How 4 Tips Help Me to Read, Remember, and Learn

4 Tips that Help You Remember what You Read

Are you Sure that Leaders are Readers?

I used to think that leaders were readers because I kept reading that they were and the belief just seemed right. Many leaders do read, sometimes quite a bit. If you want an example, just check out Bill Gate’s book list. Some leaders believe reading is so vital, they put reading on their calendar. What do they read? Just about anything and everything.

I now believe the “leaders are readers” sentiment misses the point. Effective leadership requires more than reading. Leaders must not just be readers, they really need to be learners. I know from experience that reading many, many, books, doesn’t necessarily lead to learning. While focusing on reading seems productive, if we do not learn from what we read, then we certainly are not maximizing the potential of the book.

If learning becomes our focus, rather than reading, a new world of possibilities open for us. I hope to focus on other ways leaders might learn, but this post outlines four tips that have helped me to read better, remember more, and learn from what I read:

1) Take Notes

I can almost hear the groans! Yes, taking notes is my number one tip. I feel your pain. I hate to take notes, but I find when I do, I retain more of what I’m reading. Research confirms that I’m not alone, as this Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching Paper reports.

I suggest handwriting your notes as well. Michael Hyatt has written about the lost art of note-taking and some of his comments relate to hand-writing book notes too. Getting a notebook so you can keep a journal of your reading and learnings can help you as you read, but also becomes an archive of important discoveries. This LifeHacker article about perfecting note taking techniques gives great suggestions.

2) Review Your Notes

Why take notes if you don’t review them from time to time? When you take time to review your notes, the information has a chance to go from short-term memory, to long-term memory.

I have a tendency to forget what I read. There have been times I start reading a book only to realize I have already read it. At one time, I almost purchased a book that I not only had on my shelf, but I had made copious highlights and underlines in the text.

Perhaps you aren’t like me, but I find simply highlighting, underlining, and dog-earing pages, doesn’t help me to remember what I’ve read or learn much from the book, but reviewing my notes does.

3) Find “Actionable Items”

This tip requires more work than the others. I don’t always find actionable items as I read, but when I don’t, I wonder why did I even read the book? Why read a 150 or 200 page book if I’m just going to continue doing the same things over and over again? One goal of reading can be change and transformation. If I’m not changed by a book, then I probably haven’t fully engaged it.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to spend more time with one book than reading many books. Being more selective would help me focus on quality works with actionable items leading to new skills. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to wisdom, but applied knowledge does.

4) Get Help

We live in a great era for those who want to “get to the point” and forgo all the extra “fluff” that many books contain. Services like blinklist and MinistryLibrary distill pertinent information from books leaving the stories and antidotes for those with more time and desire to read.

Blinklist is like Cliff Notes, but shorter. They compress each book into multiple “Blinks,” each usually less than a page long. A book may have seven Blinks or up to around fifteen.

MinistryLibrary creates 5 – 10 minute videos summaries for each book and also transcribes the video just in case you don’t have 10 minutes, or you want to pass the information along to a staff person. MinistryLibrary also has “Workshops” which lists action items from the book, designed for staff to hold each other accountable to applying the lessons from the book.

Reading is one of many ways to become a learner. In future posts, I will explore some of the other ways to learn.

Yes, leaders are readers, but if we never learn from what we read, we forfeit the full potential of our books and reading time. If you have other tips, please share them in the comments!


Dr. David.

Book Review: Smarter, Faster, Better – Charles Duhigg

Well Written

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Charles Duhigg displays his writing acumen in “Smarter, Faster, Better” and that, perhaps, explains my ambivalence toward the book. The book’s title, “Better, Faster, Smarter” sets expectations of being focused on productivity, which it does, but it takes some work to get to the productivity discussions. Duhigg uses two or three antidotes and stories per chapter, tying them together to frame productivity help, which overshadow productivity insights. I found myself wanting to skim the stories to get to the point of the chapter, and the book, which was productivity.


Duhigg used great stories that were written quite well, but I was expecting to learn the “how” of productivity, rather than how pilots prepare for disasters, Saturday Night Live staff created great shows, or how the movie Frozen ended up being a hit. The stories were engaging nonetheless. If you are looking to discover how productivity works (Duhigg’s goal), and like to read interesting antidotes displaying how productivity works in specific contexts, you will probably be happy with the book.

However, if you are wanting to learn more of how productivity works, but don’t have the time, energy, or desire, to read a 400 page book that is, in my opinion, summed up in the appendix, then there are many “summary” books on Amazon that, I assume, provide more focus on productivity. I took four pages of notes in a Moleskine notebook, so I did find quite a bit of value. While I ended up skimming the first part of several chapters, I found, at times, the strong writing pulling me back into the Duhigg’s accounts of productivity at work.

The chapter titles describe the productivity area addressed in the chapter; Motivation, Teams, Focus, Goal Setting, Managing Others, Decision Making, Innovation, and Absorbing Data. The appendix was especially helpful as Duhigg outlined how he used these productivity methods as he was writing the book.

Still Helpful

Despite myambivalence there was insightful productivity advice amid all the stories. While some of the advice has been outlined elsewhere, I found the connections and combination of productivity methods helpful, such as connecting SMART and stretch goals, team norms, decision making, and the chapter outlining innovation. In retrospect, there was quite a bit of insight throughout, it is unfortunate that those insights get dwarfed by lengthy background accounts. I recommend this book if you want insightful productivity advice and don’t mind the background accounts, or, don’t mind skimming. If you have grown weary of business and productivity books that are mostly stories, you might want to check out one of the many summary options.

I received the ebook in exchange for an honest review.