Lately I have been asking clients and colleagues to do something very simple, and at the same time very enriching: read books. Not just any books, but those great business writings, and motivational pieces by successful entrepreneurs that we can all learn from. My reason for insisting on the importance of such works is that it has come to my attention that many of my clients are – at best – only vaguely familiar with books that have been fundamental steps in my own business life. My job is to coach and help startups and new businesses reach their potential. It is therefore my duty to continue with the process of trying to convince you to read!
Many people understand that reading can be a useful, but then they ask me, ‘So how do I do it?’ That’s a simple question, but a good one. If you simply ‘dip in’ to books as a form of entertainment, or to ‘kill time’, then you’ll only get a fraction out of them that you could. Reading-for-success requires commitment, and a schedule. My intention is to always squeeze as much as possible out of a book! If you have fresh orange juice for breakfast, you’ll know that you get a lot more out of the fruit if you use a proper juicer, rather than hand-squeezing it. Well, it’s kinda like that with books – we want to maximize what we can get from them.
So I have a program of reading, where up to six months in advance I choose which books will form the spine of my self-education. Every book gets several read throughs – on average about two and a half times. The ‘half’ is because my notation system means that after the first read I have identified the sections which are most resonant for me. So on subsequent reads, I can probably skip parts which don’t apply exactly to my situation. For example, I’m a big fan of the Chrysler executive, Lee Iacocca, but I don’t need to read the exact detail about car manufacturing in the 1980s every time I go through his book.
My method of annotating the books I read is simple, but very methodical, and it pays off. Let me describe it to you. I like Post-It notes. They’re handy, and they come in a variety of colors. I use four colors, which signify different points of interest in a book. It’s a system which is always the same:
Red is for Key point, meaning something which is absolutely essential to understand and incorporate into my business life.
Yellow is for Work on it. These are the tasks which I must achieve, based on the learning I gain from the book. I usually segment these tasks into different priorities.
Green is for Example. This indicates that there is a good story here which I can learn from, and relay to my clients, for them to learn from too. For example, I’ve been spreading the word lately in my Crisis Webinar about how Lee Iacocca negotiated with the auto unions in Detroit. It’s a great story, and worth repeating.
Blue is for Question. Here I’m asking myself how I would deal with a similar situation. I’m also marking useful questions to put to my own clients in future. There’s always a lot to learn!
In addition I underline key phrases, and make additional notes to help me absorb and remember messages. At the same time, I’ll also be listening to the Audible version of the book, available from Amazon. So my approach is multi-sensory, including of course the feel of the book, and even its smell! Every factor helps me to absorb and learn. And all the time the reading process has a clear purpose: to make me more effective in my own business, and to pass on my learning to clients. Those of them that adopt serious reading habits also report how stimulating it is.
When I review a book (on my second-and-a-half read), that’s the time I collate my observations into what I call my ‘Goldmine’. This is a file of the best-of-the-best quotes, stories, and ideas, as captured in those red, yellow, green and blue Post-It notes. Anything can go into the goldmine, but it’s certainly not ‘file and forget’. I regularly enter the goldmine to see what nuggets I can find. In two decades of reading, and annotating, I have amassed a huge wealth of brilliant, useful pieces, and they are all easily accessible. I don’t have to spend ages saying, “Now where did I see that quote?” - and searching through my library shelves, because it will be already pre-selected in the goldmine.
The system I propose to you is of targeted, focused reading, designed to achieve real results. There’s just one warning I have to issue: If, like me, you have young children, those colored Post-It notes are very attractive to them too! My daughter made a beautiful rainbow on the window of my office the other day, with the result that for a little while I was completely unable to mark Blue for Questions in the book I am currently working through!
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