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Processing what you read

ReadWise

I have lots of things going on, so memory is a scarce resource.

Yet remembering learnings from what I read is key for success.

I am an avid highlighter. I carefully select highlights from most that I read. In the end, those are the actionable items that could be helpful in my day to day. This is the case for non-fiction books with clear actionable knowledge.

But reading is just the first step in my process for structuring and accumulating knowledge. Here’s how it works for me.

1. Read on an e-reader

“But paper feels good…” I’m personally not on that camp, but even if I was, e-reading is just superior. At least for non-fiction books, which is what I’m covering in this post. Why? Because you can highlight and export your highlights in a click.

2. Re-construct the logical path to conclusions

Usually non-fiction books come in the explanation->conclusion or cause->effect form.

You don’t want to absorb false information, or truthful information without understanding it. You need to re-construct the logical path that the author takes to reach their conclusion. To do that, just question everything the author writes. No matter how famous the author is, be skeptic.

This also helps you remember, since you are constructing your own logical path to reach the conclusion. That makes you have a small a-ha moment, which will make the memory stick better.

3. Highlight with context

Make sure to select highlights carefully so they are not too verbose, but also not missing context.

Ask yourself:

If I was going to read this highlight without any context one year from now, would I know what’s going on?

4. Refresh your highlights

Use something like Readwise to import your highlights. The tool will send you daily digests with them, so you are constantly refreshing your highlights.

It will also let you tag your highlights, so you will have your knowledge categorized.

Refreshing your highlights is probably the most important step. If you read a lot but forget all the actionable pieces of knowledge, does it matter to read so much?

Reading a lot is a status symbol, but I think that’s the wrong metric. You want to accumulate quality knowledge and apply it to your everyday work and life. That’s all that matters.

So it’s better to take a single read and apply actionable items from it, than to read a thousand books and not apply that knowledge.

This also means being conscious about your limitations.

We don’t have power to absorb infinite knowledge, and we certainly don’t have the time to apply all of it. Sometimes, that means limiting what you read so you can focus on applying the latest acquired knowledge, before jumping to absorb even more knowledge.

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You can find more posts about personal productivity in my series about it