About 10 years ago I realized that I was reading a lot of greatly informative books but not retaining all that I wanted. In an effort to help retain more and build it as part of my everyday life I decided I needed to develop a system.
Unfortunately all of the systems that were developed assumed you were sitting at a desk taking notes. This was rarely the case. More often than not I was in the gym on the elliptical trainer or lying in bed reading. Taking notes at that time was not practical.
Below is the method that I developed to solve the above challenges. It has made a radical difference in my learning and most importantly the installation of others’ ideas into my life. Surprisingly I have discovered that others have had similar results after I illustrated this technique. It is because of this last fact that I thought I would share it.
Before you begin you are going to need three items; a highlighter, a pack of 3M Post-It Flags and a journal. The first two should be pretty self-explanatory. The journal should be a good quality writing book that you will dedicate to your notes. My journal is a simple leather covered, thread bound book. I like to think what I put in there is important so I want a book that makes me feel that way. Whatever you choose, I highly recommend one with pages that cannot be removed (thread bound).
Flag, Forge, Follow-Up
There are three distinct steps to this method, Flag, Forge and Follow-up. The all occur at separate times, often separated by a month or more.
- Flag – This is what you do while reading your book. For this step you will need to have the Post-It Flags available.
- Forge – This step is performed some time after you have read the entire book. It is where you take your flags and forge them into your notebook as your own ideas. I usually wait at least a month, sometimes as much as 6 months before doing this; more on that later. You will need your journal and a highlighter to complete this stage.
- Follow-up – This final step is what helps cement learned concepts into life-practices. It is also the one you are most likely to ignore. Resist that temptation. This is where lasting change occurs.
This is designed to be the simplest of the stages. Its purpose is to record important ideas that you want to remember. The key here is to keep any interruption to your flow of reading to a minimum. That’s what the purpose of the Post-It flags.
As you are reading and come across an important thought, stick a flag on the page so that it extends beyond the width of the page at the location of the idea. Do that for any idea you find worthwhile. Don’t worry about how many flags you use, over time you will find the right level of detail for you.
After you are done reading you will have a book that has numerous flags sticking out the side of the book. The nice part about this stage is that you can do this almost anywhere you can read.
This is the lengthiest of the stages, but where all of the learning starts to take root. Never start this stage before finishing a book. You have a different perspective after finishing a book than while reading it. This is important to capture.
Grab the flagged book, your journal and a highlighter. Start by labeling the journal page with the name and author of the book as well as today’s date. Now for every flag in the book, make a journal entry. It can be the exact words that were written or it can be your own interpretation. Write the page number for every single entry. I circle them so that they are distinct from the note.
This is designed to be a formative process. The time lag between the Flag and Forge stages allows you to add value to what you’ve read. When you first read the book you probably had some natural first-repsonse type of behavior. After several months of putting some of these ideas to work you now have a different take on some of the ideas; you’ve made them your own. This is what you want to capture in your journal. Also, by going back you can now locate a lot of the smaller ideas that can help hone some of these bigger practices.
As you record each entry, highlight the passage in the book and remove the flag. This combined with the page numbers in the journal make for a quick way to take your ideas back to their original source.
Depending on the book, my journal entries typically contain between 1 and 8 pages. Some of the really good ones have gone to 10-12 pages, but this not common. This makes a great reference book when you need to refresh your memory. It’s a quick read and you will be surprised how much it brings back to life the inspiration you had when you first read the book.
I actually make a point to go back every 6 months and review several journal entries for books that are of interest to me at that time. I was quite surprised how much of a difference it made to cementing ideas.
While it is a very simple system, for someone that reads and is frustrated by how much information is lost over time it can be a very valuable practice. It fits my lifestyle and has been a big part of my practice for the past ten years. I hope that if you have the same struggles that I did that it may be of value to you as well.