Time To Read: 3-4 minutes

Highlights: Common Place Book, Ryan Holiday (author)

I don’t think it is a surprise that most people feel they don’t have the time to read or that they read to slow. But the real issue is not time or speed but retention. I read incredibly slow. But I read with intent. That is why is it more important to worry about WHAT I am reading and HOW I am retaining it. I, and you, should hold your time to be precious. You can’t predict how someone will ingest the contents of a book. But I can identify the people, themes or outlets that I feel are trusting and set myself to read something of value for me. This is a simple tool but a powerful one. If you are not enjoying or engaged in a book stop reading it. It takes every morsel of my strength to close that book and not return to it. But allow yourself that freedom. Sometimes a book is just not meant for you. If you force it on yourself it wastes your time and the authors because you are not their audience. While this won’t improve your reading skills it will improve the quality of your reading.

After you have the books or content you want to read, start reading. But remember that reading isn’t meant to be passive. It should provoke thoughts, it should invoke insights, questions and notes. Highlight passages that resonate with you. Write questions that you have about the contents or terminology. Don’t be afraid to mark the book up. Or on an e-reader use the highlight and note features to release you thoughts as you read.
Throughout the whole book be an active participant. Don’t worry about the validity or sense of your thoughts or highlights. This isn’t the time to evaluate whether or not these pieces are worth retaining just yet. Once you finish reading the first thing you do it go back through the book again. But this time you focus on what stuck out in your mind. Reread the passages you highlighted or underlined. Read your notes and thoughts. Read them several times if necessary. Here is where you need to be harsh on yourself. Be vicious on what you decide to keep. When something still holds strong or spurs connections or thoughts pen it to paper. More specifically to notecard.

I was always doing this in a pseudo form. But when I was introduced to the idea of a commonplace book by Ryan Holiday it made the process tangible. It was a process that was used by prominent historical figures like Thomas Jefferson as he was preparing for political speeches. The transposing of thought to paper concretes it. You are filing it away in a box but also in your mind.

There are numerous applications for wanting to remember these pieces of content. For me is started out as a memorable quote. I found myself stuck repeating a quote of Ernest Hemingway, “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self”, and wanted to remember it for myself. For me I could highlight it in a book but unless I returned back to that book later it would fall into the recesses of my mind. But the act of transferring it to paper brings more validity to remembering it. After that categories of those cards started to form themselves. Quotes. Terminology. Travel. Love. Politics. Family. Passages started to relate and find themselves within these categories. When the passage resonated further or spurred any idea I would still copy it down but then arrow it onto the back and fill my thoughts that related to it.

As it evolved further I would preemptively create categories around an article I was writing, a theme I was investigating or a topic I wanted to educate myself on. This process helped turn me more into an “active” reader. I was looking for correlates or similarities of information that could reinforce or bring truth to that article or topic. The boxes started to grow and become grouped. They became my go to reference back to what was the most important parts of the books I was reading.

This system allows you to have snapshots of what is most important and relatable for you. It is important to remember that volume is not the goal. There is no incentive on reaching quotas or stacking boxes. Quality will always trump quantity. There are times when after reading an entire book a single note card will contain the summation of it. One sentence, one quote. That is a powerful book. Coming away after hundreds of thousands of words with a singular thought means a theme was clearly decided and followed.

Like any decisions you make, once you decide to do something you always decide not to do many other things. So stay with intention when you read. Reading is an activity. Activities need active participants.  

If you get one thing only from reading it is summed up in this unattributed quote, “The more you know, the less you need.”