Martin Verbic @marteensart
Medical student / Blogger
/ 7 min read

How I Read Better and Learn More From What I Read

How I Read Better and Learn More From What I Read

What good does it make to read a lot and get nothing in return? Over the past few months I developed my personal "system" for reading better. I've always been big on learning new things, so that's what this "system" focuses on. It's nowhere near perfect, but with it I read almost 2 books per month and used what I learned in at least half of my articles on this blog. This one included. I've read about how and what to read from multiple sources, primarily books, articles and blogs. So that's what I'll focus on here.

Choosing What to Read

One part of picking what to read is looking at the price, reviews and considering how valuable a book or an article really is. So I have a few rules to determine how valuable a book or an article really is:

  1. I need to be interested in the topic: Interest and curiosity of learning about a new area most certainly stimulate my reading. Not only does this cause to read, but also remember more.
  2. It needs to be recommended to me by someone I trust and value: I actively search to follow interesting people. I usually do that by subscribing to their newsletter (which you can too on this site), where a lot of them share their favourite books and articles - what they read. This is how I started reading most books I write about in my articles and emails. The second medium is Pocket, an app for saving articles for later reading. It in turn gives you recommendations about what to read - of course, not everything is relevant, but I discovered tons of interesting stuff this way. But then again book recommendations just as valuable (sometimes even more) of course also come from friends, family and others. Do you have a recommendation?
  3. I need to learn something new from anything I read: Be it an article or a book, this is my strongest guiding principle when choosing what to read. I prefer evergreen content, which doesn't lose value over time. Its value likely to increase. This is also why I stay away from the news most of the time, try not to read articles with too catchy, click-baity titles and why I don't read a lot of fiction.
  4. If I don't like it, I stop: When I do start reading something and it turns out to be a waste of time or just pointless, I simply stop. Bill Gates, however, has a rule to finish every book he starts (he gives excellent recommendations though). I tried and it's just a waste of time and energy to me. You're not obliged to reading anything marked as "good" to the end even if you already started.

Using Kindle

I didn't believe in ebooks or e-readers. I tried reading on an iPad, or even worse, a smartphone or computer, multiple times, but never liked it. That's why I thought I'd never switch from reading hard copy. "I liked the smell and feel of the book." At least I thought so. Until I got my hands on a Kindle. It is the single best purchase I've ever made. Why? A few things:

  1. It removes the barrier of getting books. They're literally one click away and are usually cheaper than hard copy.
  2. It's the best possible alternative to books in terms of looking at written text. Thanks to that glorious e-ink display. [1]
  3. It can store hundreds of books and makes it effortless to carry around.
  4. It's much easier to hold. A book with 1000 pages? No problem, still 9mm.
  5. It's made solely for the purpose of reading and has zero distractions.

All of this makes books more appealing to read. Suddenly, you don't have to carry physical books around, or even hold them, to get the "real feel". You can read them just about anywhere and anytime. Even under water.

Interested in buying one? Use this link and I earn a small commission when you do so (with no price increase for you).

Making It A Habit

The easiest way to start doing something is by building a habit. Building a habit itself, though, is at times not the easiest of tasks. How many times have you decided to start reading more only to stop after a few 100 pages in total? Been there, done that. That's why I do 2 things to build a habit of reading every day.

  1. Make a goal of reading 20 of something per day: Whether it's minutes or pages, it doesn't seem so hard anymore, does it? It doesn't matter how much - you can choose 10 or 50. But you just got closer to building a habit.
  2. Make it a part of a routine: Making reading a part of what you already do, will eventually lead to building a solid long-lasting habit. Think about reading before bed (making it a part of the night-time routine) or in the morning (part of a morning routine). Maybe it's easier for you to read during your commute. I almost always read before sleeping (it actually makes you sleep better), but that doesn't mean I don't also read during my commute or in the morning.

And that's how you form a reading habit. With this system I can read more than one book per month, sometimes even two.

