#055: How to Read a Non-Fiction Book [Podcast]

It’s been said “leaders read and readers lead.” If that’s true, then reading is one of the most important things you can do to grow your leadership. But how do you get better at it and retain more of what you read?


Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/Neustockimages

Recently, my wife, Gail, and I had dinner with some close, neighborhood friends. As we always do with this group, we soon began discussing books.

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A few minutes into the discussion, Gail asked, “So how do each of you read a book? What are your practices?” What a great question.

For the next forty-five minutes everyone shared their best practices. I picked up some great tips.

Since that time, I’ve had a chance to think about this a little more. I have developed a list of ten best practices for better reading. I think these can help you make your reading even more valuable.

Here they are:

  1. Don’t feel that you need to finish.
  2. Start with the author bio.
  3. Read the table of contents.
  4. Quickly scan the whole book.
  5. Highlight important passages.
  6. Take notes in front or in the margin.
  7. Use a set of note-taking symbols.
  8. Dog-ear (or bookmark) pages you want to revisit.
  9. Review the book and transfer actions to a to-do list.
  10. Share the book’s message.

If you are convinced reading is important, then be intentional. Like everything else in life, the more thoughtful and deliberate you are with your approach, the more you will get out of it.

Listener Questions

  1. Andrew Mason asked, “How do you retain all the stuff you are learning?”
  2. Brad Blackman asked, “Do you use post-it notes to flag important passages?”
  3. Brent Dumler asked, “What would recommend for someone with dyslexia who has trouble finishing books?”
  4. Christian Monzon asked, “Am I doing myself a disservice by not making time for more fiction?”
  5. Christopher Scott asked, “How can I read college textbooks faster and with better retention?”
  6. Esther Aspling asked, “Can you recommend a site for good reviews that will help me find better non-fiction books?”
  7. Jim Chandler asked, “What system do you use to queue and read books?”
  8. Joshua Beck asked, “How do you decide what books to read?
  9. Les Kerr asked, “Is there a happy medium between reading fiction and non-fiction?”
  10. Matt McWilliams asked, “How do you thoroughly digest the content to make sure you get everything you can out of it?”
  11. Pete Dahlem asked, “What do you do to help the people you mentor to grow and get to the next level?”
  12. Travis Dommert asked, “How much of an author’s content can I use in a book summary without violating his or her copyright?”

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    Whether you are a professional speaker—or just want to be—this conference will teach you how to start where you are and take your speaking business to the next level. Register now and get in on the “Early Bird discount,” which will be expiring soon.

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Episode Resources

In this episode I mentioned several resources, including:

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: How do you read non-fiction books? What are your best practices? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

    I believe there are a lot of great chapters, but not as many great books. That being said, I still struggle with feeling the need to finish a book – I admit it, I am a completionist. If I know there are books on my shelf that I have started but not finished, I feel that it is eating up mental bandwidth as an “incomplete to do.”
    I think your tip to scan the whole book first might help me out with this.

    • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

      I am with you there Jonathan.

      I remember re-reading Dave Ramsey’s oldie, More Than Enough, recently and noticed that the first time I actually read the chapters on singles and stepfamilies. I am happily married to my first and only wife, so why in the heck did I read those chapters?

      I’ve found it easier recently to at least skip parts in re-read and to just stop reading a book altogether. But skipping a chapter is still hard for me.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Ugh. I’m a completionist myself. I have a huge stack of unfinished books that give me the evil eye every time I pass. This podcast might finally be the permission I need to let it go!

      • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

        Michele, let me know if you find any helpful tricks in securing self-granted permission to let go. Otherwise, I might need some mild therapy, lol.
        I collect classic videogames, numbering in the low thousands – more than I could ever hope to play though – and I have been able to let those go incomplete, mostly because I do not see playing them as the best use of my time.
        Not so with with some of the really great books I am currently reading.

      • Jim Martin

        Michelle, the first few times I didn’t finish a book I felt the guilt. “So why on earth did you buy the book if you weren’t going to finish it?” Now, I am setting aside unfinished books with less guilt. One day I was slugging through a boring chapter near the end of a book feeling as if I had to finish it. That got old.

    • Edward Hinkle

      Hi Jonathan,

      I too have a bit of a hard time letting go of a book that I haven’t finished, although I have let a couple go. Well, I haven’t let them go completely, but I put them further down on my list to read. Haven’t touched it in a year.

