading to understand. You read to chew on things and digest them.
  4. Reading to master. You read a variety of books and articles on the same topic, evaluating them and forming your own opinion.

You don't need to read everything the same way. We spend most of our time in levels 2 and 3.

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Choose great books

If you want to improve what you get out of reading, you have to choose great books.

There are only a few new books that might prove valuable, but most will be forgotten. So instead, let time filter the good books. Find the books that stood the test of time.

Time is limited, so direct it to knowledge that lasts. Read old books. Read the best ones twice.

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Taking notes - The blank sheet

Taking notes - The blank sheet

The best way to get more out of books is by taking notes with the blank sheet method.

  • Before reading a book, write down what you know about the subject using a mind map.
  • When you finish a reading session, add to the map with a different colour.
  • Review the page before you start your next reading session.
  • When you're done reading, bind the sheets and review them periodically.

When you use this method, you will literally see your knowledge grow as you add new information. You'll start to connect ideas across disciplines and develop your own ideas.

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Conventional notes

Conventional notes

Write in the margins of your book. You bought it. It's your property.

  • At the end of each chapter, write a pointed summary of the main chapter. Then, try to connect it to something in your life, such as a memory or other idea.
  • When you're done with the book, pack it away for a week, then revisit it and go through all your notes.
  • Write the main idea of the book on the inside cover. You can also make a custom index on the back cover with themes or topics.

The idea is to connect new knowledge to existing knowledge and find the gaps in your understanding.

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"The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time." - Lincoln

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