How I Read a Book

I believe that reading is one of the best ways to further your personal development. When I read a book, I'm constantly on the hunt for a new piece of actionable advice, a new step I can take, a new process I can try. For reading to truly be a valuable use of your time, you have to be the one to find that value and apply it. This is my system for getting the most out of the books I read!


The books I gravitate towards tend to be non-fiction, advice-related, or memoirs. I love hearing what real people have to say about the world and how they built the skillsets they have. But that's not to say fiction can't be a wonderful use of your time, too! Fiction can be great for activating your creative muscles. But for these purposes, keep in mind that I'm often a non-fiction, hardback (and the occasional audiobook) kinda girl.

Phase 1: The Reading Stage

This, of course, is where I do the thing. I read the book. Its pretty simple. However, I don't get started until I have a few things with me:

  • The book
  • A bookmark
  • A highlighter
  • A pencil

I tend to choose a hard copy of a book over an e-book because I love being able to mark them up and make my notes in the pages. A book is your own little reference guide – do with it what you need to! In fact, many authors consider it a compliment for people to write notes in their books and dog-ear the pages.

If I happen to be listening to an audiobook, I make sure I have:

  • Audiobook
  • Smartphone
  • The notes app

If I'm listening to an audiobook, I very likely have my smartphone or laptop somewhere nearby. I use the Notes app to keep track of things when I don't have the physical book in front of me.

The biggest takeaway I want you to have from the Reading phase is this: if you don't like a book, you do not have to finish it. Even if everyone you know is ranting and raving about how great this book is and how they just couldn't put it down, if you're not feeling it — don't finish it.

Reading should be something that adds value to your life, not takes your time away. If the book you're reading feels like a chore, put it down. You gave it a try, and you can say that much. A huge reason so many people stop reading for good is that they're reading books they simply don't like. Don't invest your time in something that you truly don't enjoy.

Phase 2: The Download Stage

So, you're reading the book. You've finished a good chunk of it, and you're really seeing the value (yay!). Now it's time to embrace all of that actionable advice.

It can be overwhelming to read 200 or 300 pages of a book and have to hold onto all those quotes and ideas and remember them. Try to find a note-taking system that works for you so you don't have to rely on your memory. I use Evernote as my digital file because I can organize my notes according to what I'm reading, they're searchable, and I can expand on sections without running out of space.

If a digital space doesn't quite work for your note organization, that's okay! There are so many methods out there (I'm a huge fan of the Commonplace Book). Do what works for you. But find a way to reflect on the passages you highlighted and re-write them. Hold onto them so you can look back on them later.

When you're in the Download stage, try this: after you've finished the book and completed your notes, choose one piece of actionable advice you wrote down. Write it again at the top of your notes. This will be your one action step to start ASAP!

Phase 3: The Execution Stage

This is where you take action. Commit to that thing you chose from your notes, and try it. Do it. Make the change you were excited about! Schedule the time you need in order to effectively make that change. Do you need a planning session? Do you need to complete a task or two? Figure out what it takes, and do it.

If you don't turn the things you read about into actionable steps for your life, reading isn't truly a valuable use of your time. Of course, you'll be smarter for having read the book, but what good is the information if you don't apply it to your own life? Get the most out of the books you invest your time into and use them as tools for going after the life you want.

QOTD: What book has taught you the most helpful advice?

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