Sam Radford

April 6, 2021

How I stopped forgetting what I read

I tend to read two types of books. Either it’s a novel, or it’s a book on a subject I want to learn more about.

It’s fair to say, I read a lot of both types. Typically around forty, evenly split, on any given year.

But when it comes to the books I’m learning from, I’ve always had a problem: I don’t retain as much as I’d like to. I finish one book, move straight to the next, and all I learnt gets left behind.

I’m sure the reality is not quite that stark. Subconsciously I know what I’m reading is affecting me. But I’ve felt for a while that I want the impact of what I read to be greater. Longer lasting.

So I’ve changed how I read this last year. It involves four stages.

The first is that I now always read with a pencil in my hand. I underline key sentences, draw attention to paragraphs that strike me. Star points that are critical.

Radial, I know. I’m sure no one else has ever done this. 😉

The second stage is the addition that’s made a difference though.

The day after I’ve read a chapter or section of the book, I write down a few notes – and maybe a couple of key quotes – in my journal. We’re talking half a page to a page of an A5 notebook. Not loads. But, enough.

Doing it a day later rather than immediately means I’m already in a mode of reminding myself of what I read. Helping it go into my longer-term memory.

The third stage is after I’ve finished a book. At this point I re-read all the notes I’ve taken to help me as I write my ‘Book Notes’ summary that I share via this blog. Going back through the whole book via my notes, and then writing about them, helps further embed what I’ve been learning.

Fourthly, at the start of each new month, I read through everything I’ve written in my journal the previous month. It’s a great way to sure up memories, especially from the books I’ve been reading.

I’m not yet at the point where I can say this has been life-changing. But I do feel this helping me secure what I’m learning far better than I used to.

Also, because I use the bullet journal method with my journal, everything gets indexed. And so it’s easy to go back to my notes at any time and give myself a refresher on any book I’ve read.

All told, this has felt like a significant change.

Do you have any tips for securing what you learn from the books you read? I'd love to hear from you – just hit reply or drop me a note.

–Sam