I’m a big believer in the power of reading, especially books. They expand and turbo-charge my thinking – so much that I sometimes have to put down the book mid-sentence and write out all the new ideas and perspectives prompted by what I just read. But, like most people, I have trouble finding the time to read all the books that capture my attention.
Good news: We don’t need to actually read non-fiction books to benefit from them. We just have to understand the content, according to a recent Harvard Business Review article. Using a system detailed in HBR, you should be able to digest at least one non-fiction book per week.
Here’s how it works:
- Read up on the author: A bio of the author with give you a sense of their background, credentials and point-of-view.
- Read the front-flap summary and table of contents. This will outline the main idea of the book and the arguments the author uses to support it.
- Read the introduction and conclusion. In many books these sections serve as executive summaries.
- Skim/read every chapter. Read the opening paragraphs or pages – as much as you need to get the gist of the argument and supporting material. Then read the rest of the chapter on an “as-necessary” basis. Read the first and last sentence of every paragraph. That will likely provide enough info. If not, read the entire paragraph. You may well hit a point where you fully understand the point of the chapter and can skip repeats of the argument or added examples and case studies.
- Finish with the table of contents. Reading over the chapter listings will help solidify the books main points, supporting arguments and quotable examples.
- Consider taking notes. Jotting down your thought during the process will further burn the content, and your reactions, into your mind.
Consuming a book in this way should take about one-third as long as traditional reading, according to Peter Bregman, who wrote the HBR piece. However, you will likely retain more information because you are actively engaged in the material.
I’m intrigued by Bregman’s approach and look forward to trying it. Another quick way to get the central point of the latest non-fiction books is to read two or three substantive reviews. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are among my sources for in-depth reviews that often tell me everything I need to know about a new release.
Bregman points out that his system is not a good way to read fiction, where the goal is to escape reality for a bit by immersing ourselves in a different world. So, if you are trying to catch up on all those epic Game of Thrones novels, well, just ease back and enjoy!