      That said, most of the books I read it’s really easy for me to finish them, and the reason for THAT is because I tend to read books that:

      1. Were recommended by a friend
      2. Were recommended by someone whose advice I trust (like Michael Hyatt, Bob Goff, etc)
      3. Were mentioned as a resource in a book I enjoyed.

      Most all of my books fall into one of those three categories and so I throughly enjoy them. Also Amazon.com does a pretty good job recommended books with it’s “People who purchased this book also purchased…” section.

      • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

        Edward, I appreciate that you shared some of your book selection strategies. When you have good books, it is difficult to set them down once you start!
        I also have way too many great books in my que – a blessing, to be sure. I am so grateful for such excellent resources, access, and means to obtain.

  • http://www.mattmcwilliams.com/ Matt McWilliams

    Thank you for answering my question. Can’t wait to listen later. Hope you get back to Nashville safely.

  • Sean Van Zant

    I love to read non-fiction books. As a matter of fact, I own over 4,000 of them; mostly in digital though. There’s no way that my room could contain them anyway.

    I would like to make two book recommendations that I have owned, or that were recommended in a book that I read. The first book is: How to Read a Book, by Moritimer J Adler. The second book is: How to Read Better & Faster, by Norman Lewis.

    God Bless!


    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I have read the Adler book. I will have a look at the Lewis one. Thanks.

      • Sean Van Zant

        Thanks for responding Michael. I appreciate your ministry. Looking forward to reading your ‘Platform’ book over the summer when school is out!!

    • Edward Hinkle

      Thanks for sharing Sean, I’m gonna have to check those out!

  • http://forthisisthetime.com/ Esther Aspling

    Thanks for the great info! I tried goodreads last week, and while I enjoyed certain parts and was almost drawn into typing in my entire library (would have been a weekend project), I realize that the variety I read could never give me appropriate recommendations, kind of like on Netflix recommending I watch Barney because my kids have been on! lol


    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Nice question on the podcast, Esther! I tried Goodreads, but never got into it. I get most of my recommendations from listening or participating in online and in-person conversations.

      • http://forthisisthetime.com/ Esther Aspling

        I love it when people have the “what I’m reading” thing on their sites. Not that I read those books all the time, but sometimes I’m just curious. :-)

        • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

          I do, too. I have a section like that in my monthly newsletter, but you’ve just inspired me to add it to my new site. Thanks!

    • http://www.MorrisMatters.com/ Dwayne Morris

      Be sure the checkout http://www.YourNextRead.com as well…

  • http://leadright.wordpress.com/ Brent Dumler

    Hey Michael, I really appreciate you taking my question. I was totally expecting some sort of creative ‘tip’ or study tool from you. Your simple but powerful encouragement, however, was just what I needed. I think how I need to approach reading non-fiction books is the same way I got through college textbooks….by skimming for only the critical information and then taking notes on my findings. Thanks again!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Great, Brent. I am glad it was helpful.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      It was great hearing your question on the podcast, Brent!

    • gadfly1974

      Hi Brent. I’m a certified reading teacher, and I recommend that my students with dyslexia take advantage of audiobooks whenever possible.

      If you listen to a book and find it’s full of great content, you can then pick up the print version and listen to it a second time to capture notes on the most important and valuable points.

      I wonder if there’s another staff member at your church who would be willing to read aloud and discuss any of your print-only leadership books with you. It would be a valuable learning and bonding experience.

      I’d love to hear back from you if any of this is useful advice. And if it’s not, please let me know that too so I can improve my feedback the next time I come across this question.

      • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

        As a reading teacher do you have any speed reading courses that you recommend?

        • gadfly1974

          Hey Barry. Speed reading is not my specialty. I focus more on reading for understanding, which tends to require slowing down.

          I did read Evelyn Wood’s book many years ago and used some of her techniques, including using my finger to lead my eyes down the page without tracking each word individually. But I ended up feeling like Woody Allen: “I took a speed-reading course and read War and Peace in twenty minutes. It involves Russia.”

          The best class I ever took for improving my efficiency in understanding nonfiction was a study skills course I took 20 years ago as a college undergraduate. I put up a public summary of what I remember in a Google doc here: http://goo.gl/ugde5

          Hope this helps!

