Reading may not be your favorite thing to do, but you are still a reader. Every day, you read thousands of words. You read messages, notifications, and web pages. You read books, signs, and documents.
If you could retain 10% more of everything you read, your life would be a lot better. The following 4 tips took me 3 years of daily reading to collect but will only take you 2 minutes to learn. You’ll be a better reader forever.
1. Read It When You Need It
Being book-smart just for the sake of being book-smart is a vanity metric for your ego. Our strongest memories are connected to experiences. Use what you read. Be a practitioner.
The single-greatest favor you can do yourself when it comes to reading — at least for productivity purposes — is to read only what you need right when you need it.
“When intelligent people read, they ask themselves a simple question: What do I plan to do with this information?” — Ryan Holiday
2. Preview Everything You Read With 2 Questions
Only hunt for information once you’ve decided you really need to, then make sure you pick the right resource. Don’t read 10 books about marketing and hope for the best. Read just one carefully selected one, then get back to work.
Whenever you open a web page, click on a document, or pick up a book, ask yourself 2 questions:
- What is this text about?
- What kind of text is this?
Generate context before you jump into the content. Skim the title, blurb, cover, and table of contents, then screen introduction and conclusion. Only then commit and dive deeper into individual paragraphs. Speaking of which…
“Content is king, but context is God.” — Gary Vaynerchuk
3. Breathe in Sync With Paragraphs to Notice What’s Important
The best way to catch what the author thinks is important is to use paragraphs as breathing guides: Breathe in deeply when you start a new passage, then slowly breathe out as you read on, and come to a full exhale on the last word.
Not only will your reading gain a nice rhythm, you’ll also be able to tell sloppy paragraphs from well-crafted ones. Too many one-liners, and you’re hyperventilating; too many walls of text, and you’ll run out of air.
A book is a long, winding road with the occasional speed bump: You don’t want to come to a full stop at each obstacle, but you also don’t want to damage your car because you fly over too many sharp rocks.
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” — Albert Einstein
4. Condense Everything You Read, If Only in a Tweet
If you make a conscious effort to process what you read — be it by summarizing a book on 2 pages, filing your notes in a physical archive or digital tool, or recapping an article in a tweet — you’ll deliberately commit the entirety of it to your memory, with emphasis on certain parts.
Even if you never look at the original text ever again, you’ll be able to recall at least your summary, if not more. Beethoven left behind hundreds of notebooks filled with ideas, yet he admitted never looking at them while composing. When asked why he took notes in the first place, he beautifully explained why condensing works:
“If I don’t write it down right away, I instantly forget it. If I write it down, I never forget it and don’t have to look at it ever again.” — Ludwig van Beethoven