A Note On Speed Reading

You might think that to read more books, you need to read faster. Not quite true. I'm guessing you heard about speed reading, perhaps even tried it. It's basically a skill of scanning what you  read. I tried to learn it and to some extent I did, until I didn't see a point anymore. When you do speed reading, you really just scan letters and don't think about the content very much. Maybe you process it later, but you lose the valuable part of books - enriching what you know with what you read. You don't make connections and think critically about what you read, which is vital for the next step. [2]

Making Notes

Just as I've never been a fan of ebooks (until recently), I've also never been a fan of note-taking while reading. I thought it was too time-consuming and distracting. But with Kindle and its highlighting system this proved to be a useful and stressless habit. [3] So I started making notes with the help of Kindle and a few other apps:

  1. Highlighting: I highlight whichever sentence or phrase I like and think is valuable. Kindle makes it easy for me to send that highlight to my email. This way I can always review the best ideas. And when a highlight comes to my email, I copy it into Notion. Notion is a simple note-taking app (and a lot more) that I use to store pretty much everything. [4] Each book gets its own "page" and that's where I store all of the highlights and extra stuff about it. But it's not just books. How about articles? Well, you can also highlight articles and then export your highlights - do this with the Liner app.
  2. Saving articles: Of course, there aren't just books to read. I already mentioned Pocket, which I use to store articles for later reading (try saving this one in the share menu below or above it). When I choose to do so, I also import them into Notion (again into a dedicated page) and store them to access it anytime, anywhere.

This system, however, is not completely automated, which sometimes proves to be time-consuming. But I like to think about it as a filter that removes the unnecessary information and clutter.

How I Remember What I Read?

Reading books and learning from them is great. But it doesn't help much if we don't remember much afterwards. This is how I increase the value of books:

  1. Readwise: This is a simple web app that syncs all of your highlights (Kindle, and a few other apps) in their system. You then choose how many highlights, when and how often are sent to your email to remember you about what you read. It takes the advantage of the so-called spaced repetition method of memorisation. We remember better if there's a time space between encoding and repetition. Readwise is this the best option to do just that with your highlights.
  2. Notion: The other part happens in Notion. Apart from storing all of my highlights and articles, I also try to review and summarise them in my own words. The summarising part usually lacks, but I replace it by regularly writing about the main ideas in my articles and emails.
  3. Goodreads: To actually remember which books I read and when, I use Goodreads. It's integrated into Kindle and allows you to track what you read, are reading and want to read. I strongly suggest making an account for the most avid readers, even if you don't have a Kindle (yet). Check out my profile here.

What I Read In 2019?

Since getting a Kindle, around December 2018, I read about 15 books at the time of writing this article. Just shy of 2 per month, which was (still is) my goal. It's interesting to track and look back on the topics: entrepreneurship, finance, SEO, psychology, productivity, habits, lifestyle, marketing, success. I hope to continue at this pace until the end of this year and beyond. I'll definitely reflect on this year's reads by writing an article here. So, if you don't want to miss it and learn something new (along with a lot of resources for reading etc.) subscribe to my newsletter. Until then, read, learn and share.

Footnotes

  1. E-ink display is an electronic paper display technology, which is to date the best alternative to reading on paper. Apart from that, it also uses power only when the contents of the screen changes, meaning that a Kindle's battery can last up to 28 hours of use. With my reading habits, mine usually lasts about 2 weeks. Watch a Youtube video to learn more about this technology.
  2. This article by Farnam Street is a great explanation of why speed reading is not as useful as you might think.
  3. Within Kindle you can basically highlight passages of text that are interesting to you. Just like you would with a highlighter. But it's stored into Kindle and you can check what you highlighted anytime. Or use 3rd party apps.
  4. You can do pretty much anything with Notion. They call themselves the "all-in-one workspace", but you can use it personally for anything you want. Note-taking, to-do lists, calendar etc...it's like a more organised version of Google Docs (and students get unlimited access for free).

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