Saturday, 31 May 2008

How to read a lot of books in a short time

This extracted from Matt's Idea Blog, at

How can one read efficiently, capture relevant ideas in a usable way, and keep the process sustainable and enjoyable? The rest of my post summarizes the best solutions I've found, but the most useful technique comes from Jason Womack, and synthesizes nicely the most common ideas. In a nutshell, he says he reads the book four times:

  1. Table of contents, glossary, index.
  2. Anything in bold, titles, and subtitles.
  3. First line of every paragraph.
  4. Entire book

Here's the twist: Steps 1-3 should only take about 10 minutes. To capture relevant information he uses a note-taking scheme involving putting dots in margins, and cross-referencing them in an index in the book's front. When done, he transfers them to a text file.

After adopting his system with a slight variation (I dictate my notes into an inexpensive cassette tape recorder, then transcribe them into my system), I've found it works great. I can very quickly scan a book, decide if it's worth reading in depth (steps 3 and 4), and which sections are likely to be most relevant to my goals.

1 comment:

JasonWomack said...


I've used this technique on DOZENS of books this year alone! One trip to the bookstore, a couple of hours and a notebook...and I walk out with some more thing to talk about at work the next day!