Reading a (nonfiction) book is one thing, but getting the most out of it is another thing. Too many people only reach the surface of the book and never really get into the treasure that is hidden below it. Or maybe they get a portion of the treasure, but they lose the chance to get the whole treasure.
How do you know that you get the most out of a book? You get the most out of a book when it significantly improves your life to the greatest possible extent. Because of that, an important goal of reading books is getting actionable ideas. To get the most out of the books, you should then put those actionable ideas into action.
Here are some steps you can do to get the most out of your books:
- Preview the book you want to read
Before spending too much time on a book, you should know whether the book is worth reading. Preview the book by reading its cover, introduction, table of contents, and skimming through the chapters.
Besides helping you decide whether a book is worth reading, previewing also helps you be familiar with the structure of the book. It helps you understand the big picture of the book so that whatever you read later can be put in the right context.
- Decide your purpose and the depth of your reading
If you think the book is worth reading, you should then decide your purpose of reading the book. Your purpose states the kind of actionable ideas you expect from the book. Is there a problem you expect to be solved? Is there an area in your life you expect to be improved?
Next, you should decide how deep your reading will be. It deals with the amount of time you are willing to spend on the book. The more actionable ideas you think it has, the deeper your reading should be.
- For each chapter you read:
- Preview the chapter
Go through the titles, subtitles, and pictures in the chapter. Just like previewing the book, previewing the chapter builds your familiarity with it and helps you put the details you get later in the right context.
- Quick read the chapter
Next, you can quick read the chapter. This step fills in the details of the context you build in the previous step while giving you a glimpse of which might be the important ideas.
- Reread to highlight important ideas in the chapter
This time you reread the chapter to decide which are the important ideas of the chapter. I’d suggest highlighting the important ideas you find. I personally use two kinds of highlights, one for important ideas and another one for very important ideas.
- Preview the chapter
- Create the book map
After reading the whole book, I’d suggest creating a book summary of your own. Creating a book summary helps you internalize the ideas you get.
The first part of such summary is a book map. A book map maps the structure of the entire book. Normally you can just use the table of contents as the book map, but don’t use a very detailed table of contents. The purpose of a book map is to quickly give you a glimpse of the structure of the book. Too much details may distract you from the big picture.
- Write the ideas you get from each chapter
Next you can write the ideas you get from each chapter by simply looking at your highlights in that chapter. Remember, your goal is to get actionable ideas, so you should focus on them. Writing the ideas you get helps you further internalize those ideas.
- Write the main ideas you get from the entire book
A good book often contains a lot of actionable ideas, so the list of ideas in step 5 may be too long to act upon effectively. You should then have a separate list for the main ideas from the entire book. This list helps you focus on the most important ideas so that it will be easier for you to apply them.
If you use two kinds of highlight I mention in step 3.3, you can get the main ideas of the book by simply looking at your ‘very important’ highlights.
- Create next action list
Application is what puts you ahead of 90% or more other people who just read the book but do not apply what they learn. In fact, application is key. Actionable ideas are useless if you do not put them into action.
To help you apply what you learn, decide what actions you will do to apply it. Look at your list of main ideas (step 6) to decide what the most important actions are.
- Integrate the next action list into you master next action list
After creating your next action list of the book, you can then integrate it into your master next action list. If you use GTD, I’m sure you have a master next action list. By putting the actions for the book there, the application of the book is now integrated into your daily workflow.
Don’t forget to be flexible. You do not need to apply all these steps to every book you read. For not-so-important books you can eliminate some steps. The more important a book is, the more steps you should use. ‘Important’ books are those which have bigger potential of changing your life.
Using these steps, you do not just read the book; you mine it.