          ~ Andy

          • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

            Wow! Great, Andy! Thanks a ton—gonna take a look soon!

  • Pingback: #055: How to Read a Non-Fiction Book [Podcast] | Pastor Leaders()

  • Kris Sellers

    Hi Michael – could you please comment more on the speed reading courses? You mentioned Evelyn Wood which is completely new to me. I would love to be able to absorb and digest content faster. Is this a relatively easy / quick process to develop?

    Also – can you comment on how you digest and retain material on audiobooks? How do you decide what to listen to verses actually read. Thanks so much for all your tips and advice!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Unfortunately, I can’t comment on a speed reading course, because I have never taken one. However, the Evelyn Wood course is the most well-known. It has been around for decades.
      Ninety-percent of the books I “read,” I listen to on Audible. Unfortunately, you can’t highlight or take notes. If I find a book really useful, I also buy the Kindle edition and go back and highlight it and take notes. I wish I had a better solution.

  • Lorraine

    My method when reading to educate myself is to buy the book, especially a paperback and grab a yellow marker, or with my Nook, use the Bookmark system. That is as far as I’ve gone in the past. I will try your memory-helper #9 in the future.
    Nonfiction books when well done always hold some Ah Hah momemts; I can recommend we remember specialty magazines help us increase our knowledge too. A few years ago when so many people were getting tatoos, I got curious “Why in the world?!” and so bought two magazines for that interest. The answer to “why” was “art” and “I’m more beautiful” not the reasons I orginially therorized. Of course, art and beauty are in the eye of the beholder, and the tatooed crowd may be like the guy that says he just reads “Playboy” for the articles, but reading multiple articles by practiioners using their own words is enlightening.
    I’ve discovered it isn’t always intentionally underlining that educates us when reading a nonfiction book. Reading a bio of a great cook like Julie Child (even when a bio, not an autobiography) helped me understand more about her field that I believe has helped me reduce my fear of misses in the kitchen. In reading her bio, i picked up some chef’s tricks, but I learned more from the overall theme of “practice, practice, try, try again;” than any underlining.
    Your #10 at work:
    Old copyrights but still worth reading with a yellow marker: “The Art of Japanese Management” by two business professors, and: “How to get Control of Your Time and Your Life” by Alan Lakin. Lakin’s book (paperback, 136 pages) is the ONLY time-management book I’ve read that does not repeat itself in every third chapter so you want to shake the author and make him/her live up to the idea of time-management.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I read the Larkin book when I started out in my career and loved it. It helped me develop productive habits early on.

  • http://www.BettermentBlog.com Doug Isenberg

    I, too, highlight on my Kindle, and then I like to review all of my highlights after I’ve finished a book (immediately and sometimes at a later date) to reinforce what I’ve read. It seems that not many people realize you can view all of your Kindle highlights in one place just by going to https://kindle.amazon.com/ Not only does this allow me to review them, but I can then copy and paste them into an e-mail and send them to someone else I know who might be interested in reading the book.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Doug. I also have a post on how I get these highlights into Evernote, though Amazon has changed the interface some.

    • http://www.MorrisMatters.com/ Dwayne Morris

      Are readers still limited on how much of their highlights can be retrieved, I recently went to retrieve some highlights and discovered that not all of them were accessible. Could have been fixed by now…just checking.

      • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

        This is actually a limitation imposed by publishers. They can arbitrarily determine how much of the book can be displayed on the Kindle highlights and notes pages.

  • http://www.BettermentBlog.com Doug Isenberg

    Michael, instead of using the Amazon wishlist feature when I hear about a book that interests me, I usually just go ahead and download the sample chapter to my Kindle! That way, I can browse or immediately start reading the book at any time!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      THat’s a great suggestion, Doug. I used to do that. I am not sure now why I stopped. It’s actually much better than futzing with a WishList.

  • Nathan Bonilla-Warford

    I just listened to this podcast this morning. While hands-on, active reading is definitely the best – what about those of us who spend WAY more time in the car than we have free time at home? I “read” a lot of non-fiction in the form of audio books. It isn’t perfect, but it does give me access to lots of new lots and ideas.

    Any suggestions for how to “read” a non-fiction audiobook.


