My guru and longtime secret lover, Ali Abdaal released a video on how to remember what he has read.
Reading (non-fiction) is an important part of our personal development. Years of someone’s experience is condensed into a book which can be devoured in days or weeks (or even months in my case).
The problem with reading only is that when you passive engage in books, thanks to Hermann Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve, you naturally forget what you have construed. What may have been life-changing now will be a vague memory years down the track.
Abdaal addresses this as the first of his Harry-Potter-themed-levels. The levels pertain how much reading will benefit you depending on the action you take. The “muggle” level is what we all start at and benefits us the least.
There are six more levels; the benefits increase as we go on.
The next step is to make reading less passive. This involves actively highlighting notes. The Amazon Kindle is good for this since you can highlight important phrases in a book.
Even though you are consolidating the information that the author has written into highlighted snippets. The issue is they end up becoming lost if no reviewed.
Not quite magical, but you’re in that realm.
You’re a wizard, Harry!
The next level involves regular review of your highlights. Readwise is excellent for this, where a random collection of all your Kindle Highlights are emailed to you everyday.
For a book you read last year, a highlight may popup tomorrow, reminding you about the concept in that particular book.
Great in theory but, like Abdaal, I would read the emails routinely. But after a while, I fell off the band wagon.
This leads us into the next stage. We automatically pull our notes together in a centralised database.
This can be done using Notion, which pulls all the quotes from Readwise.
This is still quite passive. And this the highest level that I am on.
This is the fifth level, and Abdaal states that this is the most effective for the use of time. It’s the level that he “regret[s] not doing” And this is the level that we should try to reach.
This method involves using Abdaal’s book notes template.
The template involves:
- Summarising the book in three sentences
- Impression – what you thought about book overall
- Who you think should read it
- How the book changed you as a person
- Your top three quotes in the book
The point of the system is that it does take some time to complete this template, but not too much time.
Picking out what you thought was important about the book and summarising it in your own words is an excellent way to actively engage with the content.
The Order of the Phoenix and Dumbledore
Here we reach the last two levels. This is beyond what I will try and accomplish, but it’s worth mentioning.
The Order of the Phoenix level involves taking literature notes of the book. I did this for Start with WHY and How to Win Friends and Influence People. This actually took a very long time. And I’m not committed to put in that much effort for every book I read.
This could be useful for the books that had a real big impact on me.
Finally, the ultimate level is Dumbledore himself. Abdaal talks about creating “evergreen notes”. This is basically synthesising ideas from different book into a common theme. For example Rich Enough?, The Barefoot Investor, and I Will Teach You to be Rich are all books about personal finance that contain similar ideas about passive investing using index funds.
Reading greatly helps personal development. The important thing is to engage with the content instead of passively taking it in.
If you had to one thing, simply summarise what you have read into three sentences. This forces you to actively think about the content, while being concise.
Thank you for reading. Let me know what you think by commenting below. Please share this with others if you think it will help them.