5 ways to read more books, and then read them more productively

by | Sep 14, 2016 | General Productivity

Takeaway: 5 ways to read more books, and then read them more productively: read with a pen in hand, so you can underline the most valuable nuggets from each book to revisit when you’re done; borrow more reading time from less important activities (like watching TV); capture notes from the books you’re reading on index cards; keep a notepad nearby to capture any thoughts or distractions that come up while you’re reading; and leave as many distractions as you can in another room.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes, 58s.

I don’t watch many movies or much TV, but I devour books by the truckload. Most weeks I receive a fresh new box of books from Amazon, and by the time the week is done I’m finished another one or two of them. I’ve had this reading ritual for years, and wouldn’t give it up for anything.

Being a productivity nerd, over the last few years I’ve developed a few reading habits that let me read more books, process what I read deeper, and retain more of what I read. If you’re as into books as I am, these five methods should help you out quite a bit!

1. Always read with a pen in your hand. This has become my favorite way to process books deeper. While reading a book, I underline what will be most valuable to revisit later on, and whenever I’m finished with a book, I go back and read everything that’s underlined. Re-reading everything that’s underlined takes just a few minutes to do when you’re finished, but this simple habit will let you re-process the most valuable nuggets from the books you read. I do this for nonfiction books, too, and underline my favorite sentences so I can become a better writer. Never read a book—fiction or nonfiction—without a pen in hand. (If you like to capture thoughts as you read, it’s worth also revisiting the notes and thoughts you scribble in the margins when you’re finished.)

2. Borrow reading time from something less important. Reading for two or three hours a day is quite a bit of time. But it’s actually pretty easy to borrow that time from something else less important. For example, the average American spends five hours watching TV every day. If you’re average, and you cut your TV time down to just two hours—a much more reasonable amount of time—you free up quite a bit of time for books, and other things that are more productive and meaningful.

3. Capture book notes on index cards. I don’t personally do this, but many of my smartest friends do, so I probably should. When reading books, capture the most valuable nuggets you process from each book on a set of index cards, as you’re reading. This will also let you process what you’re reading deeper, and revisit a short summary of each book later on. The cards serve as a great reference if you’re looking to revisit what you learned from each book afterward, too.

4. Keep a notepad nearby. When you sit down to read a book with few distractions nearby, an incredible number of valuable thoughts will bubble in your head—both related to what you’re reading, and totally unrelated. I find that this is especially the case with fictional books, which stimulate a different part of your brain than nonfiction books. Keep a notepad handy to capture any thoughts, ideas, or distractions that bubble up to the surface of your mind so you can get back to reading, undistracted, and act on the ideas later.

5. Leave potential distractions in another room. Not all distractions are possible to deal with ahead of time—some interruptions, for example, have mouths and can’t be ignored, unlike your smartphone. But whenever possible, it’s worth leaving potential interruptions and distractions in another room when you sit down to read. This allows you to process a book deeper, because you don’t spread your attention out across so many different things, and lets you read faster, because you’re able to become immersed in what you’re reading that much easier.

Written by Chris Bailey

Chris Bailey has written hundreds of articles on the subject of productivity and is the author of three books: How to Calm Your Mind, Hyperfocus, and The Productivity Project. His books have been published in more than 40 languages. Chris writes about productivity on this site and speaks to organizations around the globe on how they can become more productive without hating the process.

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