I’ll make this really simple. If you are reading to get smarter, learn about a specific topic, and/or accumulate knowledge for future reference and you want to succeed, you’re going to have to do five things: 1) open the book, 2) set a page goal, 3) pick a time to read every day, 4) take notes about what you read, and 5) review your notes.
Fortunately, this isn’t as hard as it sounds.
1. Just open the book.
I say that sentence to myself all the time and it works. On Day 1, pick up your book and open it. Read as long as you want to and stop whenever you feel like it. That’s it. If you need motivation, check out the reading inspiration page.
2. Set a page goal.
On Day 2, think about how long you were able to focus on your book on day 1 and count how many pages you read. While doing my THING, I read for 30 minutes on day 1 and finished about 20 pages (on a tablet). That felt pretty good to me, so I made 20 pages a day my goal.
Some days I read less than that which was totally okay because most days I read more than 20 pages. I exceeded my page goal most of the time because I made sure the first book I picked was highly recommended and a great fit for my interests (Step 1). While reading for My Next Thing, I was able to finish one book a week with great book recommendations and that 20 page per day goal in mind.
3. Pick a time that you’re going to read every day.
There is almost no way you haven’t tried and failed to do this with a habit before. I’m the person giving you this advice and I’m a great example that it is difficult to stick with this idea. While doing my THING, I was really good at scheduling my reading time during week 1. By week 2 I convinced myself that I had the habit down, so I stopped scheduling my reading time. That’s when I started to miss days. So learn from my mistakes when it comes to reading this month. Pick a time that you will start reading each day and stick with it.
I’m going to read during my lunch break
I’m going to read before I go to bed (careful, I can’t do this without falling asleep)
I’m going to read after dinner instead of turning on Netflix.
4. Take notes while you read.
This is the most important step. Let’s first talk about what not to do here.
If you’re reading a physical book, don’t highlight the book or take notes in the margins. Instead, take notes digitally. You don’t want to waste time flipping through a book 6 months later when you can pull out your phone and search your notes in a fraction of the time. Ever since I started taking digital notes about books, I find myself referencing them all the time. This system has been like uploading a searchable portion of my brain to the cloud.
Don’t take notes while you’re reading. Finish a section before going back to take notes on the most important details. I try to read at least 2 pages before going back to take notes. I used to struggle with this because I thought I would forget the most important details if I didn’t take notes right away. But I’ve realized that the important stuff always sticks.
Don’t take notes in Microsoft Word. Use a program that is searchable across devices (phone, tablet, laptop, desktop computer, etc.) You want to be able to access these notes from anywhere. Here are some note-taking platforms (in order of recommendation specifically for annotating books).
Evernote - Great design, very powerful platform. This is my go-to for taking notes about books.
One Note - Less powerful and less user-friendly than Evernote, but always free.
Google Docs - Very easy to use, least searchable (I used this before switching to Evernote).
There are plenty of other tools out there that you can certainly try. I have not used any of these because I’m happy with my platform of choice, but many people use and recommend the following:
5. Review your notes every day
Taking notes is a great start. But they are useless if you never look at them again. In my experience, reviewing notes is the secret for unlocking the benefits of reading books. Here is my method for not forgetting what I read. It requires 5 minutes a day.
At the same time every day, a calendar reminder goes off on my phone that says “Read [book title] Notes”.
I pull up Evernote on my phone and read the notes I took on the book that is listed in the calendar reminder. That takes 5 minutes or less, but it’s like reading the entire book over again. That quick refresher gets me excited to do something productive with my free time. It also helps me recall information from the book that I otherwise would have forgotten.
Before I put my phone away, I update the book title in the calendar reminder to another book that I have notes for.
When it comes to any habit, you start doing it with the best intentions. But we’ve all experienced how easy it is to let ourselves down. If you do the five steps listed above, I promise you’re going to give yourself the best shot to make reading your next THING and stick with it.