How To Read A Self-Help Book In 90 Minutes

How To Read A Self-Help Book In 90 Minutes

How many books do you have on your reading list? If you’re like me, there are way more books on your list than you can ever read in your lifetime.

And the list always keeps growing, right? Every time I finish a good book, I look at similar books. Or, I ask friends, colleagues, clients, and readers for book recommendations.

But I know that I will never read all the books I have on my list. However, you can read a lot more than you think.

Especially if you, like me, read books to learn new things. Around 80% of the books on my reading list are non-fiction. And I have a simple system that I use to read more non-fiction books.

It only works for any book that starts with “How To.” It doesn’t work for biographies—only self-help. 

You don’t read self-help books for their literary qualities. You read them because you want to learn something.

“Read this Self-Help book. It’s lovely written.”

Said no one. Ever.

Even though self-help writers might think they are good writers, 90% of the content of their books is just fluff. It’s filler material.

Every self-help book just contains a handful of ideas. But books are a business. So they package the idea in a 300-page product with a nice book cover. And somehow, we think that a bigger book justifies the 15-dollar investment.

I don’t care about the number of pages in a book. But I still buy the books because they help you. There’s not another way you can get valuable information that can change your life for such a low price tag.

You just have to skip through the BS. Otherwise, it’s a waste of your time.

Here’s how you can read a self-help book in 90 minutes.

1. Pick the book wisely

Time: Before you start

Why do you read a book? Is it because someone recommends it? Or because it’s an NYT bestseller?

Those are lousy reasons to pick up a book and invest your time in reading it.

I have only 1 question that helps me to decide reading a book: Is this book currently relevant to me?

In other words: Will this book help me now? If the answer is no, I don’t read it. I might buy books that I think are relevant in the future because that helps me to read more. 

You can’t expect to retain the information you read forever. That’s why you want to read books that are relevant to you.

I’ve experienced that information only sticks if you:

  1. Read it.
  2. Apply it.

But if you read a book that’s not relevant to you, you can’t apply the knowledge you learn. So it becomes unnecessary to read it.

Always pick something you can use. Are you trying to negotiate a salary increase? Read books on negotation. Do you want to improve your social skills? Read books that help you with that. And so forth.

2. Study the table of content and structure of the book

Time: 15 minutes.

We want to be laser focused when reading a book. The goal is to read a book and get 1 or 2 valuable ideas that you can apply in your life.

Ideas that will help you save time, money, or improve yourself, business, relationships.

A lot of people still think you should read a book cover to cover.

Says who? My skimming process looks like this:

  1. Read the backcover. What does this book promise to teach you? What’s the background of the author? You want to get a clear picture of how this book can help you, and how trustworthy the advice is.
  2. Study the table of content.
  3. Skim through the book. ALL books have a similar structure.
  4. Once you understand the structure, you understand where the actionable advice is.
  5. Skip the stuff you’re not interested in.
  6. Read the stuff that’s relevant.

The book nerd says: “Yeah, but you’re missing a lot of information.”

I say: “Studying is the art of skipping.”

That’s how I got my degrees: By skipping information. Do I risk missing valuable information? Yes. Do I save time so I can spend time with my family, girlfriend, or friends? Hell yes.

So study the content, and determine what is useful to you. Try to decipher the book. Then, get to the good stuff (i.e. what is useful).

3. Set a timer, and read

Time: 45 minutes

By now you know why you’re reading a book, and you know exactly which chapter and parts you’re going to read.

Now comes the most important part: Read without interruptions.

Turn off your notifications, close the door, don’t follow through on your thoughts. Just focus on the book. That takes practice. It’s something that you will become better at.

But the key is to completely immerse yourself in the book for 45 minutes. And what you will find is that you’ll retain more information from one 45-minute session than reading the book every day on your train ride to work.

I look at reading a self-help book as a job. Not as leisure.

While you’re reading, try to find a way to bookmark interesting things (this is important for the next step). I bookmark pages by folding the corners. A book is a tool, not a sacred piece of paper. Use it.

If you rent or borrow, keep a pen and paper and just write down the page numbers that contain valuable information on a sheet of paper. You can also do it on your phone.

Or, you can take pictures of the pages that contain the information you want to remember. Always store the pictures in a note-taking app so you can access it from other devices.

I use Evernote for that.

