I want to teach you a system for rapidly reading business books. It's something that has helped me a lot over the course of my career. I learned the basics from my great mentor and friend, Dr. Tom Hill, and have made my own modifications. By following this system, I am able to read 100 business books per year and keep current on many of the best thinkers' ideas and approaches.
Like most people, time is a constant challenge for me. I have young children, an active social life, and a regular workout schedule, in addition to the time I need to spend on the road building a business that is growing every year. Toss in broader family obligations and a commitment to my church, and it is very difficult for me to find time to read. You probably feel the same way. Here is the key secret: Almost every business book can be read completely--and with strong comprehension--in less than one hour as long as you have a system.
A couple of guidelines:
- Business books are often written in an easy-to-digest format. They have internal outlining, call-out boxes, diagrams, and end-of-chapter summaries to aid readers in consuming the book material quickly. This is a huge help.
- Many business books are broken into thirds. The first third focuses on the context and core ideas, the second third provides an application, and the final third give examples and case studies.
- Your mind will not remember more than 3-5 highly influential ideas from any business book within about a week. Whether you read it slowly, page by page, or quickly using a system, the net result is very similar. Therefore, you can increase your efficiency without a big reduction in value by using a system.
Here's the system:
I use a simple one page sheet for capturing a book's general premise and key points. You can customize it and make it more valuable to you. My book review template can be downloaded here. So, without further delay, here is how you actually read a business book in an hour or less:
1. Read the front and back of the book jacket as well as the introduction.
2. Skip the acknowledgements and foreword.
3. Read the table of contents looking for "hooks" that you want to make certain to catch. These are the key points that build on the ideas that intrigued you when you read the book jacket.
4. Read the first and last paragraphs of every chapter.
5. Skim the chapters for call-out boxes, story/case-study boxes, and diagrams. Read those.
6. Read the sections of the book inside of the chapters whose headers are relevant to the hooks you identified earlier when you were looking at the table of contents.
7. Read the chapter summaries, if there are any.
8. Write your notes as listed on the form.
This is the speed course for getting a business book done in an hour and actually taking something of value away from it. There are some books that I re-read every year. There are many books I put on the shelf, and when I need something from that book, I just pull out the form I filled out and take what I need from it.
As I am starting to read more digital books, I have also started using Evernote for capturing notes which I tag as "Book Reviews."
Periodicals, blogs, white papers, and other formats are great materials for keeping you current on trends and data-points in the market. However, a book provides a deeper dive into an overall set of ideas and their implications. Don't cut out books from your mental diet because they take too long. Instead, get a faster system.