    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I read most books via audio. I wish I had a good solution for highlighting or taking notes. I usually listen to the book at 1.5x or 2x speed. If I like it, I buy the Kindle edition and highlight and take notes there.

  • Will Tippen

    Michael, my wife and others constantly think I’m crazy because I have 4-5 books going at one time and I don’t always finish the books. I read until I get bored and then I put the book back on the shelf. I was glad to know that others do the same thing.

    I also wanted to comment on your podcast. I have truly enjoyed all of your material. However while I was listening to this podcast today I actually turned it off due to the redundancy of the listener questions. I just wanted to recommend putting less questions in your podcast or even shortening your podcast when the questions are just a repeat.

    Thanks for all you do and all your hard work.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Will. That’s great feedback. I agree.

  • http://www.BettermentBlog.com Doug Isenberg

    Michael, as a copyright lawyer, I wanted to clarify what you said about the right to quote from a book in preparing a review or summary. You referred to a limit of quoting 200 words — but, there is no absolute limitation or word count under U.S. copyright law. This is one of the gray areas of the law, as the “fair use” test requires evaluation of a number of factors to determine whether something is infringement or not. Only one of those factors is “the amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole” — and, even then, the Copyright Act does not specify a word count. So, in some circumstances, you may be able to legally quote more than 200 words, while in other circumstances you may only be able to quote fewer words. Unfortunately, the answer is usually, “it depends,” so consulting with a lawyer is often a wise idea.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      I totally agree. I thought I said that we used 200 words as a general “rule of thumb” at Thomas Nelson. But even then, ”it depends.” Thanks for making this clear.

      • http://www.BettermentBlog.com Doug Isenberg

        Yes, you chose your words carefully (of course!), but I didn’t want anyone to be left with a misunderstanding that 200 words is a rule that can be relied upon. Thanks for even addressing this important issue.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Thanks for the clarification, Doug. Extremely helpful.

      • Elfinesh Zeleke

        Thanks Mishele you are my mentor to go far on my vision.

  • Vince Kuraitis

    #11) If the book was worthwhile, consider getting a good summary for future reference.

    Some options:

    a) Subscribe to a book summary service. There are many, but I use summaries.com as their summaries are substantive. Do your homework — some of these services do a mediocre job

    b) Google the “Title of the book” AND “summary”. You’ll find that almost always someone has summed the highlights and/or reviewed the book. Sometimes reviews contrarian points of view are as valuable as the book itself.

    c) Put the summary where you can find it. I tuck a paper copy into the book itself and put a digital copy into Evernote. Perhaps you want to start a file of summaries. The value grows over time.

    #12) Consider finding and reviewing a summary of the book BEFORE you set out to read the book.

    You might get a feel for the structure of the book so that reading it will be more meaningful. You might find that the book isn’t worth reading. You might find that reading the summary is enough to grok the main points.

  • rob

    I have one answer in two parts: First, buy used; and second, buy Kindle books. Notes taken by others have been a great help for me to make quick progress through books.

    1. I’ll copy the notes on a sheet of paper with page number as I scan the book. If a note is powerful, I’ll read the whole section, even backtracking to fill in the blanks. The notes page gets scanned into my evernotes and each note references title of book.

    2. I love the Kindle editions because you can get a digital copy of the notes, forward it to evernote, and have that archive forever (or as long as they make it).

    So, buy used and outsource your note taking. Skim the notes and browse the book. Backfill with in-depth reading as interested.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Rob. Great suggestions.

  • http://kimanziconstable.com/ kimanzi constable

    Wow, these are great tips and this honestly is an area I never really thought about. In the past I have just read and read, I read 47 books last year. I have really come to enjoying reading books on my iPad mini and highlighting and taking notes there. Will be using some of these tips Michael.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Kimanzi. 47 books is awesome! Congratulations!

  • prcrouch

    How do you use note taking symbols digitally? I read books on iBooks, Kindle, and Logos. My Logos books I can use symbols because Logos allows users to create highly customize our highlight styles. We can even use .jpegs or .png files to mark-up text. These styles can even be shared to other users through their small-group site Faithlife. I like to get a lot of through them.

    But how can someone use symbols with iBook or Kindle versions? They currently only have color highlight options (or a red underline in the case of iBooks).

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      You have to use typographic representations that are unlikely to occur in normal text (e.g., “iii” for important notes or “qqq” for questions).

