How To Make The Most Out Of A Book

Personal development books are not novels. They are not meant to be read in one sit. I used to make that terrible mistake of reading a book as fast as I could just so I could get that sense of accomplishment. Needless to say, the books didn’t change my life. Nothing incredible happened after reading “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki or “The Richest Man in Babylon” by George Clason. Perhaps it is because I didn’t make the best use of them. They are called ‘life changing’ books. Yet, I read the books and I didn’t turn into a millionaire. I felt a rush to finish the books and go into the next one to accumulate as much knowledge as possible. As it turned out, this was a gross mistake.

The point of reading a book is not just to read it, finish it, and put it away in your shelf. It’s to extract its wisdom (or the author’s) as much as possible. I mentioned before that it takes a student of great books to become one of great knowledge. I didn’t say it takes a reader. I said it takes a student. A student then not only reads, but seeks to extract every bit of knowledge so that he understands it as much as possible. If it takes highlighting, underlining, circling, putting asterisk or stars, making notes on the side of the book, or discussing it with friends, then he does it. Of what use is a book if you’ll never write or talk about it? I once was reading a book by Jeffrey Gitomer – a master sales trainer – and a family member who passed by saw me reading the book. Jeffrey is known for his portable, smooth, playful looking books. As this family member saw me underline and write several things on it, he exclaimed “Don’t mess up such a nice book like that!”. He didn’t understand.

Some will say “I can’t be on the same book for more than a week!”. Bad. If you’re going to read a book, then take the extra time to actually understand it and apply it. Otherwise you will have wasted valuable time. Yes, I’m aware of some programs out there that work on the subconscious mind and enable faster reading and greater understanding. If you can afford those programs, go for it. But if you don’t, then don’t mind taking 2 or 3 weeks or even a month to fully grasp the concept of a book. Here is what I do:

I first read the book front to back, highlighting, underlining, making comments on the side as I go.
By the way, if the author recommends not to exceed one chapter a day, then I follow that. You should too. He/she is the teacher. You’re merely the student.
I then re-read what I highlighted or underlined along with the writings I made on the pages.
I might also read the sentences or paragraphs previous to the parts highlighted.
I make sure I jot down all the book’s suggestions to be applied in actuality. I then work on those suggestions.
I then go one more time through the highlights and re-write on my journal then best quotes or reminders from the book.
If something is particularly important or profound, I fold the top corner of the page, so that next time I pick up the book again, I know there is something valuable in that page.
(These simple steps can save you tremendous amounts of time in the future when you need to be refreshed. Try them.)

Something happens when you repetitively read something. You begin to see things you didn’t see the time before. You begin to perceive a particular paragraph or sentence a lot more different than you perceived it when you first read it. Or you now find a topic you ignored before but is deeply important now. For instance, I constantly refer back to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. And each time, I see something newer and bigger. The book may not change, but my understanding of its wisdom does.

Knowledge in Order

Author, speaker, and University President Nido Qubein brought something to my attention a while ago. He said “Have your knowledge in order. If your knowledge is not order, you become more confused by definition”. How true is that! The libraries and bookstores of America are filled with books of financial freedom, happiness, personal development, and relationships – yet, we lack these very same things today, perhaps more than before.

What happens when you read a book on finances and then one on relationships? Correct, your mind shifts its focus. While it’s great to open your mind by reading on a variety of topics, it’s more important to grasp on one topic first then move to another. Failure to do this will result in constant shift of focus. Not good.

Here is how it works: Read books from the same philosophy in sequence.

For example: Now that I’m fully done reading Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, I move on to another one his books “Principle Centered Leadership”. I could have chosen “First Things First” or “The 8th Habit”. But I think this choice will increase my personal understanding of Covey’s philosophy, if read next. For you, it might be a different book. Follow your instinct.

You should choose a book that roots on the same philosophy – and usually that happens to be by the same author. If I read Stephen Covey and then go Napoleon Hill, then there is a distortion there. Even if they both write on personal development, their philosophy is different. It’s very tempting only to read those ‘bestsellers’ with millions of copies, but don’t fall on the trap. There are some great books out that are complementary to those bestsellers. They just never reach the recognition they deserve since other book by the same author might be his best work. Read them all. Not just the most recognized. You’ll be amazed at what you find.

Sharing Ideas. Sharing the Books.

This could go under the suggestions for better understanding of your reading, but since I’m witness of how powerful this is, I decided to elaborate a bit more.

A great man named Jim Rohn once quoted “When you share an idea with ten people, they may hear it once, but you hear it ten times. That’s good”. This statement inspired me to share my quotes and insights with everyone I meet online (Twitter, Facebook) or off it. I recently started sharing my own short quotes and they have been receiving good comments and appreciation. This is only one good side effect, the other is that I get to read that idea again and the mere fact that I share it with others pushes me a bit more to deeply understand them. After all, what would I do if someone asks me ‘Can you elaborate on that?’.

If you’re comfortable, share the books too. Give them to a friend and let him or her know that you’d like to discuss the book later. I have talked to friends who have read the same books I have and it’s amazing how much a different perspective can make yours stronger. So don’t fall shy of joining a book club or asking a friend to join you.

I hope you have gained conscience of how critically important it is to use books the right away. Do you have any other suggestions? Feel free to share them!