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5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Books

5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Books

Whether you’re reading for school, pleasure, self-improvement, or to expand your knowledge base, there are “right” ways and “wrong” ways to delve into your material. If you’ve ever found yourself drooling onto the pages of a book after having read the same paragraph 50 times, you may not have been reading in an effective, productive manner. Here are a few ways in which you can ensure that you absorb as much as you can from the items that you read.

1. Don’t Read Important Materials When You’re Tired

This applies to school assignments, training manuals, or the permission slip for your kid’s field trip to Dan’s Hungry Dingo and Alligator Playland. If you’re overly tired when you try to read something of substance, you won’t absorb a damned thing and you’ll end up with neurotic nightmares that are fraught with failure, reprimands, and worries. If you’re the type of person who is most alert first thing in the morning, then make a point of waking up 20-30 minutes early so you have some time to read before tackling the day. If you tend to be hyper-focused in the later afternoon or evening, set aside a block of time when you can be left alone so you can devote all your attention to the task at hand. This leads into the next tip:

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2. Eliminate Distractions

When I was in college, I was once invited to a friend’s house so we could work on an assignment together. The girl I was working with had the radio on in the kitchen, the TV blaring in her bedroom (where we were trying to work), and she’d interrupt me every 5 minutes to ask my opinion about some outfit, or try to make plans for the following weekend.

Guess how much work we got done.

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It sounds like common sense to eliminate as many distractions as possible when you’re trying to concentrate, but many people don’t realise that having sensory input from all directions is incredibly detrimental. To really be able to draw in everything you’re reading, go to a place where you know that you can focus well. For some, this might be a perfectly quiet room where they can sit in solitude and read for hours. Other people might do best when sitting at the back of a cafe, as the white noise helps them focus and the human company keeps them from going mad. Trust in what’s best for you, but ensure that your surroundings enhance the experience, instead of detracting from it.

3. Take Notes

If this isn’t too much of a distraction for you, keep a notebook handy and jot down key points as you come across them. Was there a particularly poignant expression that you want to remember? Write it down, along with the chapter and page number. If you’re studying history, jot down key names, dates, and events related to whatever you’re focused on. Is this a novel you’re reading for a book club? Write down your reactions to certain scenes or phrases so you can discuss them with your group later. If, when revisiting this material in future, you find that your recollection of detail is a bit foggy, looking over your notes can be of great help for jogging your memory.

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Be sure to dedicate one notebook entirely to notes about your books, so you don’t have to flip through a 5-subject behemoth to find a few lines you’ve scrawled about something or other.

4. Only Read Books You’re Truly Interested In, If You Can

This may not be possible if you have a very strict curriculum to adhere to, or if you absolutely have to read some work-related materials that are vital for your continued employment, but if you’re given a few different options to choose from, read the first chapter of each and see which one you’re most drawn to. You’ll be able to retain a lot more information if the subject matter has captured your attention, and if you actually care enough to find out how it all ends.

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Don’t read novels merely for the sake of impressing others. If you don’t truly love Dostoyevsky’s work, you will undoubtedly slip into a coma halfway through Crime and Punishment, and you won’t be able to discuss the book with any clarity should anyone question you about it later. There are many books on those “omg you totally have to read this before you die” lists that are only there because somebody wanted to be a pretentious jackass and no-one called them on it. If you never manage to get through James Joyce’s Ulysses, there’s certainly no need to be ashamed: I don’t think anyone ever has.

Life is too short to waste time reading books that don’t fuel your soul and make you happy, so if you’re reading for pleasure, make it a sincerely pleasurable pastime. On that note, we come to the final tip:

5. Re-Read Books Every So Often

This may sound strange, considering that after you’ve read a book you’re already familiar with the subject and/or know how it ends, but consider this: you’re not the same person you were yesterday, nor the same one you were last week, a year ago, or a decade ago. Every experience we have changes us—our perspective on the world, our understanding of different situations—and in turn, we will process information differently depending on where we are in our lives. When you’re in your 20s, you might re-read a book you loved when you were 16 and discover a wealth of insight that you had totally glossed over at that age. You may read a design book today and come away with a strong understanding of the subject, but if you revisit that book after a couple of years in a graphic design program, you might understand subtle references in the text that you didn’t catch on to before, or have a sudden epiphany after reading about a particular technique.

Books can be dear friends if you cherish them as such, so be sure to give them the attention they deserve, secure in the knowledge that in turn, they’ll give you a wealth of inspiration, knowledge, and growth.

