Forget Book Summaries: This Note-Taking Method Will Change How You Read Books

Ev Chapman
May 12, 2024

Unpopular Opinion: You don't need to create a book summary from your notes to make them useful.

This isn't Miss Johnson's fifth grade class 🤓

Book summaries might (and I stress might) have been a good way to summarise and get the most out of books when we were young & needed an A in English.

But as an adult a book summary is rarely useful (in my humble opinion)

Now I don't doubt there is absolutely benefit from being able to put something into your own words. But reading books as an adult often goes beyond just tyring to understand concepts.

We want to take action from the things we read.

And unfortunately a book or chapter summary isn't going to do that.

I gave up trying to summarise books a long time ago and instead use my Spark Method to take notes and turn them into action.

Here is how it works:

Step 1: Look Out For & Capture Golden Nuggets

As you read capture golden nuggets.

I call these 'sparks' because it's like they jump off the page and hit you like a bolt of lightning ⚡️

These are the things you want to pay attention to.

Rather than try and capture EVERYTHING from what you read, just pay attention to the things that spark you.

And ignore the rest (yes, ignore it 🤪)

This will be tough at first. Because we were taught to read books in their entirety & sum them up neatly in book summaries.

So it takes a mindset shift to start thinking in sparks & golden nuggets.

But in the end your notes will be 100% more interesting to you and you'll actually WANT to go back and review them.

Want a template to help you collect, review & connect all your new golden nuggets? You might want to consider my Notes OS Template for Notion or Tana. It'll take care of the system side of this whole process.

Step 2: Review Your Golden Nuggets

OK. So now you should have a bunch of notes (golden nuggets) from the book that you actually want to look at again.

Depending on how many notes you have it may still feel really overwhelming to to go through and review each one.

I remember getting to the end of a book & having hundreds of notes to 'review & process.'

So I apply the same principle as when I read the book. I look for the ones that spark me.

Again this isn't fifth grade. Nothing says you have to review every single golden nugget that you capture.

Instead, each morning during my Spark Practice (when I review & write about all these kind of notes) I choose just three to focus on.

I pick the top 3 that I find most interesting in one of these three categories:

➤ One note that I can take action on. This might be something that I learned that I want to put into action. Just one thing.

I put it on my task list and schedule it to do.

➤ One Thing To Think About. Writing is thinking. So if I want to understand a concept or an idea from the book I just spend time writing & exploring. I personally find I remember far more from books when I do this more explorative writing than just trying to summarise things.

➤ One Thing To Connect. Our brain remembers things through connections. So I take one note and try and connect it into something that I already know. Because I've been doing this for a while I have a bunch of notes on all sorts of topics.

So I just go to my notes & see if I can find a connection.

And each day I get up and choose another 3x notes to review either until I've finished the book or I don't find anything else interesting to explore.

I didn't think it was possible to love reading any more than I did. But now I have a method to actually put my notes to use I really do love reading.

I hope you try this simple system and find joy in not having to hand your book report in at the end of the week 😉

Whenever you're ready to turn your unique personal knowledge into powerful ideas - here are three ways I can help:

  1. Want to get Sparked like this each week? Sign up to my weekly newsletter - The Spark Newsletter where I deliver one actionable tip every Sunday to help you bring your ideas to life & share them with the world.
  2. Create a system for collecting, reviewing & connecting your notes together - then take a look at my ​Notes OS Template​ for Notion or Tana.
  3. If you're coming up blank when it comes to exploring ideas you might want to grab my ​Spark Toolbox​. It's filled with over 130+ prompts & frameworks that are guaranteed to get you sparked!

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