Notetaking Tips for Bibliophiles: Organize & Remember What You Read

One of my favorite ways to better myself both in my work and in life is to read. Reading has become a top priority for me when it comes to personal development. In fact, it's a sacred part of my morning routine every single day.

When you read, it's important that you actually understand what you're reading. At least to the best of your abilities. It's easy to zoom through the pages and say you finished a book. But it's not a great feeling to find yourself thinking “wait…what was that about?”.

One of the ways I've found to combat this from happening is highlighting and taking notes while I read so I can reflect on them later for a better overall understanding.

Now, what I've found works for me may not be what's best for you. We all need to find a note-taking strategy that works well for us and our individual learning styles. But here are my thoughts on how you can organize your reading notes in a way that will help you to more effectively download the information during and after the reading process.

Reading Notes: How to Keep Them Organized

Start a Commonplace Book

My commonplace book is the home of every tidbit of advice I've read that I couldn't move forward in life without. When I read something that resonates with me, I jot it down on a notecard. I keep all of these notecards in a box organized by topics, like “action” or “mindfulness” or “failure” or “success”. When I need a boost of inspo or even a writing prompt, I know exactly where to look.

On each notecard, I include:

  • Quote/info I'm archiving
  • Name of the book
  • Author's name

This practice is something I learned from Ryan Holiday and it's been an amazing system for holding onto the value I take away from reading. Everyone's commonplace book will look different. In fact, yours might actually be a book. Try a 3-ring binder! The goal is to be able to easily create and expand the sections of ideas you want to archive.

Use the pages

Take advantage of the pages of the book itself! I use the margin at the bottom of each page to jot down my biggest takeaway from what I just read. Use the side margins, circle words, highlight — do whatever you need to do! Your notes will be directly beside the content you're referencing, and this makes it a lot easier to connect the dots when you're reviewing it later.

Some people get a little squeamish about writing in books. Believe it or not, authors are actually extremely complimented the more you customize their book with your notes and highlights. But, of course do what works for you. If writing on the pages is making your skin crawl, try sticky notes! Write down the info you want to keep and stick it on the page.

I love keeping notes in books because later when I read the book again, I can see exactly what hit me the first time. I can see the a-ha moments and the passages that meant something to my life at that time. It can be a nice little trip down memory lane, and it can show you how much you've grown in the time that has passed.

Try Using Evernote

Evernote is an app (and a website) that lets you organize your notes into digital, searchable notebooks. When you're reading a book, try giving it it's own note in Evernote. Here, you can re-write the quotes and info with their page numbers for a buildable reference guide.

Another way to use Evernote (if you're an in-book note-taker as well) is to snap a photo of the page in the book you wrote your notes on, and upload that photo to Evernote. You can keep building that same reference list, but adding the photo saves you the time of re-writing!

Bullet Journal

Bullet journals don't only have to be for your schedule! Try keeping a bullet journal specifically for the books you read. You can create sections (fiction, non-fiction, memoirs, etc.) to build your notes into, or organize your journal by the books themselves. If you need a little more freedom in your note-taking style, try this one out!


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