How to Remember and Take Action on What you Read

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Chances are you’ve read dozens of articles on the internet this week and maybe you’ve even finished reading book or two. You may have even underlined or highlighted a few passages in what you’ve read. You’ve thought to yourself “I can’t wait to implement that in my life or business.” A few days later you can’t even remember what you read or where it came from. And this continues the vicious cycle of excessive consumption which limits your creativity and prevents you from consuming less and creating more.

Practical application of what you read reinforces what you’ve learned because you’re forced to integrate it into your life. If all you do is consume, you’re much more likely to forget what you read.

If you want to actually remember what you read, and take action on it, you have to develop a system.

  • You can utilize the notecard system that Ryan Holiday learned from Robert Greene.
  • You can use Evernote to build a second brain the way the Tiago Forte does

Regardless of what method you use, having a system is essential to increasing your creative output, remembering what you read, and taking action on it.

1. Capture your highlights, insights and ideas

Most people mindlessly browse the web and share whatever gets their attention in the moment.

What they don’t do is capture things that they find value in. What might have been worthwhile insights eventually just fade into oblivion. But if you get into the habit of capturing what catches your attention, you’re not only more likely remember it, but take action on it.

Underlining and Highlighting

If you all do is underline and highlight sections of a book, you’re not really going to benefit. You have to actually do something with what you’ve underlined and highlighted. While reading, it’s not uncommon to highlight and underline several parts of a book. However when you go back to capture what you’ve read, this is when you want to be discerning. And the simple way to discern between what you should capture and not is by asking yourself the question “is this important to me?” Many of the quotes I end up capturing from books are often used in my blog posts.

I break the way I underline my books into a few categories

  1. Beautiful language: If love the way a particular sentence or phrase sounds, I’ll underline. In her book Tiny Beautiful things Cheryl Strayed used the words “soul smashingly beautiful.” That was not only something I underlined, but decided to steal like an artist and use in some of my own work.
  2. Research for my own projects: Since I write about human behavior, productivity, flow, and neuroscience, I underline anything that I might be able to reference in my own projects.
  3. 3) Actionable Ideas: This could be exercises or specific directions to try something.

How I use Evernote

A few days ago I finished reading the book Insight by Tasha Eurich. I had underlined many passages and wanted make sure I had an easy way to retrieve all the things I’d learned from it. I read physical books so having to go back to the book wouldn’t be particularly efficient. After my conversation with Tiago Forte on the Unmistakable Creative podcast, I decided to I would use Evernote to capture what resonated with me most from Tasha’s book. This is how I’ve broken it down

  1. I take a picture of the cover from amazon and drop it in the note
  2. I write a paragraph or so summary of that book
  3. I type in all the quotes/highlights. The first time I did this I tried to take pictures. But I found the process to be less efficient.
  4. I write down any ideas for blog posts that came from it or actions I have. For example after I followed this process for The Happiness advantage, I had an idea for a blog post titled Scientifically Proven ways to Become Happier

One other method that I use capturing ideas for podcast guest and blog posts is trello. Our editorial calendar is organized as follows

  1. Upcoming podcast guests
  2. Upcoming articles
  3. Recorded interviews
  4. Ideas for guests/Scheduled interviews
  5. Blog post ideas

This allows me to plan out our editorial calendar a few weeks in advance.

Whether you use Ryan’s method, Tiago’s, or Trello capturing your insights is critical to taking action on them.

2) Discuss what you read or listen to with friends

Anytime I read a book that I get a great deal of insight from I’ll recommend to my business partner Brian. I do this for very selfish reasons. His brain works differently than mine, and if I make him read the book, I’ll get insights that I wouldn’t have otherwise. We recently did this with Ray Dalio’s book Principles. It had a big impact on our planning and goals for 2018. Discussing what you read with colleagues, business partners and friends will significantly amplify the value of what you read.

3) Write about things you read

There’s a great deal of power to writing about things you read. And one of best ways to reinforce your learning of something is to teach it to someone else. Many of articles and book chapters are often inspired by things I’ve read. When we write about the things we read, we not only reinforce those ideas, we synthesize them and gain our own insights from them.

Take the example of something I’ve written quite a bit about over the last year: deep work. As a byproduct of writing so much about it, my own ability to do deep work has increased significantly. It also had a significant impact on the content of my upcoming book.

4) Ask Yourself Questions About What You’re Reading

When we start asking questions about whatever it is we’re reading we move from passively consuming something to being actively engaged with it. You’re much better off being actively engaged with 10 pages of good writing than you are passively consuming 50 articles on the internet. The authors of How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading pose 4 key questions

  1. What is the about about as a whole?
  2. What is being said in detail and how?
  3. Is the book true, in whole or part?
  4. What of it is true?

While those question are about the book itself, I tend to ask myself some other questions as well

  1. Where might I apply this in my life?
  2. Where have I seen this play out in my life?
  3. Does this give me any ideas to write about?

You can either be a passive consumer in your reading or an engaged participant. The latter is far more valuable and rewarding.

5) Read a Book More than once

I’ve written before about the hidden benefits of reading a book more than once. When you read a book for the second time, you often discover insights that you overlooked on your first read. There are many books on my shelf that I revisit regularly. Revisiting these books has often led ideas for articles to write about and even parts of my books.

When I asked my community on Facebook how they implement the things they read, my friend Maria Brophy said the following:

I find that I have to read a book several times to really get it — and I take notes and action. Right now I’m on my fourth reading (over 3 years) of You Were Born Rich by Bob Proctor and each time I’ve read it i e significantly increased my income. I kept notes of what my goals were for each reading and it’s so interesting to look back and see that I’ve achieved nearly everything from the previous readings.

Sometimes the greatest value you get from reading a book is by reading it more than once.

6) Implement What you Read, but Start Small

One of the major reasons people fail to implement what they read into their lives is they bite off more than they can chew. They read some book and attempt a massive overhaul of their life. Because this isn’t sustainable, they usually find themselves right back where they started. They assume the ideas in the book don’t work and start looking for the next book to read or the next guru to worship. This continues the vicious cycle of personal development.

When I read Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage there were so many actionable ideas that I wanted to immediately implement in my life. But the one that stood out was the concept of a activation energy. I decided to apply it to my wiring process by putting my journal out on my desk the night before and by blocking distractions. That led to my keystone habit of writing 1000 words a day, which eventually lead to reading 100 books a year, a daily meditation habit and much more. It was one small thing that lead me there.

One of the best pieces of advice I can give you for habit creation is that it should be easy to do daily, even effortless.If you only do this once and never do it again you’ll fail to see the value in it. That would be a bit like going to the gym, never going back, and wondering why you’re not in the most amazing shape of your life. The more difficult and time consuming, the more difficult the habit to adhere to. The trick to remembering and retention, is to take what you learn from reading and apply little daily doses to your life. Do it for 10 books and before you know it, you’ll have a new system for taking action on things you read.

If you struggle with creating new habits or sticking to old ones, consider signing up for my newsletter for more articles like this one. I’ve also put a guide together on rapid habit formation, called optimizing productivity & creativity. Sign up here and you’ll receive it shortly.

This article was originally published on Unmistakable Creative.