Also, if you need more than 45 minutes, go for it. Plan another reading session. Some books contain more information.

But if you’ve read multiple books on the same topic, after a while, you get the shtick. That doesn’t mean you should stop reading. Some books contain one unique idea that you won’t find anywhere else.

4. Write a short summary for yourself

Time: 30 minutes

I never do this immediately after reading the book. I let my subconscious sit on it for a while after I’ve read the book.

And a few days (no more than a week) later, I write a summary for myself.

And that’s easier than it sounds. Just go through your bookmarks in 10 minutes. Then, just sit down and write down what you’re going to do with your new found information.

To be honest, sometimes I just write down one sentence because the book wasn’t that useful. But that’s okay. Not all books will help you equally.

And sometimes I write a whole essay or article that I later publish right here on my blog. To me, that’s the best way to retain information. I encourage everyone to blog.

Even if no one reads it, you practice your writing, thinking, and analyzing skills. That’s priceless.

Read and Teach

Finally, always try to learn things with the goal that you’re going to teach it to others. When you have that mindset, you’ll do your best to understand concepts and ideas.

In the past, I was too passive. I would read something and assumed I grasped the ideas. Big mistake. Our brain is powerful, but not that powerful.

Or, I would read something and accept it as true. But I’ve learned there’s no truth other than the one that’s useful (that’s pragmatism philosophy).

Never assume things are true. Be critical and look at ideas from your perspective. What’s true for someone, might not be true for you.

There you have it. That’s my process for learning new things fast. It’s a way that accelerates your learning curve a lot.

This is a very systematic and focused way of obtaining knowledge. And it’s not for every single book. Only Self-Help.

Remember: It’s never about the number of books you read. More is not better. Also, you don’t have to read a book a day because some lifehacking idiot talks about it.

Instead, use this process to get actionable advice from books so you can immediately put your knowledge into practice.

Whether you use it or not, I challenge you to think consciously about WHY you read.

You have limited time. Use it wisely. For everything. Even reading books.


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30 comments

  1. “But if you read a book that’s not relevant to you, you can’t the knowledge you learn. So it becomes unnecessary to read it.”

    Did you mean – can’t *apply* the knowledge?

    1. You can do it with any information. I think it’s okay to skip. Most people are afraid they miss information. Of course, that’s a risk you’re taking. You can always re-read books or re-take courses and find new information.

  2. You might enjoy the book “How to read a book” by Mortimer J. Adler. Your approach is aligned with what the author suggests when you first start a book.

    Then later, if you decide to make a bigger investment in the book or the subject matter, it also covers other types of reading to get the most out of the book.

  3. Great advice thanks! I use Kindle and the highlights are easily available. I can access it anytime any where. Priceless. I don’t buy hard copies anymore, for 5 years.

  4. Darius this is one of your best! Would be great if it’s on Medium as i would love to highlight a few sentences and bookmark for future reference.

    Ive struggled retaining valuable nuggets from books. I’ve been that guy that reviews the TOC but then read end to end all the while there’s a little voice asking “when are we going to get to the actionable stuff?”. What’s more helpful in your article is the applied knowledge of retaining the info by summarizing. Ty.

    1. I know that feeling, Andy. It’s still wired in our brain to read a book from start to finish. That’s why I have systems like this in place to remind myself there’s a more effective way.

  5. Enjoyed your article. Being a teacher and a avid reader, I have been skimming/reading books like that for years. Point 4 was something I was not going, and I intend to apply that step. Thx

  6. Great article, I can now explain how I study/ learn quickly to others…the art of skipping. I’ll add step four and perhaps retain more…i don’t write enough and appreciate the incentive.

  7. Helpful post Darius.

    I like to download Kindle samples to check out the TOC and read the first chapter. I can usually determine by then if the book is worth my time. I also think writing down a few questions you want answered by the book helps too.

    And this…”Also, you don’t have to read a book a day because some lifehacking idiot talks about it.” I know that guy. That line made my day.

    Keep up the solid work, love your site.

    George

  8. “You don’t have to read a book a day because some lifehacking idiot tells you to” Haha. Shots fired at Tai Lopez? Great article!

  9. great advice! Your absolutely right about how people put too much fluff in their work to make it seem important, yet the very little value at the end of the book just makes you dislike the author that much more.

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