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16 Skills To Make Your Reading More Productive

16 Skills To Make Your Reading More Productive

Reading skills can change your life. Without any qualification, reading has changed my life for the better. I’ve learned skills, enjoyed many incredible stories and learned about the world. I’ve learned about history, explored the rich depths of science fiction, discovered other countries, learned business ideas and much more.

Like any skill, you can become more effective with practice and an introduction to the key techniques. In this article, I will mainly focus on reading traditional books, which remain deeply valuable despite advances in digital technology. That said, many of these ideas can be adapted to digital reading. These ideas will help you learn and remember more from the books you read.

“Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.”- Joseph Addison

1) Determine Your Reading Purpose: Leisure or Learning

Generally speaking, there are two broad reasons to read: for leisure or to learn. If you are reading for leisure, developing productive reading skills may not be a priority. That said, you can deepen your appreciation for literature by developing reading skills. In this article, I will focus on reading for learning (with a few examples on leisure and fiction reading here and there).

2) Make Notes In The Book (Yes, You Have Permission!)

Have you ever noticed that most printed books have margins? Those blank spaces make it easy for you to add your own notes! Even better, some business and self-improvement books have blank pages for exercises and other activities. Once you start writing in books, you will slow down and gain more from the experience.

Tip: There is a centuries long tradition of readers writing in their books. For examples and insights on this key reading skill, consult Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books By H. J. Jackson. You will be in good company too: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Alexander Pope, Virginia Woolf, John Ruskin, and William Blake are some of the great authors who have made a habit of writing in their books.

Important Note: Only write in books that you own. Libraries are an excellent resource and your responsibility is to return the book back to the library for others to read in top condition. If you’re reading library books, you can still gain practice in productive reading by implementing the other ideas in this article.

3) Use The Swarm Strategy To Go Deep With Your Reading

I learned the swarm strategy concept from strategist and author Ryan Holiday. In essence, the swarm strategy involves going deep into a topic and learning about it from multiple viewpoints. Holiday also suggests supplementing your learning strategy with non-reading activities where possible. Here are two examples showing how you can use the swarm strategy.

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Learning about the Second World War:

With thousands of books to choose from, you have many different options. For example, let’s say you live in Canada, the United Kingdom or the United States (i.e. the Western Allies). Your understanding of the war and its consequences are likely from the perspective of your country. You can apply the swarm strategy by reading about how the war impacted civilians in Europe, seek to understand the Holocaust and read biographies of war time leaders (I recommend Sir Martin Gilbert’s Churchill: A Life for a robust and deep introduction to Winston Churchill).

Learning about marketing:

Marketing is one of the most important business skills you can learn. Fortunately, there are many excellent books you can explore. To apply the swarm strategy, read about marketing form at least three different perspectives. For example, read about specific marketing techniques (e.g. Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords, 4th Edition By: Perry Marshall, Mike Rhodes, and Bryan Todd), read a classic marketing book (Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins) and read about copywriting (The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy)

4) Read About The Author

Who brought you the book you’re reading? Learning about the author can deepen your experience considerably. Last year, I read a biography of Wiliam Shakespeare. I was fascinated to learn about Shakespeare’s work habits. You may not be able to find a full length biographies on every author you read about. Instead, ask these questions to deepen your understanding?

  • What books has the author previously published? (i.e. how does this book fit with the rest of the author’s work. Is it new ground or deepening previously explored ground)
  • How do books fit into the author’s career (e.g. is the person a full time author, a business expert who writes books on occasion or something else altogether)?

5) Write About What You Read

Writing works wonders on your comprehension and appreciation of reading. You can write full length book reviews (I’ve done that several times and it can be rewarding). You can also write notes on the inside cover of the book to create a short guide that you can easily reference.

Not sure what to write about? Consider these points:

  • Does the book provide exercises or templates for you to read? Complete the exercises.
  • Does the book reference other books that sound interesting? Make note of the titles.
  • Were you struck by the beauty of a particular phrase? Note it.

6) Discuss Your Reading With Other People

In most respects, reading is a solitary habit. However, you can turn reading into a social activity with some planning. For example, you can join a virtual book club where you swap notes and messages with other readers. You can also use a service like Meetup.com to search for book clubs in your area. If you are reading to improve your life or productivity, you will get the best results from discussing your reading with others interested in the same material.

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7) Ask Yourself: Do I Agree With The Author? Why Or Why Not?

When you read a good book, it is natural to be become absorbed in the process. Some books are so engaging that you end up staying up all night reading. While passionate, deep reading is admirable, there is more you can do.

Most non-fiction works (and many fiction works) are seeking to prove a point. Explore how the points are developed. Does the author provide footnotes or references to other works? Are they writing based on their own experience? These questions will help you to evaluate your reading more effectively.

