Dear seeker of knowledge,
This is your guide to magnetic reading retention.
A method to harvest the harvest from the books you read.
No more, “Darn, I forgot what I read!”
In this article, you’ll learn to double or triple your reading retention. On top of that, I assure you, you won’t just know the stuff you read, but you’ll be able to apply it.
There’s no magic or gimmick to this method.
All it’ll take you is grit, patience, and your ability to resist the urge to jump from one book to the next one. (aka Bright shiny object syndrome).
Most people read superficially. That means they –at best– skim through a book recalling a few fallow fragments. I don’t know about you, but spending time reading a book, just to forget all about it again later, is,to me, a colossal waste of time.
And because I value your time, have a go at my book digestion method below.
But first, let me tell you…
The Book Harvest Technique is NOT for you if…
- You merely want to read for entertainment.
- You’re in a rush, and you got to gobble down a book’s content as fast as possible.
- You’re speeding through books only to collect a few quick tips here and there.
- You value quantity over quality. Claiming “I’ve read 50 books this year” erects your spine.
So, if that’s you, better stop reading here.
For the patient folks, please keep reading.
What’s the use of Book Harvest Technique anyhow?
- Remember what you read – You’re reading retention will burst through the roof. (Remember what you read for good.)
- Fluency – Don’t just remember what you read, but be able to talk, think, and write about it.
- Build up mental assets – Once you really ‘got’ a book, its nuggets will serve you as applicable assets in your mental toolbox.
- Reading comprehension – Fully comprehend what you read.
But, hey, we got to stay realistic. All these benefits aren’t coming for free. We’ve got to pay with devotion and time. As you’ll discover for yourself, it’s a more-than-fair deal.
Finally, let’s get into the practical part:
Book Harvest Technique for Maximum Reading Retention
STEP #1 – Reading & Alertness
Reading retention and comprehension starts right here. This is the foundation.
For your greatest gain, this is the mindset to ramp up your attention and to turn your mind into an information sponge.
Before you read anything, impress the following attitude on your mind:
This is the last book on earth. Each sentence, when read, will vanish. I won’t get a second chance.
My mind will work on all cylinders by focusing intently on the content in front of me.
What I read, I desire to comprehend and remember.
If you read for understanding and retention, do nothing else but reading. Any kind of distraction fractures your alertness. Lack of focus results in time wasted. When your focus dwindles, take a break, recharge, and continue with reinvigorated sharpness.
On Reading Speed
Reading is not a race.
I want to make it clear that there’s no ideal reading speed to aim for. It all depends on the density of your material and your desired level of depth in your dialogue with the author.
So, take it easy, slow down, and enjoy the treasure hunt.
STEP #2 – Digesting & Comprehending
At this stage, you read with full alertness, scouring the content for treasure to harvest. For that to happen, it’s critical to fully understand what the author is trying to reveal to you.
To do so, we’ll need some mental tools:
Whenever you stumble upon a sentence that’s either cryptic and/or worth remembering, express and explain its idea in your own words until you fully got it. (If in doubt, it’s most powerful to express the sentence’s concept in a different language.)
Let’s run through a simple example. . .
Say, we just read, perhaps highlighted this sentence (from The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills – By Daniel Coyle)
Look at every single performer better than you and see what they’ve got that you can use. Then make it your own.Daniel Coyle
Because we find it worth digesting, we begin processing it. So, start toying with it by expressing it in your own words. Like so. . .
Locate the experts of the field you want to excel in.
Next, look out for success patterns, strategies, behaviors to replicate and employ in your endeavors creatively.
Or like this. . .
What you want to achieve has already been achieved –in some way or form– by someone else before you. Find that person and learn from him or her. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel and figure it out all by yourself.
Keep it playful. You don’t need to be spot on. What matters is that you illuminate the idea from various vantage points to solidify its impact on your memory (and understanding).
Let’s enmesh our example idea in our memory network by branching out to information-anchors, things we’re already familiar with.
What does this idea remind you of? How does it relate to other concepts that are known to you?
Deepen your intimacy with the idea by relating it to other, ideally important, ideas.
Back to our example. The idea of creative stealing applies to the whole concept of this article.
Let’s look at the original sentence again:
Look at every single performer better than you and see what they’ve got that you can use. Then make it your own.
