How to take better notes from books to retain more

How to take better notes from books to retain more

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There are many reasons why people read. Some read for fun, some read to learn new things and others read because they have to. I tend to practise the right-on-time type of reading. This means I read books to find solutions to problems that arise as I work on a project. For example, as I am working on, I need to learn about how to start a startup, search engine optimization, how to build products that people want, and how to help people discover the product when it is ready. So I read books that are relevant to each stage of development. When I get to a given stage I apply the knowledge from each book at the time I am reading it.
Whatever be the reason we read, we usually try to retain as much of what we read as possible. That’s difficult. The purpose of this blog post is to share with you what works for me. You can use it as a starting point to develop your own process.

Trial and error

Over the past few years, through trial and error, I developed this 4-step process for taking notes which enables me to remember more from the books that I read.
Before I get into how I do it, let me start with where I do it.

My tool of choice is Evernote, which I use for almost everything that requires writing on my electronic devices. For me Evernote is the next best thing since sliced bread, as they say. It’s a great tool.

So here is how I take notes. I have a special notebook in Evernote, which I called “Book Reviews”. A long time ago I created these two notes pages in the notebook:

Step 1 – New Words Page

“New Words Page” is where I write all the new words I come across. In my case new means a word that I haven’t come across before or a word that I had forgotten about, which I would like to remember and use in my writing in the future.
Examples from my new words notes:
    • Zeigarnik effect – the fact that we always try to finish what we have started. The best way to kill procrastination
    • Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships (from 100 to 230, average of around 15)

Step 2 – New Expressions Page

This is where I write down all the short, interesting sentences and acronyms that I come across.
Examples from my new expressions notes:
    • PUSH – persist until something happens
    • BRAINS – bring random amazement into normal situations
    • “FOCUS – follow one course until successful”

I regularly read through these two pages of words and expressions so that I don’t forget them.

Step 3 – Book Review Page

Step number three of my process for taking notes is to create a “review page” for each book. I use the title of the book as the name of the file. I call it a review page because I actually try to write a review for each book that I read. I am not talking about short reviews that you see on book sites like BoocShare or Amazon, but an in-depth review. Writing a review is a way for me to check what I understood and retained from a book. I usually don’t publish the reviews that I write, but I make sure I create one as I am reading or as soon as I finish reading a book.
Each book “review page” includes all the things that I think are interesting, important, or useful in any way. As I am a fan of quotes, I add all the quotes from the book to this file. Of course, I also have other files with quotes grouped by type, e.g. motivational, quotes about reading books, etc., but that’s a topic for another blog post. Although I could copy and paste most of this information from the book into my pages of notes, I always type it. As someone wrote on Quora some time ago, if you:
  • read (or hear) something, you will know it,
  • write it down you will remember it,
  • can explain it to someone else you will understand it.

Step 4 – Apply and Teach

Albert Einstein said, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Applying knowledge from books in my projects and teaching others what I read is the fourth and final step in my process of taking notes.
As a teacher and someone who loves sharing knowledge, I have many opportunities to tell other people about things I discovered while reading a book. This helps me to consolidate my knowledge and remember more.
The reason why I write the book reviews is to be able to quickly revise what I learnt from a book without re-reading the whole book. That is why I re-read my reviews months or even years after I wrote them. This blog post is part of the process of note-taking as I am actually using some of the words, expressions, and quotes from books that I have read.
This process works for me, but I am always on the lookout for ways to improve it. It is a work in progress.
I hope you can use this as a foundation to build a process for taking notes that works for you.

Before you go back to your book:

Since you love sharing books or spreading the love of reading check out or join the Read Around the World Challenge to read more books this year.

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