8) Explore the context of your reading (i.e. acknowledgements and footnotes)

In most books I read, I often look into the acknowledgements, footnotes and other supporting material. Why? These sections provide extra context that shed new light on the book. The same can also be said of a book’s preface and introduction. In fact, introductions to classic novels and fiction works often explain how the book was translated and why the book has come to be regarded as a classic.

Reading acknowledgements: In some cases, the authors will provide a simple list of names. In other instances, you will learn about the author’s key relationships. You may learn about the contributions played by the editor and who provided the best feedback on the book during the editing process.

Reading footnotes: footnotes and references provide valuable suggestions for further reading and additional details that can open your eyes. You don’t have to read the entire footnotes section – simply take a look whenever the author makes an unexpected or interesting point.

9) File Ideas In A Commonplace Book

“We should hunt out the helpful pieces of teaching and the spirited and noble-minded sayings which are capable of immediate practical application–not far far-fetched or archaic expressions or extravagant metaphors and figures of speech–and learn them so well that words become works.”

Seneca, Roman philosopher

In an earlier time, books were expensive. You might have bee able to borrow a given book for a short time and then have to retun it. That’s one reason why the commonplace book was developed. You can use a Moleskine notebook, collect notes in a document on your computer, use Evernote or whatever system you like.

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Author Ryan Holiday recommends keeping a “Commonplace Book” . He recommends searching for wisdom and ideas that make our lives better. A single example, quote or phrase fro your reading can be powerful. When you record those ideas in a commonplace book, you can easily refer back to what you learned from your reading.

10) Reflect on what you enjoyed in leisure reading

Once you finish a novel, short story, play or some other work of leisure reading, put down the book. The next day, think about what you liked most about the book. Were you excited by the richly imagined world of J.R.R. Tolkien? Were you pleasantly surprised by the relevance of Jane Austen’s reflections on relationships? These observations will help you find other books that you will enjoy in the future.

In fact, this reflection skill will help you ask for recommendations from others. Instead of simply stating that you enjoyed a book, you can explain what aspects of the book you enjoyed.

11) Read Reviews About Your Reading

Reading reviews about books you read can provide a fresh perspective. You can start by reading reviews on Amazon but you don’t have to stop there. You can find outstanding reviews in publications such as the London Review of Books and the New York Review of Books. In fact, reading thoughtful book reviews equips you with new productive reading skills.

12) Develop “Mind Reading” Powers By Reading Fiction

Did you know that reading fiction can help you understand people better? Researchers David Comer Kidd and Emanuele Castano have shown that reading fiction helps you to develop a Theory of Mind for other people. In order to access these benefits, the researchers recommend reading literary fiction:

Unlike popular fiction, literary fiction requires intellectual engagement and creative thought from their readers. “Features of the modern literary novel set it apart from most bestselling thrillers or romances. Through the use of […] stylistic devices, literary fiction defamiliarizes its readers,” Kidd and Castano write. “Just as in real life, the worlds of literary fiction are replete with complicated individuals whose inner lives are rarely easily discerned but warrant exploration.” (Source: Reading literary fiction improves ‘mind-reading’ skills, research shows)

Looking for literary fiction suggestions? Here are two resources to start with:

13) Use Aides To Augment Your Reading

Whether you’re reading fiction or non-fiction, you are likely to come across unfamilar ideas, words and more from time to time. Instead of skipping over confusing phrases, take one minute and look up the word in a dictionary (a print dictionary on your shelf or an online dictionary). Likewise, I recommend using Google Maps if your book mentions unfamilar places.

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Your imagination is powerful! But you need to give it clear material for the best results.

14) Use A Highlighter (To Prepare To Make Notes)

Using a highlighter is a classic way to engage with the text. Unfortunately, CBS News reports that highlighting is among the least effective reading strategies. However, this technique can be revived if you use it thoughtfully. For example, consider using a multi-step system. You may start by reading a chapter of textbook and highlight a few key phrases. Next, write up notes using your highlights as a guide.

15) Create Study Notes (for tests and academic situations)

Let’s say you are reading a technical book such as the Project Management Body Knowledge (i.e. PMBOK Guide) in order to earn the PMP certification. Simply sitting in a chair and reading through the material will provide partial results. In order to master the material, you need to create study notes.

The type of study notes you create will depend on your learning approach. Here are a few ideas to get you started in creating study notes from books you read:

  • Formulas. Write down important formulas and define the terms.
  • Look for BOLD WORDS. If the author uses a phrase in BOLD over and over again, that is probably a hint
  • Draw diagrams between concepts. I learned this concept from Scott H Young who famously completed the MIT Computer Science program in 12 months using his advanced study strategies.
  • Note concepts you find challenging for further review. When you are learning a new subject, it is natural to come across challenging concepts in your reading. You may not understand the new idea right away. By making notes of these ideas for further review, you can look up the ideas in other books and consult experts to deepen your understanding.

16) Read Every Day

Many people set goals to read more. How do you get there? You simply need to develop a lifetime reading habit. Hint – always carry a book with you! If you are not a natural reader, look for ways to add reading to your routines (e.g. before you leave home for the day or before going to sleep).

