Reading is good for the soul (and your mind), butway too many people get caught in the trap of consistently reading and never taking action on anything they read. Sometimes, it’s just sheer laziness, but most of the time it’s because these readers don’t have a system set up for pulling out the pieces of information from their reading that they can take action about, and then actually taking action on them.
Lucky for you, it’s fairly easy to get such a system set up!
Have a way to mark out actionable information
You can do this one of two ways: keeping track of the action items as you come across them in a notebook, or just marking the information in the book to come back to later. It’ll really just depend on how you prefer to process information and what interrupts your reading flow less.
If you’re a natural note-taker, it makes sense to write down the action items as you come across them or as the book gives you ideas—just be sure to separate things you can actually do from things that are just bits of interesting information you might need for reference later. I do this by putting a star at the beginning of lines that have tasks in them, so that after I’m done with my notes, I can skim back through them and easily pull out the action items.
If you’re not a natural note-taker and trying to take notes just interrupts the flow of your reading, then you might prefer to go through all the action items in the book or article at once. If that’s the case, you’ll just want to mark the places you’re going to come back to—you can use good old slips of paper for this. Another handy trick is to use index cards as bookmarks, and note down which page & line the relevant information is at; this way, you don’t come back to a page later without the memory of what it was you wanted to mark down.
Go back to & store that actionable information
Once you’re done reading, you’ll want to go back and pull out all of the actionable items, and get them in one spot. You can use anything from a plain old notebook or checklist to an online task or project management tool, depending on how your preferences run. The idea is just that you need to separate the actionable tasks from the rest of the information, and get it all in one spot so that you can sort through it.
Give it a deadline or put it on your backburner
Once you’ve got all of your tasks in one spot, you need to go through each task and ask yourself whether it’s something you can do right now.
If it is something you can do immediately, then you need to make sure it’ll get done. This is going to depend on your individual productivity systems—that might mean putting it in your weekly planner, or it might mean putting in your online task management tool. (I use and love Flow, myself.) Make sure to give it a deadline; the deadline is going to depend on what other projects you have going at the moment, how urgent they are, and how urgent or important the task is. You don’t want to pile all of your new tasks on one day and overwhelm yourself, but you don’t want to space them out so much that you lose motivation or momentum, either. You can start with the highest leverage tasks first—ask yourself which tasks will have the greatest payoff with the least amount of effort, and do those sooner.
If it’s not something you can do right now, then you need to make sure you won’t forget it. This is what a “backburner” is for, a concept I picked up from Making Ideas Happen (an excellent book by Scott Belsky, founder of 99u and Behance). In my Flow account, I have a whole folder for backburner projects and tasks. I have a task list for each backburner project, and I also have two catch-all backburner lists for administrative and business development tasks. Then, what I do is schedule a recurring task to remind me to do 1-3 administrative tasks (or have my VA do them) once a week, and 1-3 business development tasks once a week, and I have a monthly task reminding me to review my backburner projects and see if anything can be moved to a front burner, so to speak.
This means that I’m making sure to complete those tasks that add up one by one and add up to progress in my business, by doing what I can when I can, and it also makes sure that I actually take action on the useful material that I read: I pull out the action items, put them in the appropriate place, and then voila! They get done (whether immediately or eventually). Even if it takes a while to get to them, it’s certainly better than leaving them to be forgotten or waste in the ether. So, how do you make sure you take action on your useful reading?