An avid learn-it-all, Bill Gates is well known for his voracious reading. That thirst for learning is part of what drove him to build one of the most influential companies on the planet, and it continues to inspire his humanitarian work today.

Gates says he reads about 50 books a year, which translates to about one per week. But how does he make sure he's getting value from all that reading?

Here's a sum-up of Bill Gates's four "reading rules":

1. Make notes in the margins.

"You know, when you're reading, you have to be careful that you really are concentrating," says Gates.

"Particularly if it's a nonfiction book, are you taking in new knowledge and sort of attaching [it] to knowledge you have? For me, taking notes helps make sure that I'm really thinking hard about what's in there."

Of course, you may not always agree with what you're reading--and neither does Gates. In these cases, taking notes becomes even more important, as doing so can help you develop empathy, understand varying perspectives, and think critically.

2. Finish what you start.

Gates explains that he avoids starting any book that he can't see through to the end.

This rule may be difficult for some to follow, but there's value in it. If you don't complete a book, you run the risk of missing key points or leaving gaps in your understanding. Further, while you'll gain knowledge by reading a book in part, doing so doesn't allow you to take in the full vision of the author.

3. Print or digital? Read what makes you comfortable.

"Over time, I will make the switch [from print to digital]," says Gates. "But when I'm just sitting there at night reading, often the paper magazine or the book, I'm used to that," he adds with a shrug.

The point here isn't to read your books in print because "that's what Bill Gates does."

Rather, find what works for you. Because if you find a style of reading that you enjoy and that's comfortable, you're likely to do more of it.

4. Block out an hour. At least.

Gates suggests setting aside at least an hour at a time for serious reading.

"This is not the kind of thing you can do five minutes here, 10 minutes there. Magazine articles or short YouTube videos fit into those little slots."

The reason? Gates again draws attention to the need to think when reading, as opposed to simply absorbing the words.

When you take the time to ponder what you're reading, to see if and how it truly applies to your life (or the lives of others), the value of that material increases significantly.

Reading can be an enjoyable pastime, a way to settle down and relax. But it can also be so much more.

Follow these tips, and you'll transform your reading from passive to active. Then, your reading will become an intellectual exercise, one that strengthens your mental muscles and further develops your ability to learn--and think.

Published on: Nov 21, 2017
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