Featured photo credit: Books/memyselfaneye via pixabay.com

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Bruce Harpham

Bruce Harpham is a Project Management Professional and Founder and CEO of Project Management Hacks.

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Published on July 22, 2019

The Secret to Success Is Failure

The Secret to Success Is Failure

You see a job that you’d love to do; and, you decide to go for it.

You submit your application, and then are pleased to find a few days later that you’re invited for an interview. This goes well, and you begin to have quiet optimism that a job offer will be coming your way soon…

It doesn’t.

Instead, you receive a letter saying thank you — but, they’ve decided to go with another candidate.

At this point, you could allow yourself to feel defeated, sad, and perhaps even a little angry. These are normal responses to bad news. Yet, it’s not wise to let them fester and disrupt your goals. Successful people don’t let failures kill their dreams.

Sure, they might temporarily feel deflated. But, very quickly, they pick themselves back up again and begin planning their next steps towards success.

How about you? Do you currently feel embarrassed or guilty about failing?

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Don’t worry if you do, as most of us have been programmed since childhood to see failure as a bad thing. Yet, as I’m going to show you in the next few minutes, this programming is dead wrong — failure is actually an essential part of success.

Don’t Be Tempted by Perfection

The first thing I want you to think about is this:

Resisting failure is, at its core, seeking perfection. And, perfection doesn’t exist.

That’s why perfectionists are also likely to be chronic procrastinators.

As Psychology Today noted in their article Pitfalls of Perfectionism, people who constantly seek for perfection stop themselves from engaging in challenging experiences.[1] That’s because these perfectionists are less creative and innovative than the average person — plus they’re less likely to take risks. Add these factors together, and you have someone who is overly focused on their own performance and is always quick to defend themselves. Unfortunately, these traits prevent them from having the necessary focus when it comes to learning new tasks.

Let me be clear: Striving for perfection is not the same as striving for excellence.

The former is a fool’s quest for the unattainable; while the latter is really just about doing our very best (which we can all obtain).

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And, there’s another problem that perfectionists have to deal with. Namely, when they fail to reach their ideal, they feel dejected and defeated. And — as you can imagine — repeat this often enough, and these people can end up feeling bitter and depressed about their lives.

So, forget about seeking perfection, and instead, focus on always doing your very best.

Why Failure Is Good

I recently came across a Forbes article Failing Your Way To Success: Why Failure Is A Crucial Ingredient For Success[2] that helped explain why most people are opposed to failure.

The article referenced the work of two world-renowned psychologists (Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky), who were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work. They discovered something very interesting: the effect of a loss is twice as great as the gain from a win.

Have you ever thought about that before?

What it means is that failure has a far greater negative impact on us than the positive impact of an equivalent win. It’s no wonder then that most people are afraid to fail.

And, here’s where it gets interesting…

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Amazon (which along with Apple, Facebook and Google, is considered one of the Big Four technology companies) has a culture that is tolerant of failure. And Jeff Bezos — Amazon’s founder and CEO — believes that this culture is one of the main reasons for the company’s big achievements over the last 25 years. In a letter to shareholders, he said:

“Failure comes part and parcel with invention. It’s not optional. We understand that and believe in failing early and iterating until we get it right.” 

The truth is, failure can open up a world of exciting opportunities for you.

How does it do this?

By constantly showing you new avenues to travel on. And, by helping you learn from your mistakes — so you can be better next time around. It also helps you identify what’s not working for your life, and what is.

So instead of seeing something as detrimental to success, you should see it as a tool FOR success. A tool that will help you to continually refine your journey in life.

If you still need some convincing that the secret to success is failure, then take a look at the following excerpts from our article 10 Famous Failures to Success Stories That Will Inspire You to Carry On:

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• J.K. Rowling encountered a catalog of failures shortly after graduating from college, including: being jobless, the breakdown of her marriage, and living as a lone parent. However, instead of giving up on life, she used these failures to propel her to write the Harry Potter fantasy series — the best-selling book series in history.

• Walt Disney didn’t have an easy start either. He dropped out of school at a young age in a failed attempt to join the army. Later, one of his early business ventures, Laugh-o-Gram Studios, went bankrupt. He was also fired from a Missouri newspaper for “not being creative enough.” (Yes, you read that correctly.) Was he defeated by these failures? Just ask Mickey Mouse.

• Michael Jordan had this to say about the power of failure: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Embrace Failure, and Prepare for Success

I hope this has been an eye-opener for you.

Failure has long been branded a leper; but in reality, it’s a healthy, essential component of success.

The trick of course is to develop the mindset of a winner. Someone who sees failures as stepping stones to success — and defeats as important learning experiences.

So, are you ready to embrace your failures and take the proud road to success?

I sincerely hope so.

Featured photo credit: Bruce Mars via unsplash.com

Reference

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