When it comes to reading, are you sure you’re doing right?
It’s too easy to be mindless with our approach to reading. The simple act of just reading something gives us a false sense of security — as though we can absorb the knowledge and wisdom of the book like osmosis.
We can’t. Reading is a process, just like writing. And there are more than one or two layers to doing it right.
Let’s take a closer look.
When you read, and especially when you engage with the text of the book (highlighting, and taking notes), be intentional. Know why you’re doing the things you are.
Why did you highlight that? What do you really want to gain from that experience.
It might sound like I’m suggesting not doing these things. But that can’t be farther from the truth. What I want to encourage you to do is to do it with greater intention.
I also want to plant the seed of an idea into your mind when it comes to reading. What you leave in the book is more or less lost information. Highlighting and even writing good notes are only part of the process.
They are the first steps in purposeful, intentional, engaged reading. But they aren’t the entire process.
Develop a process
It’s good to highlight things, and it’s more painless than ever when you’re reading on a screen. But what comes next?
Are you just highlighting and running? Or is there something more to it?
If you are going back to re-read, that’s good, but it’s still not enough. The better option is to highlight and take notes with the intention of pulling that information from the text and placing it somewhere else.
I’ve been reading, How to Take Smart Notes by Dr. Sönke Ahrens. It’s a great read and I highly recommend it for anyone wanting to learn how to be more intentional about their reading process.
One of the key elements in this book is how to go from casual learning to developing a deeper and more layered level of understanding. There is a difference. It might not seem to be much at first, but the more you think about it the greater its significance will stand out.
So, you want to pull those highlights and little scribbles you’re making from the text and put it somewhere else. But where?
We’re going to get to that soon, but first, let’s go back to the highlighting part of the process.
Highlight with intention
What’s your purpose in highlighting? It feels good to highlight something? A quick and easy way (especially on a device, just press and hold and glide a color of the text) to feel like you’ve accomplished something, right?
I get it, some of my Kindle books like a limited color-scheme rainbow. Orange, blue, yellow, pink, every color provided in that e-reader bleeds across the page. But what are we really getting at with all of this?
There is a better way. I recently began to evaluate my approach with highlighting, asking myself why I was selecting the text I was, and more importantly, what did I hope to gain from this selection?
This also led me to an interesting process of trying to make sense of all those damn colors I was using. Which then led me to a little bonus tip I want to share with you.
Now, when I start reading a new book on my Kindle, I go to the title page and I highlight four words. It doesn’t matter which ones, just that I have one for each color offered. Then I go and select each color and add one note to each. In each note, I write a quick purpose for that color.
For example, yellow might mean something important or significant, blue might represent the author’s musings and key insights or observations, orange are for general quotes and selections I like and pink is reserved for the theme of the text.
This way I always have a legend to return to. A little map for plotting out what the meaning behind my color selections represent.
What’s your real goal with reading anyway? Is it just to read a large stack of books, maybe earn some bragging rights? Or do you want something more from the things you’re reading.
I suspect the latter. And if so, then you have to begin to think long-term and big picture about the things you’re reading and how you go about the process.
There are different types of reading.
There’s the casual kind that’s like old-school vegging out, just for fun. For me this kind of reading usually means a good horror book or a collection of short stories. For you it might be something totally different. The details don’t matter. These kinds of books can teach you things and when they do, take note. But reading for this purpose is more relaxed, and that’s OK.
But reading with a purpose in mind, reading to engage with the content and ultimately to take something away — to learn and understand — requires a different approach and a more layered process. It requires effort.
For this kind of reading, the engaged and more active variety, you need a system in place to collect and store the things you find interesting, or that speak to you.
But don’t just stop at pulling quotes and copying them over into a notebook you’ll forget about them, consider taking up a more methodical approach like the Zettlekasten Method mentioned in, How to Take Smart Notes, or some similar Knowledge-management approach.
You could even blend various approaches and make something new that works for you.
The point isn’t what you do exactly, just that you take time to figure out what you want from your reading and exactly you plan to put that plan into action.
The real power to building a Knowledge-management system is not only in being able to collect the ideas that speak to you, or your response to these ideas but also discovering unexpected connections between all of these moving parts.
You might pull a quote from one book, go several months, pull an idea from an article, go a few more months later and find another great passage. Not once will you connect any of these thoughts together. You might connect them to other ideas over that time, but none of these individual ideas ever come together until one day when one quote flips a switch on and you have a eureka moment.
That’s when your whole system comes to life. That’s when connections you hadn’t planned for start popping up all around you.
This all goes back to a core belief I hold. There are no original ideas without their first being several unoriginal ones first. Everything is connected. No thought, no idea, no book, no amount of wisdom is an isolated thing. Each one is connected to the other.
Here’s your big takeaway to remember: No book is an island.