Productivity

4 steps to remember more from the books you read

The poster for the book "The 12 week year"

This post is also available in: Polish

How much do you remember from the books you read? I bet you remember some, but would like to remember more. Every time I read a book for the second time I’m surprised how little stayed in my memory. That’s why I created my own reading approach to remember more from the books I read. It consists of 4 simple steps.

The challenge

The main challenge while reading books is to remember everything that you find interesting or informative. But that’s just impossible if you don’t have a photographic memory! In every book there are so many facts, quotations, models, referrals to other books and articles, etc.

Four steps to remember more from the books

My system to remember more from what I read is based on some articles and tips I found online. Also I added some steps myself.

Step 1: Mark interesting parts of the book in a visual way

I analyzed what kind of information I usually want to remember from books. There are a few different types:Icons I use to take notes in the book

  • An interesting concept I want to remember
  • A quote
  • A book or movie that is referred to which I want to read or see
  • A concept that I want to research more
  • A webpage I want to visit
  • A new idea

I created an icon for each category. So whenever I come across something interesting in a book, I draw the correlating icon next to it. I mark each item with a small post-it note so I can easily find it later. You can see the icons I use on the right.

And this is how the book looks after I’ve read it.

The book with the notes

Step 2: Create index cards for each note

After I’ve read the whole book, I review all my notes from the book. I create an index card for each note I added. Each index card has:

  • an icon representing a category
  • a quotation from the book
  • a drawing if I have an idea for what to draw for that note

Sometimes I also add comments describing why the information is important, how I want to use it, what new ideas it sparks, etc.

After this review process, I have a stack of index cards with notes about the main concepts from the book. I can review them any time I want. An additional benefit of that activity is the ability to review the information for a second time, which helps me remember it. Adding my images and comments also helps in this process.

Sample index card

I do one more thing with these cards. I put them in order.

  • I group together cards with concepts from the same category.
  • I put quotation cards together.
  • I do the same with cards that refer to other books, articles, etc.

Index cards in the right order

Digitalize index cards

I like to have all my notes in digitalized form. When the index cards are ready and in the desired order, I scan them. I use an app called Scanbot. Afterwards, I upload the digitized version to OneDrive (the cloud service I use), which lets me have it on hand all the time. When I need to review some ideas from a book I just open the pdf file.

At this URL  you can find my index cards from the book “Essentialism”

Step 3: Create a poster from the index cards

This step is the most fun! I gather all the index cards in one place and play with them to create a structure that is visually appealing to me. Since this is the third time I’ve reviewed my notes in this process, by now they are really embedded in my memory.

When I’m satisfied with the structure that I’ve created with the index cards, I make a poster from them. This poster is the part of my notes that I review most often. I include the most important information on it. And it’s fun because I can play with drawings and different concepts.

The final outcome may look like the poster below, which I created for the book called “The 12 Week Year: Get More Done in 12 Weeks than Others Do in 12 Months”

 

The poster for the book "The 12 week year"

Step 4: Connect ideas with information from other books

There are a lot of books that have similar ideas, but from different point of view. I like to connect such books to have a full overview of the topic. When I notice that a book I’m reading is connected with other books I’ve read, I create a note in OneNote. There I put all the concepts that are present in those books. As an outcome, I have a note that gives a more comprehensive overview of the given concept.

And if you’re counting, this is the fourth time I review the ideas from a book. By now, I almost know them by heart! :)

Summary

This is my way to remember more from the books I read. It is based on repeating the same information a few times and adding images and associations to the ideas I’ve read about. Is it working? It is for me. Is it efficient? You’ll have to be the judge of that. I know that by doing this I remember more and can recall ideas from books that I read some time ago. And what is most important, when I read new books it’s easy to connect new ideas with concepts I remember. Thus, I can build a broader knowledge of the subjects I’m reading about.

 

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