More by this author

Catherine Winter

Catherine is a wordsmith covering lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

The Best Way to Create a Vision for the Life You Want

Creating a vision for your life might seem like a frivolous, fantastical waste of time, but it’s not: creating a compelling vision of the life you want is actually one of the most effective strategies for achieving the life of your dreams. Perhaps the best way to look at the concept of a life vision is as a compass to help guide you to take the best actions and make the right choices that help propel you toward your best life.

your vision of where or who you want to be is the greatest asset you have

    Why You Need a Vision

    Experts and life success stories support the idea that with a vision in mind, you are more likely to succeed far beyond what you could otherwise achieve without a clear vision. Think of crafting your life vision as mapping a path to your personal and professional dreams. Life satisfaction and personal happiness are within reach. The harsh reality is that if you don’t develop your own vision, you’ll allow other people and circumstances to direct the course of your life.

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    How to Create Your Life Vision

    Don’t expect a clear and well-defined vision overnight—envisioning your life and determining the course you will follow requires time, and reflection. You need to cultivate vision and perspective, and you also need to apply logic and planning for the practical application of your vision. Your best vision blossoms from your dreams, hopes, and aspirations. It will resonate with your values and ideals, and will generate energy and enthusiasm to help strengthen your commitment to explore the possibilities of your life.

    What Do You Want?

    The question sounds deceptively simple, but it’s often the most difficult to answer. Allowing yourself to explore your deepest desires can be very frightening. You may also not think you have the time to consider something as fanciful as what you want out of life, but it’s important to remind yourself that a life of fulfillment does not usually happen by chance, but by design.

    It’s helpful to ask some thought-provoking questions to help you discover the possibilities of what you want out of life. Consider every aspect of your life, personal and professional, tangible and intangible. Contemplate all the important areas, family and friends, career and success, health and quality of life, spiritual connection and personal growth, and don’t forget about fun and enjoyment.

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    Some tips to guide you:

    • Remember to ask why you want certain things
    • Think about what you want, not on what you don’t want.
    • Give yourself permission to dream.
    • Be creative. Consider ideas that you never thought possible.
    • Focus on your wishes, not what others expect of you.

    Some questions to start your exploration:

    • What really matters to you in life? Not what should matter, what does matter.
    • What would you like to have more of in your life?
    • Set aside money for a moment; what do you want in your career?
    • What are your secret passions and dreams?
    • What would bring more joy and happiness into your life?
    • What do you want your relationships to be like?
    • What qualities would you like to develop?
    • What are your values? What issues do you care about?
    • What are your talents? What’s special about you?
    • What would you most like to accomplish?
    • What would legacy would you like to leave behind?

    It may be helpful to write your thoughts down in a journal or creative vision board if you’re the creative type. Add your own questions, and ask others what they want out of life. Relax and make this exercise fun. You may want to set your answers aside for a while and come back to them later to see if any have changed or if you have anything to add.

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    What Would Your Best Life Look Like?

    Describe your ideal life in detail. Allow yourself to dream and imagine, and create a vivid picture. If you can’t visualize a picture, focus on how your best life would feel. If you find it difficult to envision your life 20 or 30 years from now, start with five years—even a few years into the future will give you a place to start. What you see may surprise you. Set aside preconceived notions. This is your chance to dream and fantasize.

    A few prompts to get you started:

    • What will you have accomplished already?
    • How will you feel about yourself?
    • What kind of people are in your life? How do you feel about them?
    • What does your ideal day look like?
    • Where are you? Where do you live? Think specifics, what city, state, or country, type of community, house or an apartment, style and atmosphere.
    • What would you be doing?
    • Are you with another person, a group of people, or are you by yourself?
    • How are you dressed?
    • What’s your state of mind? Happy or sad? Contented or frustrated?
    • What does your physical body look like? How do you feel about that?
    • Does your best life make you smile and make your heart sing? If it doesn’t, dig deeper, dream bigger.

    It’s important to focus on the result, or at least a way-point in your life. Don’t think about the process for getting there yet—that’s the next stepGive yourself permission to revisit this vision every day, even if only for a few minutes. Keep your vision alive and in the front of your mind.

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    Plan Backwards

    It may sound counter-intuitive to plan backwards rather than forwards, but when you’re planning your life from the end result, it’s often more useful to consider the last step and work your way back to the first. This is actually a valuable and practical strategy for making your vision a reality.

    • What’s the last thing that would’ve had to happen to achieve your best life?
    • What’s the most important choice you would’ve had to make?
    • What would you have needed to learn along the way?
    • What important actions would you have had to take?
    • What beliefs would you have needed to change?
    • What habits or behaviors would you have had to cultivate?
    • What type of support would you have had to enlist?
    • How long will it have taken you to realize your best life?
    • What steps or milestones would you have needed to reach along the way?

    Now it’s time to think about your first step, and the next step after that. Ponder the gap between where you are now and where you want to be in the future. It may seem impossible, but it’s quite achievable if you take it step-by-step.

    It’s important to revisit this vision from time to time. Don’t be surprised if your answers to the questions, your technicolor vision, and the resulting plans change. That can actually be a very good thing; as you change in unforeseeable ways, the best life you envision will change as well. For now, it’s important to use the process, create your vision, and take the first step towards making that vision a reality.

    Featured photo credit: Matt Noble via unsplash.com

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