  • Tracey Moore

    I love books. I am a confessed book junkie. I like to underline key sentences that resonate with me. I also like to go back later on to key passages that help me with issues that I may dealing with in the moment.
    Tracey L. Moore
    Oasis for My Soul: Poems and Inspirational Writings for Spiritual and Personal Growth

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Tracey, do you have a system in place that allows you to easily find the underlined sentences that resonated with you?

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    I picked up a bad habit in college when reading textbooks. I read whole books. I got good grades. Now, if I stop reading a book, it’s either poorly written or I have a complete lack of intetest. So I read the whole book, slowly, let it sink in. I rarely take notes, but will read a great book more than once. There are few of those in my book. Although I write fiction, I read non-fiction about 10-1. I’ll explain why in an upcoming post on my blog: http://www.danerickson.net

  • Chip

    Thank you Michael! Your podcast allows me to give myself permission to be a “partialist” and not a “completionist”. (I love learning new words when I can understand COMPLETELY what they mean when I see them!).

    I just started reading an excellent non-fiction book on Monday. In the back of each chapter, the author has a “bullet point” summery. Until I listened to you, I thought I was cheating because I read “bullet points” in the back of each chapter first! This allowed me to pick the chapters I had a desire to read! It is like what you said about “Cliff Notes”.

    Thank you for the enlightenment!

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      Chip, you’ve got me interested in the book you’re reading. Would you mind sharing what book it is?

      • Chip

        “Paychecks for Life” by Charles D. Epstien. AKA the “401k Coack”

  • http://www.janabotkin.net/ Jana Botkin

    This is my favorite podcast you have ever done – thank you!
    I think in lists, so here is today’s:
    1. A few years ago I decided that I was reading too much fiction so I went on a fiction fast. I was very surprised by how hard it is to find great non-fiction.
    2. Once I became accustomed to great non-fiction, fiction felt like eating Twinkies after being used to from-scratch balanced dinners.
    3. Thank you for the permission to not finish. Books often have lots of sawdust in the middle, or fog at the end.
    4. I find books on Goodreads by typing in books that I have loved. It will give you similar titles.
    5. I get my books at the library (great on-line reservation system where I live). If I need to take notes or dogear or want to review, then I buy used on Amazon.
    6. Thank you for the explanation of why it is good to read fiction. Now if I can just find a non-Twinkie novel. . .!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jana. I appreciate your kind words!

    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      #3 is what really got me, too. I always felt so bad that I had 3 or 4 books going at one time and don’t always finish! I was glad Michael repeated that you don’t have to finish a book—like 5 or 6 times! I needed that!

      • http://www.janabotkin.net/ Jana Botkin

        Barry, is there a pattern to why you don’t finish books? Mine is that the author already stated the premise and the reasoning. When they get redundant, I’m done.

        • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

          Yes— It’s usually that I think I have gotten to the main gist of the message and loose attention. However, I will say that it’s not always a conscious decision (you?) sometimes I know internally without being able to identify —WHY? So I have to try to figure out if it’s “the resistance” (Pressfield) or if it’s the book has lost me. Sometimes I can’t articulate why I loose interest— some books I can read over and over again! :)

          • http://www.janabotkin.net/ Jana Botkin

            I’m guessing it is the sawdust and fog, not “the resistance”. Too many authors seem to have a quota of pages to meet, even if they’ve covered their subject sufficiently. If the author can’t hold your interest, I don’t think he has done his job. Or maybe he did do his job, and finished it before the book ended. I hereby grant you permission to quit reading when you lose interest! 8-)

          • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

            Thanks you! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/joshdiymusic Joshua Liston

    My normal non-fiction book flow is as follows

    Firstly I aggregate the opinions of Seth Godin, Dan Miller, MJ DeMarco, Michael Hyatt and Dan H Pink – if the same book is mentioned by these authors/thought leaders I will then purchase the physical copy from Amazon.

    After receiving the physical copy I try to speed-read the physical copy.

    Next I try to get the Audible version where possible and review the work 2 > 3 times in succession (@ 3X playback). (I prefer Audio-books that are read by the Author, but that’s just me).

