Making Your Reading Count When You Don’t Read Enough

I was recently asked the following question by a former DTS Equip student of mine (DTS Equip is a leadership development school/seminar that is offered at a variety of YWAM locations):

“When you finish reading a book, what questions do you ask yourself? Or, what’s a way that you reflect on what you read to help you better retain what you learned?”

Great questions! After I replied I thought, “I think people out there might be interested in what works for other people, too.”  

The reason I do the following things is not because I read so much, but because I DON’T.

In case you may be thinking, “Man, this guy must be a serious and disciplined reader to write this!” …forget it.  When I read articles like this one, I usually enter with some hope of improving myself, only to leave with a sense of approaching dread and underachievement! If this is you too — I get it. The reason I do the following things is not because I read so much but because I DON’T.

However, as leaders, disciplers and trainers of others, we must read: books, articles, blogs, and even the news! We must remain learners, always looking to foster personal growth. So, when I do read something really worthwhile, I try to get as much out of it as I can. Perhaps even more than I would if I quickly read 5 or more books over the same time period. Quality over quantity, baby.

Here are seven ways I’ve learned to help myself review and retain what I read (I have grouped them into three categories: Taking It In, Passing It On and Push Reset):

Taking It In:

  • Read with a pencil in hand
    • I mark up my books! Write down significant quotes, effective summary sentences and make your own notes too.
  • Post-it note-it
    • If I sense that this is going to be a rich book that will serve a greater, deeper purpose, I grab some post-it notes. Bookmark those “read-this-again” locations. Use those small, colored, plastic sticky tabs and indicate key themes.
  • Re-read key notes
    • After the first reading, I go back and skim my notes.  This will give you an overview of the key takeaways. You can even type out your notes for future use, paraphrasing, and include your own thoughts. This gives you a file of nuggets from a book, arranged by theme or discipline, helping you remember stuff as well as recall where to find quotes later on. (Note: I am very careful to always cite accurately when I teach the ideas of others or use quotes. Always give credit where credit is due!)

Passing It On:

  • Imagine passing this on
    • It’s amazing how many times I’ve thought, “In the teaching I have coming up, this piece would fit really well.”  Or even more simply, “I want to pass this truth on.”  Imagining that I am going to do that, forces the text through my “processor” and always helps concrete it. 
  • Teaching, sharing
    • I might look for a platform to apply or share something from a book; either adding it to an existing engagement, or making it happen in another way. I’ve passed out articles and chapters to colleagues and even done book reviews in small groups for especially significant books. I have also brought books or articles into my mentoring. All of these bring the inevitable challenge of, “Well that’s all good and fine, Jeremy, but are you an applier or only an actor?” Boom. Always pay attention to those internal challenges.
  • Use your personality and learning style
    • If you’re not an extrovert, speaker or a teacher-type, don’t despair. Instead of imagining yourself teaching or leading, think about writing or blogging. What gets your attention in the material? What do others need to hear? How would you share that? What can you apply on your own?

Push Reset:

  • Re-read
    • Finally, I have re-read certain books. Especially if I’m needing it to go deeper or I’m taking it to others in some form.

What I do the most is underline, type out and save. This at least gives me a start for anything else. Then at the end of a book I often ask, “What is a synopsis in 4 points or less?” If I can do that, it’s getting in there. But the bottom line… imagine yourself applying or doing something with the content. Can you?



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