How many self-help 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:
- Read it.
- 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:
- 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.
- Study the table of content.
- Skim through the book. ALL books have a similar structure.
- Once you understand the structure, you understand where the actionable advice is.
- Skip the stuff you’re not interested in.
- 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.