How to get the most out of the books you read

How to get the most out of the books you read

A few years ago, I discovered a hack to read more books (you can read more about the benefits of pairing here).

A few years ago, I discovered a hack to read more books (you can listen to my story about the benefits of Pairing in episode 40).

Now that I was reading more books, I was faced with a new problem: I couldn’t remember what I’d read! Because I was reading so many books now, they all had the tendency to blur into one another.

I was also writing my own book, and wanted to recall some of the information I was reading, but didn’t have a specific process for recording this information to use later.

In this post, I will share the way I overcame mindlessly blasting through more books, to recording and retaining the information I was reading so I could not only use it in my writing, but also apply it to my life.

  1. Read with a pencil

My reading retention game changed with the use of one tool: a pencil. Yep, you heard that right – the simple action of holding a pencil while I was reading had a positive impact on the way I now consumed books.

As I was reading, I would simply underline or asterisk quotes or paragraphs that resonated with me. My preference was to use a pencil over a pen, in case I later wanted to pass the book on and rub out my markings (although I personally love receiving books with markings as it shows what parts other readers enjoyed!).

If I wanted to make copious notes on a book, I would also use Post-it notes to bookmark specific pages and also make notes on them too. 

The one thing I learned not to do very early on was turn down the corners of pages as bookmarks. I quickly realised that in books where I made notes on every page, this would contort the shape of the book, giving it a wider, unusual shape, so it didn’t fit neatly on my bookshelf.

Instead, I would simply make my notes with a pencil, and when it came time to go back through the book I would flip past each page to locate my notes.

The next challenge was extracting the notes from the book. When I first started recording my notes, I would sit at my computer and type them out. This was a very time-consuming process, as I would often lose my place, and make lots of typos.

2. Dictate your notes

The next game-changer in recording my notes was using the voice dictation function on my phone or iPad. When you go into the Notes application on your device, you will notice there is a microphone symbol on the bottom right-hand side. If you press this, it activates the voice dictation function, and you can simply read into your device and it will convert what you’ve read into text – this was LIFE CHANGING! No more juggling a book that refuses to stay open and trying to type at the same time!

You can even add punctuation to your text by saying “full stop” or “comma” when you encounter these in the text as you’re reading.

As I’m sure you’re experienced when trying to use voice commands on your phone, the text created from voice dictation is not always perfect, and will need to be edited, but I still find this process much quicker than trying to read and type the information from the book. I personally prefer to use my iPad for this process as I find the large screen easier to read and edit.

Once I have captured all of the information in note-form from the book, I then email the note document to myself, as a back-up, and as a way for me to access my notes on my laptop.

3. Capture your book notes in a document

Enter my next tool – my Book Notes Document. After years of going back through book note documents to try and find a specific piece of information, I decided that all my notes needed to be corralled in one place. So, I have created a handy Book Notes spreadsheet, organised by book and author. This makes searching for information a piece of cake, as I can filter columns, or simply do a word search.

As my gift for you today, I have created a Book Notes template for you to use for your own book notes, which you can access here. You’re welcome!  

5. Read the bibliography

Finally, my last tip for getting the most out of the books I’m reading is to read the bibliography. Most people (including myself for many years) would rejoice when they read the last page of the book and pop it back on the shelf. Not anymore. There’s gold to be found in the bibliography of non-fiction books. Authors spend weeks, months and even years researching and sourcing information for their book, which is all neatly captured in their bibliography. Often they will reference other books throughout their book, but essentially the bibliography is their Ultimate List of information sources. Sure, not every book in the bibliography is going to interest you, but if you’ve enjoyed the book and want to dig deeper on a topic, this is where you will strike literary gold!

I ensure I allow myself a generous chunk of time when going through a bibliography, as I will either make a note of the books I want to read as I go through it, adding them to my Reading Wishlist, or try to source them straight away, via the library, or my online apps, such as Audible, Apple Books or Kindle. If I am not able to read them straight away, I will download a sample, or bookmark them to come back to another time. This ensures I always have a high-quality selection of books to choose from when I’m ready to read my next book.

So, there you have it, my top tips for getting the most out of the books I read. I’d love to know what resonated for you, or what advice you’ve found most helpful from the books you’ve read – drop me a DM on Facebook or Instagram – I’ve love to connect and keep the conversation going.