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How to Remember More of What You Read

How to Remember More of What You Read
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While the world today is over-saturated with media in the form of television, movies, handheld devices, and the internet books remain one of the best ways to learn about new things or improve your knowledge on subjects you might already be familiar with. It’s for this reason that advertising reps still read books about advertising every day, and you better believe Richard Dawkins (world renown biologist) is still reading books on biology in spite of being one of the most famous scientists in his field.

That said, how many times have you sat down with a book on a subject you were eager to learn about only to put the it down 1000 pages later, feeling like you were no more knowledgeable than you were when you started? It can be easy to read a book without retaining any of the knowledge held inside of it, but this post will teach you how to remember more of what you read, and hopefully make you one of those special people that can read a book and actually comprehend and remember what the author was trying to teach you.

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1. Skim the Text

Like most people, you probably tackle a new book by cracking it open, starting at sentence one, and making your way through the text like an explorer chopping his way through the jungle with a machete until you reach the end. Instead of going through this long process, it’s easier—and more effective—to map your route by skimming the text first. Many books have the main points described at the end of each chapter, so take a look at them and try to figure out what each one will teach you. Rather than journeying into the perilous unknown, familiarize yourself with the territory. Prime your brain for what’s to come by skimming the text first and the journey will be easier for you.

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2. Define Your Reason for Reading

If you picked up a copy of a book about famous art forgers, it’s a good bet you had a reason to do so. Whether you have to write a report about art forgery, you’re interested in the individuals who would commit such a crime, or you’re looking to get into the business yourself you probably had a reason for choosing to read that book. If you consciously acknowledge this reason, write it down, or say it aloud; then you’ll be able to define the direction you’re going in and this will guide your reading efforts. This direction will let your brain know what’s important and what it can ignore, and you’ll retain more of what matters from your reading.

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3. Immerse Yourself in What You’re Reading

How many times have you found yourself sitting in your room with a cup of tea or coffee and a good book for an hour only to realize your eyes have been moving across the page without your brain processing what you were reading? This is because you weren’t immersed in the book in your lap. Immersion is key to retaining what you’re reading. Rather than just reading what it takes to make a good presentation, put yourself in the conference room. Imagine yourself using the keys to engage your audience and explaining your bullet points. If you make the book your reality then you’ll be able to remember it more easily when the time to implement what you’ve learned comes.

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Practice the Three Keys

If you skimmed this article before you read it, asked what you wanted to get out of it, and really pictured yourself implementing the strategies above then there’s a good bet your next reading session will be incredibly profitable. There is one last aspect of remembering more of what you read, however: practice until it becomes second nature. Just like a professional quarterback has to practice his throws endlessly, a great reader has to practice his reading technique. Regular practice makes an action second nature, and practicing effective reading will make remembering more of what you read a breeze.

Enter each reading session consciously aware that you will practice the steps outlined in this article and you’ll retain more than you can imagine.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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