How to read a non-fiction book?

In most of my corporate seminars, I urge participants to come up with a reading plan of their own. Sometimes I even provide a starter reading list like the one that I have provided on Squidoo under the title “Finding Inspiration.”

Of course, as to be expected, only a percentage of people take this advice and start on a fascinating journey. Of the ones

that start, many give up citing one or more of the following reasons:

(a) they don’t see any immediate returns. They are the same as before – no change 🙁

(b) they are “really busy” and they will get back once they finish attending to something very important that they are working now.

(c) they have no more motivation to continue

(d) they don’t have a particular reason

and so on.

Unfortunately, even amongst the people that continue to read, many complain that they are not getting the kind of results that they expected to get out of this exercise.

I can’t get to terms with the above as my personal experience is something different. I have got a lot out of books and I have seen people up close getting a lot out of books. So, rather than arguing, I am providing a set of thoughts and an approach for reading non-fiction.

First, some thoughts:

1. Choose the books wisely:

When you are starting on this journey, it is important to pick the right books first. Don’t pick something just because it is a bestseller and everyone in the town is reading it. The keyword here is “relevance.” The book has to be meaningful for what you are currently doing or where you are headed in the short-term. We need some quick wins and this will help.

2. Know the difference:

Reading non-fiction is very different from reading fiction. If you are reading a lot of fiction, tendency would be to approach a non-fiction work as a work of fiction. Please don’t.

3. Understand that “volume” is not the answer:

If you read only one good book in a year but take full advantage of what’s written there, you are better off than many who may read one book a month and not use anything that they read. It is not the volumes that really matter but how much of what you read that you put to use.

4. Check your attitude:

Sometimes you may get the feeling that whatever the author has written was
(a) very obvious or
(b) less than what you already knew

There may a tendency to try and disprove what the author has written. My point is simple – please stop playing that game. Even if you do win that game and prove that someone was wrong, you won’t achieve much. It’s a total waste of time.

5. Have the right expectations:

While there is a slight chance that when you read a book, you will be transformed, it is unreasonable to expect to be transformed instantly upon reading a book.

Now, here is ONE approach to reading a non-fiction book:

1. Use the book while you read it:

I learnt this technique from my friend and mentor Tim Sanders. When you read the book, highlight important points, make your own notes and cross-reference other ideas related to the topic you are reading and so on.Of course, you can do this only when you own the book. This will help a ton when you want to re-visit the

2. Read the book to teach:

Rather than reading the book to do a critic or just to learn something, read it as if you are supposed to go and teach someone on the same topic in the next one or two weeks. The moment, you need to teach, the way you absorb information will drastically change.

3. Use something from the book immediately:

Just like you can’t become an expert from reading a great book on swimming, you can’t become an expert on any topic you are reading until you start practicing it. Knowing is only part of the deal, doing is what really matters. If someone else that you know has read the book, ask them how have they used the information in their own life? Read reviews and opinions from other folks that might provide more information about how someone would have used this information.

4. Make notes:

One simple way to make a one page note is to create a mindmap out of the key aspects of the book. It is easier to carry a single page of ideas based on the book than the whole book.

5. Share what you read:

Earlier, I said that you need to read the book with a mindset to teach. Now, I say that you need to really “teach” someone the insights of the book. Teaching will totally ground what you read. The audience will benefit from your sharing but the biggest benefit in this exercise is definitely for YOU.

6. Re-visit every now and then:

Very rarely can you digest a good non-fiction book in one-sitting. I have a set of books on my desk that I love to refer back every now and then. Some books are so much fun – as everytime I re-visit them, they provide a whole new perspective.

The above approach as I mentioned earlier is ONE approach and I urge you to personalize or completely design a new approach that works!!

Good luck and have a great week ahead!