Sunday, October 16, 2011

How to Remember Everything You Read

There's no greater waste of time than to read something... and then forget all about it.

What good are the ideas you get from books and articles if you can't remember them long enough to put them to use?

The techniques I'll share in this post have dramatically increased my ability to recall the concepts, ideas, facts and details of what I read. I hope you find them useful as well.

1) Keep a reading notebook to record each book you read.
Write down the title, author, a few key salient details about the book, and one or two sentences of what you liked or didn't like about it.

I keep a simple, inexpensive composition notebook in which I've recorded every one of the books I've read over the past fifteen years. Whenever I go back and look over the brief comments I've made on any book, all of the memories of the material come flooding back. Just a few minutes' effort of jotting down some key details of a book can practically guarantee you'll never forget it.

2) Review your reading notebook 3-4 times a year.
The simple act of writing down a few details about a book is valuable enough on its own, but it is the periodic review of these details that permanently engraves that book into your mind. I flip through my reading notebook about every three months, spending a few minutes reviewing my past few years' worth of reading. This minor exercise, which takes perhaps ten to fifteen minutes in total, literally burns your reading memories into your brain. Even after years have passed, you'll still be able to recall detailed information from the books you've read.

More importantly, this review process gives you a periodic opportunity to think about dozens of books across dozens of disciplines--and that means cross-fertilization opportunities. This will be the source of some of your best and most original ideas.

3) Start a reading blog.
Why not keep your reading notebook in virtual form by hosting it on a blog or on your website? Blogging can put in you in contact with other readers who can provide their own reactions to the books you've read, or provide you with ideas for further reading. These conversations will further nail down into your brain the memories of what you've read.

4) Take notes while you read newspapers and magazines.
Did you read the news this morning? Quick: tell me the key details of five articles.

The fact that this is a difficult task (and it's a difficult task for almost everyone) should be enormously disturbing to you. What greater waste of time is there to read something seemingly important--and then not have any idea what you read just hours later? How can that information ever be valuable to you?

No more wasting your time every morning. Instead, take notes when you read all newspapers and magazine. Yep, as silly as this sounds, take notes. You will increase your recall and your comprehension dramatically, and it will cost you a bare one or two minutes per article of extra time.

Which is more useful: spending 30 minutes reading the paper and vaguely remembering one or two articles two days later, or spending 40 minutes reading the paper and taking notes--and remembering almost everything?

5) Take notes while you're surfing the internet.
If you think your recall of information from newspapers and magazines is poor, you ain't seen nothing yet. Our recall of material on the internet is considerably worse. Perhaps it's the amuse-bouche nature of information on the internet, or the fact that our attention and mental focus are simply lower when staring at a computer screen, but we remember only a tiny fraction of the material we read on the internet. The rest? Gone and forgotten.

Here's another example where you can use a simple notebook to help you increase your recall by several orders of magnitude. Just jot down the author, title and one or two salient details. Note that this minor activity will provide a secondary benefit of showing you exactly how much non-directed websurfing you do.

One final note. If for whatever reason you're too sheepish or embarrassed to take notes while reading or surfing the web, please get over yourself. Your mind and memory are far more important than your ego.