Have you stopped following the principles from Atomic Habits 2-months after reading the book? Were you momentarily inspired by Can’t Hurt Me and now have returned to your normal state? Did you read Rich Dad Poor Dad thinking to yourself damn these are great points but never got around to implementing any?

Well, this is an issue that many of us, including myself in the past, face and that is we too often passively read and rarely read with intent to remember forever.

For some time, I have been refining and learning from the best on how to learn new theories and skills effectively. Here’s a 4-step process that I have devised to remember most of what I read when consuming anything that is non-fiction:

  1. Start with why
  2. Store the golden nuggets
  3. Spaced repetition
  4. Share the knowledge

This week it’s all about maximising your return on investment (ROI) when consuming non-fiction content in the form of books or otherwise — blogs, podcasts, videos, etc.

Start with why

No, I am not talking about Simon Sinek’s bestseller (great book though) but what I am really talking about is having an end goal. What do you intend on gaining from a piece of content? It’s okay to be open-minded but it often helps if we have the end goal in mind from the outset. This doesn’t apply to short-form content like a 3-minute blog or a 6-minute YouTube video but consider a 400-page book? That’s a big sunk cost in terms of your time investment - so it’s better to be selective.

Often we are led into reading books that are trending or have been recommended to us from our peers. Although these may all be great reads, they may not be what you are after in the current moment.

“The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.”

For example, I receive or find book recommendations daily and often dump these into a big list on Todoist (currently 85+ books long). If I were to just randomly pick a book from this list - it may not fit my current interests or needs. Therefore, whenever starting a new book I ask myself the following:

  1. What am I seeking to learn from this book?
  2. Is it in line with my current interests or growth needs?
  3. Will I benefit more from reading this book at a later point?

In doing so, I select books that are fit for my current interests, will provide me with the greatest learning opportunity and is timed well — e.g. reading a book on building a successful startup in the weeks leading to the launch of a new business idea.

Store the golden nuggets

Highlight. Highlight effectively. For this important reason among many, I now try to read exclusively on the Kindle. Now you can annotate physical books with ease but for an important reason that I’ll later explain it is far better to stick to digital formats. Highlighting on the Kindle or likewise can be very easily achieved with little to no extra effort required and even better — they’re synced across all your devices.

Whenever I come across an interesting analogy or point, I always make a highlight for later referral. But equipped with this wonderful tool, it can be easy to begin highlighting every other line so it’s important to remain disciplined and select the most salient points. I may also add a note to my highlight, essentially creating a tag, that I can later search - e.g. I may add a note to a highlight e.g. ‘productivity hack’ and so later I can go into my Kindle App and search for productivity hack rather than the quote itself.

Spaced repetition

Now, this is the most important step in achieving long-term memory. If you know anything about the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve then you’ll know exactly what I am referring to here.

Simply put, our brain doesn’t form strong enough neural connections if an event only takes place once (e.g. learning lessons from a book). However, should the event be repeated numerous times over spaced intervals, then this neural connection strengthens converting short-term memory into long-term memory.

Now re-reading books would be a terrible idea, you’ve already invested the time once and hopefully have taken highlights in the process - so there’s no need.

I use a fantastic app called Readwise to re-engage my brain on previously learnt lessons. My kindle highlights are automatically transferred to my Readwise account and each morning I receive 10 objectively selected book highlights in my emails to remind me of the golden nuggets I had once relished. This is effective learning. The beauty of it is that you strengthen those neural networks at little to no expense of your own. I have tweaked my Readwise settings so that I now receive a total of 10 highlights from across all my books at 8-am each morning. I read these first thing in bed, on the morning dump, or with my morning coffee. Easy.

Share the knowledge

If you can teach a complex concept to a 5-year old, then you probably know what you are talking about.

One of the most effective ways I have found in consolidating my learning is to engage in discussions with my peers over various lessons I have learnt from my readings. If a friend is starting a new business, I will give them my 2-cents from the lessons I’ve learnt from entrepreneurial books. Likewise, if a friend wants productivity advice I will start preaching about the GTD mentality and building systems rather than superficial tools.

In this way, when we teach others what we have learnt, it allows us to also question our understanding and find gaps in our knowledge. It also serves an effective method of calling upon the previously discussed spaced repetition benefits in the form of active recall.

Summary

In summary, read books or consume content with the end goal/intent in mind and make selective highlights/annotations along the way. Find a system that works for you to enable spaced repetition (Readwise is the gold standard in my opinion) and make sure to revisit the content through open discussions with others.


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