We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.Aristotle
It's a typical situation which every person knows: You look on your workspace and have a bunch of new books there. You ordered them because some great guys lay their hands in the fire that you need this wisdom. You have to do a stressful job and don't have time to read all the things but you still must learn new things in order to develop new skills. What should you do? The simple answer is start reading!
What you should do during the process of reading
Don't read books and put it away, read trough the table of contents, mark the parts which are interesting for you and draw a mind map. If you have questions which should be answered by the book, it's good because then you will read the book with much more focus on them.
Don't think of reading the book like in school: Cram for a test about it, get a good grade and then forget everything. This isn't good and a waste of time. Don't say you don't have time, think of allocating your time effective. For me it's the best, to use the new knowledge out of the book. This is the best way to get the most out of it. What you're right using is just as good as cooking a new meal right after reading the recipe of it. You inherit the procedure you recently learned with your own mind, own feelings, own observations and add your own style (think of your own ingredients in your favorite meal).
Benefits of note taking
Years after reading the book you will maybe come in the situation where you need some of the knowledge you have read of this certain book you read it a lot of years ago. You know the title of the book but can't remember anything. Before I explain the advantage of taking notes during reading a book, I suggest you my different methods for taking notes:
- a pencil and a sheet of paper (which I personal prefer)
- Netbook/iPad/cellphone (there you can directly take your notes)
- you can use post-it or stick it to mark important passages
- speaking notes of certain passages which you find very interesting
- read an eBook with your kindle, iPhone or some other devices in which you can take custom-notes about something
The disadvantages of 1, 2 and 3 are carry the notes respectively the book with you (think you are on your trip to America and don't want to fill your hole luggage with tons of books or do you want to travel without your favorite Simpsons trousers).
Method 4 is a reminder of important passages. If such a file is very long you have problems in searching the needed sections - you have to play forward and back and this is boring. Don't forget the amount of space which you need to store it. The advantage is, that you can easily take notes and train your language when your tongue is on air.
The usage of a specialized device for eBook-reading is a great opportunity. You can have many books on on your device, set bookmarks and can take notes. I think writing notes without a keyboard may have a worse usability - maybe with the iPad 2 its more easier. If you are used to this technology and you are are good then use it. You can make it public or lock it with a certain password. But why hidden your knowledge so that no other one can see it? Let other benefit by your conclusions and wisdom.
Personally for me the best method is to write my impressions of a read book on a sheet of paper and transform with my PC later. A further step may be publishing your notes to your website - you have the possibility to access your thoughts via an Internet connection. I'm using a desktop-wiki zim and wrote a bunch of handy scripts, which transform the text directly in format of my web page.
If I had known early I would have started with this methods during my education at school. But better later then never. If I travel for a longer period and have a book with me, it has still some sheets of papers in it, that I have space to take notes. A pencil is for me standard equipment. I can put every place where I read a book my thought about it on paper. If the book is finished and I have a little bit time left, I will transform it into my Netbook and then have my thoughts with me.
Remember: In the beginning it's unusual to make several breaks during reading a book, which breaks your normal flow of reading. But during these breaks you can reorder your thoughts about certain things and get new insights. I suggest to publish it online and then see what will happen with it.
Thanks to Hanna Schütt and Sebastian Gerth for reading an earlier draft of this post.