As men, our legacy often overwhelms our thoughts. We find ourselves pondering, “What will I leave behind once I’m gone?”
Foremost, we wish to provide for those we care about. This is a mandatory principle of masculinity – being able to both live comfortably and financially support loved ones.
However, there is another legacy we can leave behind. Aside from accomplishment, wealth, or even fame. We can acquire, organize, and grow a body of knowledge to share with those around us.
This begins by being a voracious reader. As I’ve discussed at length, reading is the key to all things success. Reading lets us analyze past successes, avoid pitfalls, and gives us new ideas and ways of thinking about challenges.
For those who read via Amazon Kindle, I’ve detailed how to use the “highlights” feature to highlight important passages and export to a word document upon completing a book. In the months since that article, I’ve expanded upon my process.
Today, I’m going to detail my method for knowledge recordkeeping. I’ll go through how I read a book, and what I do when I’m finished.
Reading for Lifelong Learning
You will struggle to retain much of anything from a book without a consistent follow-up routine. Our brains can only store a limited amount of information. It certainly can’t remember every important detail from the countless books we read every year. Thus, it’s important we create hacks and shortcuts to make sure we store the knowledge we deem most important. A sound method gives us an abundance of information to draw upon whenever we need it. As we get older, we grow our own personalized knowledge library that can be passed on to family and friends. Intellectual wealth is not to discarded when thinking about legacy.
The first step is to actually read consistently. You must set aside time to read every day. It’s also important to challenge yourself with the books you read. Choose the strenuous path. Difficult to read texts help to improve our reading comprehension. Your book selection should be a mix of hard-to-read texts and books on topics that you normally wouldn’t read about. Always make sure you are choosing quality too. I always choose a book that has significant positive reviews from Amazon or one that comes highly recommended from an influencer.
One of my favorite resources, Farnam Street, has a great piece titled “How to Read a Book.”
Shane Parrish has built Farnam Street around the theme of reading as the staple of self-education and improvement.
In this article, Shane details four levels of reading:
An estimate of my current reading breakdown is 80% analytic and 20% syntopical. Let’s focus on analytical reading first. From Farnam Street:
“Analytical reading is a thorough reading. If inspectional reading is the best you can do quickly, this is the best reading you can do given unlimited time. At this point you start to engage your mind and dig into the work required to understand what’s being said.”
Once you master analytical reading, syntopical reading is the next level of advancement. This requires you read across a subject and draw parallels across ideas, themes, and terminology found in multiple books.
My Analytical Reading Process
My process is simple. When reading a book, I take relevant notes in a separate notebook. In my notes, I will jot down the following:
- Ideas or themes and the page number(s) for reference
- Books referenced by the author that I want to look into further
- Words that I don’t understand
- 1-2 sentences explaining a paragraph or chapter
Here is an example from the latest book I am reading, Predictably Irrational:
When I finish a book, I tuck my notes in the front cover for future reference. I try to keep the written notes focused on definitions or big ideas, and do the bulk of my referencing in the book.
Within the book, I underline, highlight, or star (*) passages or quotes I find important. These will come into play later in my process….
I Finished a Book – Now What?
Once I finish a book, the real fun begins. I’ll wait at least a week, often two, and then begin my “knowledge recordkeeping” process. This ties directly to my notecard process, as learned from Ryan Holiday. I’ve adapted his methods into my own customized process and so far it has worked perfectly. I suggest reading through the entire article, as it contains a wealth of actionable advice on analytical reading and note categorization.
My Notecard System – Watch the Knowledge Pile Up
When I go through my recently read books, I’m looking for the passages that I marked with a star (*). If I still find the text worth retaining, I transfer the passage to a notecard. You’ll often find that something you thought was important no longer interests you. When I’ve gone through the entire book, I write an “N” (for Notecard) and the date on the inside cover so I know that book has been reviewed. I organize the notecards into categories that are constantly evolving and merging.
Here is my current list:
As I go through more and more books, I tweak the categorizes by condensing some items under one category, such as the “Hard Work/Success/Mastery” stack. I fully expect to see new categories emerge and go away as time goes on.
I embraced this notecard process for several reasons. First, it helps me quickly reference thoughts and themes organized by subjects. This is invaluable when writing a new article. Second, the notecards are part of a broader archive of knowledge I am creating. I can reference these bits of knowledge in the future or use as coaching curriculum. The notecards are also invaluable for knowledge retention and intellectual improvement, as I’m writing down and retaining the best lines of the best books I have read, stuff I would have forgotten otherwise.
This process is less than a year old for me, so I expect continued modifications as I read more books. I’ve gone through all but a handful of books I’ve read before this system was in place, so I can fully focus on books I am currently reading or have recently finished.
An average book will have maybe 7-12 notecards, while outstanding works such as “48 Laws of Power” could have anywhere from 20-30 references. There is no right or wrong here, just a subjective total based upon what you find important and worth retaining. I’d estimate that I have 200+ notecards currently created.
So many people focus on reading as many books as they can, but this is a fruitless effort if you aren’t absorbing the material and storing it for future reference. Without knowledge recordkeeping, information will be quickly forgotten.
The first step is having a purpose while reading a book – identifying what you are trying to learn and improve upon. After an analytical examination and thorough note-taking process, it’s time to put the book away for a week or two. When you re-examine it, transfer your most important passages to notecards, and organize by theme. Categorization is completely up to you.
Over time, your note collection will grow immensely, as long as you are consistent with your reading. You will begin to see themes across many books, directly tapping into Farnam Street’s more advanced level of reading mastery, syntopical reading. Subconsciously, your brain will begin to draw connections between books you previously thought unrelated. If you write, this will open up a whole new world of potential topics and written explorations. If you don’t write, you will still have a treasure trove of knowledge at your disposal when needed (and you will need it). That alone is invaluable.
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