    At 3X playback I can consume the same material 4 times in the time it would take me to read the physical copy once. And I can be learning while travelling, commuting, exercising and waiting in line… :-)

    As I feel I have good attention and retention, this process allows me to absorb/recall large amounts material and to consume multiple books at once (1 physical book per week and 2 or more Audio books per week).

    Essentially I’m reading non-fiction to be inspired and gain knowledge, so I don’t care all that much whether the book is physical or Audio (unless it’s highly visual like, Resonate, Blue Ocean Strategy, Data Driven Marketing etc).

    Hope this might help someone here that finds it pressurizing to have loads of books lying around :-) And I’ve found that all the knowledge I pick up is useful, even if it simply makes reading a future book slightly easier or more worthwhile.

    Thanks so much MH


    • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

      Josh—This is really good stuff thanks for sharing. I especially like the comment about listening to books at 3X. Sometimes I feel like I am not being a book “purist” if I’m not actually reading it. I need to get over it. Thanks for your great comment.

    • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

      Awesome thoughts and strategies Joshua, thank you for sharing!

    • Jim Martin

      Wow! Josh you’ve got a great system in place. Thanks for sharing.

  • cindyfinley

    I use a pen to underline and write notes in the margin. If it’s a particularly meaningful book, I jot quotes or brief notes along with the page number on the back blank page so that I can easily find that section of the book when I need it.

    • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

      I pretty much do the same as you Cindy. Another thing I’ll do is to dogear the pages that have really stood out and I’ve underlined. Makes it easy to go back and review if I want to.

  • http://theordainedbarista.com/ Barry Hill

    I love the Amazon—wish list. You should put that in your list of episode resources at the end of the post. I had never seen it before—way cool!

  • http://www.jmlalonde.com Joe Lalonde

    I have a pen handy to underline passages that ring true with me. I’ll also make comments in the margins on the sides of the book.

  • http://www.kenzimmermanjr.com/ Ken Zimmerman Jr.

    Thanks for the takeaway about not having to finish every book. My younger sister and I are readers. We would compete each year to see who could read the most books every summer in our local summer reading program. We would finish so quickly that the librarian would think we had not actually read the books until she started quizzing us. We could answer all the questions. The reading habit has served us both very well in our careers but I have a hard time not finishing a book I start. It is a big time waster though to continue reading something that you are not getting anything from your time investment. Thanks for the tip.

    • Jim Martin

      Ken, how wonderful that you can share your love for reading with your sister. That has to be very motivating to do this together.

  • bradblackman

    Wow, my question sounded pretty crummy. Sorry for the bad audio quality. I was in the car.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Brad, no sweat. Keeps it real. ;-)

  • bradblackman

    Thanks for the tip on not being afraid to quit a book. I have a list of books I’ve quit on Goodreads. Thomas Pynchon books are on that list. I know it’s fiction but I just can’t get into them.

  • Stéphanie Noël

    Great post. I find it hard not to finish books. I think there are only two books or so I haven’t finished, ever.

  • Edward Hinkle

    Michael, I used the Amazon Wish-list for awhile, and if it’s all I have around I’ll use it for temporary storage, but what the thing I realized is with the volume of books I read, I not only needed a way to organize what books I wanted to purchase, but I needed to have a way to organize what my reading priority was for them.

    My solution was creating a project in Evernote. (I use Evernote + GTD, inspired by a tweet you posted about “The Secret Weapon” integration strategy.)

    So I have a project “.BooksToRead”, and the great part about that is I can use the same types of priorities (#2-Next, #3-Soon) and scopes (=Personal, =Work) that I use for Tasks, with my books. This allows me to fluidly move books up and down on my scale by interest while keeping them organized. (I currently have 100 books on my list to read, so I definitely needed an organized system).

    Thanks for the great episode!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Edward. Cool solution.

  • http://www.mythinkingbox.com/ Terry Hadaway

    When I was teaching non-traditional students in college, I developed a method I call QuickRead. It is very similar to your method and, according to students, very effective. You can get a free pdf of it here: http://goo.gl/aAhce.

  • David Silvey

    I admit it. I scan many books and read the back chapters first! And I have no guilt. Why not read what grabs us? For a quick read that will definitely grab you, check out “The Smart Way to Deal with Stupid People” at http://www.smartwaybooks.com.

  • Anthony P.

