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How to Read Books More Effectively

Published or Updated On: 
November 7, 2022

I started reading non-fiction a few years ago. Since then, I've read a fair number of books. I've learned a great deal from what I read, but I also learned how to get more out of reading.

Reading now produces more value for me than when I first started reading. Reading for an hour now > reading for an hour then.

Here are some basic principles I wish someone had shared with me at the start of my journey:

1. Read when it's relevant

Choose books where the subject matter is relevant to your current situation in life. Don't bother reading books that you think will help you someday. You'll forget things & won't see the content in the same light. Pick stuff that is interesting & helpful now.


Decided to floss more as a New Years Resolution? Read a book on habits.

Starting a business? Don't bother reading about how to be a good manager if you don't have anyone to manage yet.

2. Quality over quantity

Lots of books are good. Few books are great. I think it's better to read & re-read the great ones and just ignore the good ones. Better bang for your buck, easier to digest & ingrain the principles.

A good time to re-read is when it becomes relevant again.

3. Don't commit too early

I used to start books at the beginning, then try to plow through them all the way to the end. It didn't matter if I thought a chapter was shaky or not useful, I felt I should read it. This wasted a lot of time.

Here's a better strategy:

  • Read the Table of Contents online & a summary or two beforehand
  • If it still looks good, get the book & read the intro/conclusion
  • If it still looks good, pick an interesting part or two to sample
  • Only if it still holds interest should you dive in. Even then, try reading it like a blog post, jumping around.

Don't be afraid to sample. Reverse cover-to-cover readings for the best books. And don't be afraid to quit. If a book isn't holding your interest, you may not actually care about what it's trying to teach you or it's a shitty book. Either way, usually better to choose something different.

4. Highlight

You need some kind of system to extract the gold nuggets & make them easy to reference later. Highlighting & writing notes in the margin is a good way to do this. I think Tiago Forte's "Progressive Summarization" technique is a good strategy. You may have to tinker to find what works for you. Here's what I do:

  • I'm selective on what books are worth taking notes on. I don't commit to notes until I know it's good.
  • I highlight when something is good. I add a margin note if it's especially good. I avoid highlighting large blocks or too many things.
  • I choose the format of the book based on expectations:

Physical copy - I want to reference often & easily [grab off shelf, flip to a chapter].

Digital copy - Has a lot that I'll want to sort through [highlights in Kindle can be exported into one page]

Audio - leisure, simpler ideas, or re-reads [note taking on audio is less convenient]

5. Set aside time to review & make changes

This is the most important one. If you only take one thing from this article, this should be it.

I had a friend who once read an inspirational book, finished & said "OK, I loved that, but now what". Here's the answer:

Make it a habit to review your highlights & notes after you finish a book, then decide if any changes in your life should be made.

If you aren't intentional about setting aside time to do this, it's easy for lessons learned from a book to turn from solid, to liquid, then into gas & evaporate from your mind. In which case, your time spent reading will return much less (if any) value.

Example: after finishing "Psychology of Money", I reviewed my notes, then decided to create a short, bullet point investment thesis. The note included stuff like "Never sell main index funds" & "During downturns, liquidate low yield assets (e.g. bonds) for buying opportunity".

Here's to reading better!

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