. . . and then let’s apply it to our theme of fishing for gold nuggets in books:
Books are like wisdom platters, waiting for inquisitive minds to feast on. Single out the most propitious piece, take a bite, chew thoroughly, swallow and digest it. Make it part of your system.
Now that we’ve understood and associated what the author is talking about let’s run through an example.
Taking the idea of picking the brains of top performers, I’d apply it like this:
I like to remember, understand, and be able to apply what I read, because I want to be a better blogger and serve you, my dear reader, with better content.
The more you tinker with these nuggets, the higher their future utility to you.
So far, aside from the practical value, the preceding steps alone will –at least– triple your reading retention and dramatically boost your comprehension.
But, can we take this even a step further?
Yes. We can.
STEP #03 – Store & Reminisce
From here on, it’s up to you to decide whether you want to burn your insights into your long term memory.
To remember what we read for good, we need to review our salvaged treasures regularly.
While each of the above data storage systems got its own merits, the problem is, they won’t facilitate storing your book harvest into your long-term memory.
What we want is to burn the info into our memories –for good. And, there’s no better way to do just that than using the renowned spaced repetition method.
Anki – The Free Flashcard Powerhouse
I’ve discovered a method to turn the famous flashcard software, Anki, into a powerful, insight-filing system. Best of all, it doesn’t cost a penny. It’s 100% free.
If you want to follow along, pop over to Anki, download and install it, then fire it up. (You can also download the Anki app for your phone. Of course, it’s free too.)
Personalize – Naming your book harvest database
Are you ready? You’ve started Anki? Good.
Now, first off, rename Anki’s default database. Give it a meaningful name, because, in the future, you’ll spend much time together. (I called mine “Brain-Fodder – Paraphrase | Associate | Apply” to remind myself to actually use my brain when I go through my cards.)
Simply hit the downward-arrow and click on “rename.”
Feeding your hungry database
Roll up your sleeves and add your first nugget.
Click on “add” on the top. In the window that pops up, enter the piece of information you want to remember. But don’t just copy & paste it.
Type in your personal paraphrased version from memory. Plus, add your own ideas, directives, and practical applications to your entry.
To continue with our example from above, I’d enter something like this:
Into the “Back” field of this card, you can enter the original text, as you can see in the screenshot. Or enter additional reminders or whatever you find useful.
Under “Tags,” you can, as the label says, enter some tags. These are useful if you like to browse through your collection at a later point.
STEP #04 – Review & Ruminate
Now that you’ve begun feeding your hungry digital commonplace, it’s time to let it work for you.
Visualization & Explanation
For each card you review, take your time and muse over its contents. Visualize practical scenarios. Think about how you can apply this piece of information in your life.
Most important, don’t just glance it over, thinking, “Yeah, I know that already,” but take a minute or two and think it through. Even better, explain its content out loud or in writing.
As a bonus, try associating the current card with the previous card. Fuse two individual pieces of information into a single creative blend.
After a card’s review, you’ve got to make a choice.
- Hit the “again” button to reset its position in the review stack. Do this whenever you like to reinforce its content. Or reset the card if you want it to serve you as a reminder.
- You feel you’ve internalized the card? Or, the card is less relevant to you right now? Schedule it for the future, choosing the “Good” or “Easy” button.
When to review
The rule is: each day, go through all due cards.
I’ve made it a habit to go through my collection (about 60 cards a day) at lunchtime, at dinner, or when I’m idle. That’s about 25 minutes each day.
Again, this all takes time, but if you want to improve your reading retention, till you remember and understand all key components of the books you read, you need to put in some time.
But, if you ask me, it’s worth every minute you put into this system. It works with compound interest. The more you put into it, the steeper the reward curve.
Salvaging Treasure Troves
With just a few minutes a day, you’ll salvage a staggering amount of valuable insights from all the books you read. (Or any information at all!) And, not only will you store the treasures in your database, you’ll be able to apply it any time you need it.
Anyhow, please leave me some feedback in the comments below.
Read less. Remember more.
What matters is that you write stuff down and reflect on it. Results from today. Ideas for tomorrow. Goals for next week. A notebook works like a map: It creates clarity.
– Daniel Coyle
There’re more advanced techniques, plugins, and ways to make the Anki commonplace method even more effective. Let me know, in the comments below, if you like me to go into more details in a future article.