    I just recently started a new morning ritual at work. I leave the current book I am reading on my desk, and then I try to get to work 15 minutes early. While my computer is booting up I try to read 5 pages or so. I then regurgitate what I read on a notepad to help me retain what I read. I don’t have time to do it at any other point in the day because I have 3 kiddos under the age of 5 right now, and when I get home at night my time is dedicated to them and my wife. By the time they are in bed I am too exhausted to read and if I try it puts me right to sleep.

    Thanks for all you do. I love your podcast and the council you provide. I can’t wait for the next episode.

    • Jim Martin

      Anthony, I like your early morning practice! It is great that you have found something that works for you when it must see like there is little, if any, time to spare.

    • Jim Martin

      Anthony, glad you found something that works for you! It is great that you have found a way to continue reading even during a very busy season of life.

  • Bob A

    Great post. I don’t follow all of these tips but have just fallen into a lot of them over the years. One of the call-in questions was about how to balance fiction and non-fiction. Years ago, a pastor who I served with shared with me that he tried to read about 600 pages a month. That sounded great, so I set the same goal for myself. In addition, I determined that a minimum of 1/3 of my reading would be either for spiritual development or professional development. In the ensuing 30 years, I’ve always surpassed my total reading goals (and, yes, I do keep track — I have a spreadsheet of 30 years of books read, with my own personal rating, and most with a brief summary.

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  • Marcie F Atkins

    In response to Brent’s question in the podcast, I’m wondering if audiobooks or audio/print combo might be helpful. Listening to the audio would take the mechanics and frustration out the reading. Since so many books are now on audio, it’s easier to get a wide selection this way. As a teacher, I always recommend this for my students who find reading laborious.

  • http://www.jimchandleronline.com/ Jim Chandler

    Hi Michael – what about audio books? I’ve heard you on other podcasts talk about how you listen to books while you run. I’ve started experimenting with that myself. My question – how do you compensate for highlighting and note-taking when you’re listening to a book, or do you just not worry about that for audio books? Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Unfortunately, I don’t have a good answer. If I really like the book, I go back and read the Kindle edition. The good news is the the second read is much faster.

  • http://brownknowsmedia.com/ Jeff Brown

    I found this very timely, Michael. I’m in the prep stages of launching my own, non-fiction-driven podcast where I’ll interview a new author each week in the areas of leadership, business and personal development.

    One of my goals for the podcast is to advance the “Leaders read and Readers lead” mindset. My hope is the podcast will encourage leaders to grow and stretch through intentional reading, as well as prompt those who desire to lead to do the same.

    I think these tips will be very useful to my listeners. I’ll be sure and send them your way.

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  • James M. Bitter

    I have learned to LOVE reading non-fiction! once I realized that reading could impact my bank account, I was hooked. My favorite methods for retention are:
    1 Audio books at 2x speed, (which I will habitually re-read for concept mastery).
    2 Listening with my smart-pen (Livescribe Sky) so I can write notes that will sync my action plan with the audio that inspired it to Evernote, via wifi.

    Most of the books I read, in this genre, are either:
    -authors I hear being interviewed on a podcast, like yours,
    -or books I hear recommended on the podcasts I listen to, like yours.

    I’m going to jump on Tim Ferriss’ website to see about speed reading, thanks for the encouragment.

  • http://www.dianeyuhas.com/ Diane Yuhas

    Appreciated this podcast. I’ve felt guilty for not finishing books or reading a number of them at once. So nice to know this is not abnormal nor is it a bad thing!

  • Kacey

    I look forward to hearing this one. Non-fiction books are my favorite. However, the problem I’ve found is I tend to consume the info and not use it in anyway to change my life, even though I have good intentions of doing so while I’m reading. I don’t want to read books like that anymore. Your idea of creating action steps sounds fantastic!

  • http://josuemolina.com/ Josue Molina

    I’ve become more of reader day by day. I remember hating it! Sticking to audiobooks, sharing the message like you said, quoting, blogging about it helped me get in to the habit more. I try not to overwhelm myself with the amount I read. I chose 1 for each area of my life and it works fine. Slowly but surely, we are intentionally growing.

  • adamelovalis

    Hi Michael,

    Here’s how I read non fiction books: I read the physical book, and take notes in Evernote, photographing useful diagrams, adding quotes from the book, even recording thoughts. Then, I can tag, and categorize notes so that if ever I’m looking for something on a subject: I can go back and search through those notes and find heaps of resources.

