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How to Read More Efficiently & Effectively in 8 Simple Steps

Reading time: 4 min.

For every one book you choose to read, you pretty much ignore ten thousand other books. Let’s make that decision worthwhile—I’m always looking for ways to read books more efficiently and get my time investment back on the returned value. (Now how’s that for nerdy?!) Today I am talking about how to read more efficiently and effectively in 5 simple steps.

How to Read for Efficiently and Effectively_AshlynWrites


The first time the PR agency I worked at took on a firm-wide book to read and I curled up with my first business book, I was NOT feeling it. It felt like a great way to get myself to fall asleep at night, but not much more. 

Now? I read at least one business book a month—and 3 other books for fun. I know, I know—sounds like a lot, right? But I’m going to share with you the 4 factors that help me read more effectively and efficiently—even if you’re not a speed reader—and my book notes strategy (because I’m all about that ROI, right?).

I love what John Piper said “It is sentences that change my life, not books.” Amen. 


John Piper Quote about books_AshlynWrites


I feel like there will be ONE big learning from every book I read, and if that’s the thing that can change my life even just a little bit, then reading the book was worth it. Now like I said, unlike burying my nose in a storybook, Belle-style, reading business books didn’t come naturally to me.

I’ve always loved reading, but it’s always been fiction that I can really tear through. I also cannot figure out speed reading. I’ve tried the tricks, I watched the tutorials, I can’t figure it out. What’s helped me read more are the basic tips you hear, like turning off the TV, trying to read 30 minutes a day, or putting a book in my bag for the doctor’s office waiting room.

But, over the years I’ve embraced some practices that have really helped me read nonfiction well.

First things first, before you even start reading the first page of the book, jot down 5 to 10 specific questions you have about the topic. 

Now before you whip out a notebook and get all fancy, let me go ahead say that is NOT what I’m talking about. I love school supplies, but I want you to get messy and rough up your book a bit. Most of these tips are going to talk about writing in a book, so ummm, sorry, library books! … and writing in the book is a great way to record your thoughts as you go, and start to build a library of your education and see what stuck with you from read to read. I like to flip open to one of the blank pages at the beginning and jot those down.

Related: How to Be a Better Reader

Next tip: “X-ray” the book before you start. 

I’ve found it actually gets me excited about a book if I check out the table of contents, section headings, and scan the pages before I really dig in. One writer and avid reader I love says the first thing he does is read the last page. (Shrug.) I’m not sure I’d do this but his argument is that the last page always finalizes the book’s main thought, and can guide your reading sort of like a thesis statement in a research paper. 

Tip 3: Always read with a pen in hand and write in the book as you go. 

Document your emotional responses. What I’ve learned to do is to think and write as if I am having a conversation with the author.  I try to find the holes, what was left unsaid, and what was missing. I try to bridge the gaps for myself or make note of where I need to dig in a bit deeper and do some research.

I have a little system I use: 

  • I underline things that hit home
  • I put a “Q” beside it if I want to remember to write down that quote later
  • I put a checkbox in the margin if there’s a to-do I want to remember
  • I put a box around the chapter thesis.

I also try to summarize as I go at the beginning of the chapter, so I’m giving myself a little mini-outline. Sometimes at the end of the chapter, I make myself say what that chapter was about. 

It’s these practices that have really helped me implement what a book teaches me instead of just inhaling it.

Tip 4: Make a mini concordance with topical references. 

Especially if you’re a writer or if you use books for your craft, these can be really helpful—especially if you have a specific service or product you want to keep in mind as you read.

The final thing I’ve seen big results from is housing my reading notes somewhere and intentionally writing down what I’ve learned. For this, I use Evernote, and I go back through and type in all my margin notes, any quotes I wanted to save for later, and I summarize (and rate!) the book so that I can reference it later if I think it would be the right book for a friend or business bud to read. 

Now, I definitely don’t do this for every book. And, I don’t really do any of these things when I read fiction, but they’ve helped SO much when it comes to being a more efficient reader. 

Okay, so I told you exactly how I’ve learned to read better, but what about finding time to actually read? Doors are open to my signature course, The Art of Efficiency™, RIGHT NOW, but they’re slamming shut on August 7th at 11:59pmEST. Learn more about how to manage yourself so you can use your time more efficiently, here. (Because, ahem, time management? So not a thing.)

The Art of Efficiency_AshlynWrites

Reading Time: 4 Minutes Reading time: 4 min. For every one book you choose to read, you pretty much ignore ten thousand other books. Let’s make that decision worthwhile—I’m always looking for ways to read books more efficiently and get my time investment back on the returned value. (Now how’s that for nerdy?!) Today I am talking about how […]


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