The Reading Workflow That Helps Me Turn Information Into Knowledge

Ev Chapman
December 18, 2023

For a long time I read a lot of books and never actually did anything useful with the notes I took.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried a lot of note-taking methods. Highlighting, writing in margins, collecting quotes, filing it away in digital filing systems.

And while I accumulated a lot of information. None of it actually stuck with me. Maybe the odd idea here and there. But nothing compared to the amount of time I spent reading.

But three years ago I started doing something different after reading the book How To Take Smart Notes and it’s revolutionised my reading/note-taking workflow.

Here is the system I use to build real knowledge from what I read:

Read → Highlight → Leave Breadcrumbs

I exclusively read books on my Kindle. I love the in built highlighting & note-taking features which make it easy to get my notes into my note-taking system.

Plus I can take a library of books anywhere I go on my phone. So instead of opening my phone to scroll social media, I open it to read.

As I read I look out for ‘sparks.’ You know those moments that an idea stands out to you on a page — that’s a spark.

Once I find a spark I highlight it & then leave myself a quick breadcrumb note.

The breadcrumb note is my insurance that my future self will know why that particular idea sparked me. It takes less than a minute and saves a world of pain later.

This doesn’t have to be complicated. I simply ask myself Why Did This Spark? What’s Interesting? What do I want to do with this?

Anything to give your future self a signpost as to what you were thinking at the time.

Use Readwise As A Conduit

One of the reasons I choose to read exclusively on Kindle is because I can get my notes & highlights effortlessly into my note-taking system using Readwise.

All of the hard work happens in the background without me having to do anything. So I can just focus on being fully immersed in the process of reading knowing my notes will show up later in Tana when I need them.

It’s the perfect conduit to get your digital notes into your note-taking system.

Spark Journal Writing

For years all I did was file these highlights away into categories and topics in a big Notion database. I thought that was building knowledge.

The problem was I never looked at those notes again. They didn’t make one different to my life. They weren’t integrated into my knowledge. It’s like I had never ever read the book.

The problem was I had mistaken information for knowledge.

So I started collecting all these highlights & notes into what I know call my Spark Journal. And each morning I sit down for 30 minutes to an hour and choose one or a few ideas to think & write about.

A typical morning in my Spark Journal.

I take each note and start to think about it further. I start with a few questions and then let my curiosity guide me:

  • Why did this spark me
  • Why is this interesting to me?
  • What do I agree with?
  • What do I disagree with?
  • How does this fit in with knowledge I already have?

If you struggle to turn highlights into your own personal insights then you might want to check out my Atomic Ideas Masterclass so you can finally start building a library of knowledge from everything you save.

All of this thinking and writing eventually becomes an atomic note — a packet of my knowledge on the topic. And that is when I find an appropriate place for it to live in my knowledge library. Usually connected to a bigger idea or topic. Read more about how I organise my notes here.

Some of these atomic notes end up being things I write about. Others I’ll take action on in personal growth, work & life experiments. And others just remain a part of my knowledge library.

The most important thing is I’ve been able to bridge the grab between collecting information and building knowledge. And that has changed everything for me.

If you liked this post here’s three things you can do to go further:

  1. Each week I write a weekly newsletter to help you build your own knowledge system. It’s called the Spark Newsletter and you can subscribe here.
  2. Want to start writing your own Atomic Ideas? I recorded a one hour masterclass on how you can build a library of your own unique networked ideas. Watch It Here.
  3. Interested in building a full creator operator system that doesn’t require grinding it out on the content treadmill day after day? Sign up for the waitlist of my Spark Creator Course.

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