    I’m not a big e-book reader as of yet – so not sure how this would work electronically.

    Thanks for your podcast, I’ve found it really helpful, and one day I hope to get around to reading and note taking onto Evernote from Platform. :)

  • http://twitter.com/mikedariano mikedariano

    Really enjoyed this episode. If anyone is looking for books to read, I run 27GoodThings.com where each week I feature different people sharing different things to read, watch, and use.

  • http://business-paths.blogspot.in/ Rubal Walia

    Let me add one to the list. Read two books simultaneauosly. As in, if you are reading one book continuously, you can switch to the other one for a change. Works for me :)

  • Rick Theule

    Michael – Great podcast. You specifically asked us to let you know how we read non-fiction. For many years now I have been reading with a legal pad and a pen right next to me. I take notes, write down direct quotes and passages, and also make sure I put down any ideas that pop into my head. Ideas for blog posts, books, and actions I’d like to take in my own life. One struggle I have is moving from “old fashioned” pen and paper, to electronic note taking aids. Do you have any advice for someone trying to move away from paper? I have a few apps, like Evernote, on my iPad, but I just can’t seem to get comfortable using them. Thanks again for leadership and willingness to share your knowledge.

  • studio331

    Michael, I really enjoyed this podcast, as I do all of your episodes. I am a lot like your friend who treats books like museum pieces – I won’t dog ear pages and the mere thought of breaking the spine makes me cringe. I find this detrimental to my getting the most from my books. I want to change so I can get more from my reading, but it is not easy to break this mental barrier. What advice would you offer to someone like me who needs to be less uptight about what is really kind of ridiculous over-reverence for books? Thank you!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Change how you frame this. No author is satisfied if his books are reverenced. I love nothing more than seeing someone coming up to me at an event with a copy of my book that is dog-eared and written in. It makes me smile. Why? Because I know the person is consuming it.

      • studio331

        Thanks for the response! I agree, but I have a deep-seated drive to keep things pristine. It goes deeper than just books. I guess I need some OCD therapy. Thank you, Michael.

  • Henry Cooper

    Always loved the suggestions coming from the people who enjoyed this podcast episode, I also recommend a few books that my help your mind and spirit correctly:

    Time Tactics of Very Successful People by B. Eugene Greissman (e.g. read chapters 5, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 12 for starters)

    Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill

    The Bible

    The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management by Hyrum W. Smith

    Getting Things Done by David Allen

    Do You! by Russell Simmons

    How To Take Control of your Time and Life by Alan Lakein

    Thanks to Mr. Hyatt for a good podcast episode and all of those who shared their suggestions on this.

  • Pam

    I found an excellent summary of how to read for understanding (ie, non-fiction) here


  • Haelie

    Once I started reviewing books, I started a really crazy system of dog-earing my books. My thought process was that they were often very nice books that I did not want to mark all up with highlighters and pens (I read almost solely Christian non-fiction).

    Well, I think I have done more to mark up the books, so to speak, by the way I dog-ear them. You should see them. It’s quite laughable. They almost double in thickness. And when I loan them to people on occasion, I feel sorry for them.

    Only I know the method to my madness, because after all, each dog-ear and the way it is done has a certain meaning. (Pointing directly to a sentence, double fold-ever to stand out so that I know I want to consider using this as a quote, etc.) When I read a really good book, well, just pray you don’t try to borrow it from me later. And that’s what I miss when I read on a Kindle. My old version isn’t very comfortable for me to bookmark in and such.

    Oh well…I’ll break old habits soon enough.

  • http://www.apprenticeshipofbeinghuman.com/ Graham Scharf

    To distill what you said in your podcast (and the answers to listeners’ questions), I’d answer that summarizing is one of the most effective ways to retain what you read because:

    1. It is analytic. You engage your mind to discern what is important.
    2. It is synthetic. Your creative capacities are engaged to put it in your own words.
    3. It exercises your working memory. This is a faculty that strengthens with practice.

    It isn’t just for reading. I use evernote to summarize important conversations I’ve had, podcasts to which I’ve listened (like this one). In addition to better incorporating what I’ve learned into my thinking, I also have a summary to which I can turn to refresh my memory.

    This is one of the most important learning habits that a student of any age can cultivate.