How To Read

I read about 50 books a year. Hundreds of magazines. Tens of thousands of emails. And untold numbers of web pages. Over the years, I’ve developed an approach to reading that allows me to work through all of this content quickly and effectively.


Why am I reading?

That is the very first question I force myself to answer. Am I reading for pleasure, for learning or for business? Pleasure reading is simple enough. It is just another form of entertainment with no expectation other than enjoyment. Pleasure reading can be a wonderful way to pass the time. Reading to learn is quite different. Reading to learn assumes an objective. In many ways, reading for business is similar. The next few points highlight how I tackle reading to learn and reading for business.

How much time will I spend?

Reading is an investment of my time. And if a book is not worth the investment of my time, I do not read it. If an email is not worth the investment of my time, I delete it.

Read three times

When I decide to make an investment in reading for learning or for business, I read the material three times. The first time is very quick. I rapidly skim the material to get a sense of its content and structure. If the value proposition from the material is still strong, I will make a second pass for detail and understanding. The third pass is for note-taking.

Mark it up

When I read to learn or read for business, I will mark things up. I will highlight, scribble, and make notes. I have even written up my own reports on material. More and more, I use Evernote to keep track of my reading. If you decide to take a look at Evernote, I highly recommend this guide.

Speed up or slow down

There are many sections of material where I can speed over content. Either because it is familiar ground or because the material is not relevant to the learning objective. When I hit sections that are of particular interest, I will slow down my reading.

Break it up

I rarely consume significant new content in one sitting.


Although most material implies a sequence from beginning to end, I will wander around the content. I will skip sections. I might go to the end and then work backwards. Unlike a novel where reading is for pleasure and a book should unfold one page at a time, other forms of reading require personal judgment.


Probably the best way to learn is to share what you have learned. I find that for myself, talking, visualizing or writing about what I have learned is the single most effective way to remember what I have learned.

2 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    Richard –

    Do you find the medium makes a difference? I have trouble studying from digital versions of technical study materials for example. I find my success rate and retention rate much higher with physical, paper books. I am not sure if it is the tactile experience, the way I have been raised to learn, my penchant for marking up the physical pages, or a technical issue.

    Are you doing most of your reading on a tablet or paper?

    • Richard Cleaver
      Richard Cleaver says:

      Hi John,

      Most of what I read these days is digital. Generally on the tablet but also on the laptop.

      The ability to take excerpts and to make notes is critical for me to learn the material hence the increase in my use of Evernote. Without Evernote, I am not sure how I could approach digital content effectively.


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