Doc’s note: I have a confession to make… I don’t read every book cover to cover. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a passionate reader. But there’s just not enough time to read every book, magazine, and newsletter.
That’s why today, I’m featuring an essay from Mark Ford, co-founder of the Palm Beach Research Group. Mark shares four tips to quickly get the most you can out of a book… without reading it cover to cover.
You can give yourself a competitive edge – one that could pay you big dividends one day – by doing a little carefully calculated extra reading this year.
I (Mark Ford) know you are busy already, but what I’m about to suggest won’t take too much time – and the benefits you’ll get from it will be wonderful. I’m going to show you how to read an extra 52 books this year and every year thereafter…
Every day, new nonfiction books are published on every possible topic. Some of these contain information and advice that will help you achieve your goals. The trick is to locate the good ones and read them quickly, efficiently, and strategically.
Tracking down good books is easy and fun. Make it a habit to browse bookstores, especially in airports and train stations (where business and self-help titles are abundant). Pick up any title that interests you. Scan the table of contents. If it seems promising, read the first page. If you find the book interesting and easy to read, hold on to it. Keep going until you have twice as many books as you can read, and then keep the ones you are most excited by.
If you follow these simple steps, you’ll be eager to get home and start reading. Eagerness alone won’t get you through an extra book a week, no matter how interesting and well-written it is.
To keep up with a weekly schedule, you have to find a way to cut your reading time by less than half. If you approach nonfiction books tactically, they don’t take very long to “read.”
The first and most important thing is to realize that books like these are raw material for your imagination, not finished artwork. So you should go through them as you might go through a big pile of kindling, looking for a few straight, dry pieces. Don’t waste your time fooling around with what’s not important. And don’t feel compelled to read every word.
I like to think that every good book has one big secret to convey and several smaller ones. Your job is to find out – as quickly as you can – what they are. There are many ways to speed-read, several of which I’ve tried over the years.
The system I use now allows me to get through most business books in two to four hours.
Here’s how I do it (and I’m a painfully slow reader):
1. Read the table of contents. It should give you a quick idea about the range and depth of the subject matter. Figure out what you want from the book: What can it teach you?
By doing this beforehand, you can dramatically shorten the amount of time you need to spend with the text itself. Your subsequent reading will be targeted and efficient, because your subconscious mind has already begun to think along the right lines and your interest has been primed.
2. Read the introduction and/or first chapter. One of them usually serves as a sort of executive summary of the entire book. Here is where you can pick up the author’s main argument and discover – if the book is well-written – the big idea.
(In my experience, most good nonfiction books have, at base, one big insight or secret. If you miss that, you miss the book.)
3. Read the first paragraph of each successive chapter and the first sentence of each successive paragraph. You will be amazed at how much information you can pick up that way.
In terms of actual reading, you are covering only 20-30% of the text, but in terms of content, you are getting 80-90%.
To get the most from this process, I usually assume that each chapter has one useful thing to teach me – and that’s what I look for.
4. Finally, read the entire last chapter and/or epilogue. Like the introduction/first chapter, at least one of these will often serve as a summary. Reading them gives you a chance to internalize what you’ve already discovered and to make notes if you haven’t already.
I recommend keeping some sort of reading journal in which you record the title, author, big idea, and smaller ideas of each book. If you make your entry just after you’ve finished a book, it shouldn’t take more than five or 10 minutes.
Review what you’ve written once within 24 hours and then again sometime the following week. You’ll be amazed at how much you’ll remember about the book.
Once you get used to this way of reading, you’ll find it addictive. You’ll have a constant stream of new ideas coming to you that will help you in every important area of your life.
You’ll get smarter and better with each passing week – and that will make you feel better and more confident. Your friends and colleagues will notice the difference. And sooner or later, one of the ideas you pick up will be the big one that takes you to the next level.
Start today by going to the bookstore after work and picking up your first title. Feel free to mark it up with a pen or highlighter, but remember that you are not looking to study it in detail but to select from it a few very helpful secrets.
Use the scanning method I recommended if it helps, but make sure you get through this book within the next seven days.
The most important thing to remember is not to try to learn too much. One big idea and a half-dozen little ones are plenty. Get them down and move on.