How to Derive the Most Value From the Books You Read

If you’ve been following my series on becoming a better reader, by now you have probably started to get a list together of books you want to read and have started to carve out the time to make it happen.

But the missing link is how to read books. How to take the words from the page and turn them into tangible action items. If you read a book but don’t digest it, then nothing changes. So for me the idea is, if I’m going to spend valuable time reading a book, I better get something out of it.

It’s kind of like reading a book about a great workout plan, but then never actually doing the workout. I try to read a book and then exercise what I’ve learned. And that’s where my highlighter comes into play. 

How I Read Books 

The highlighter is my go-to tool for reading. I believe in focusing on key points that are valuable to me and what I’m trying to accomplish. So, I always have a highlighter (I live and die by the Sharpie highlighter that clicks to open and has a chisel tip for easy accessibility) in hand so I can highlight small rows of information at a time.

If you’re reading a book that is particularly applicable to you, that’s awesome! In that case, you might want to use brackets to highlight sections of a page. Otherwise, you could end up wasting time highlighting row by row for a full page.

For me, the goal is to pare down a book to the 15 or 20% that matters most. Not 100% of any book is going to apply to you directly, only maybe 15% will uniquely speak to you as a reader. And by highlighting that information, you can easily access it if you read it a second time. I love reading books more than once and the second time I can fly through thanks to the thoughtful highlighting I did the first time around.

My next tip for getting more from the books you read is dog-earring. Some people are against folding pages, but if you read my blog on choosing books to read, you know I don’t get rid of books after I read them. They are mine forever, so highlighting and dog-earring only enhances the process for me.

Dog ears at the bottom of the book are things I want to implement now. In the book The 5 Love Languages, I dog-eared the section on Acts of Service. My wife is huge on acts of service, so I know if I take away anything from reading that book, it better be this section.

So, when I pick that book back up and think, what was this book all about? I have that dog-ear as an easy reminder that there are one, two, or maybe three chunks that I know I need to adopt into my toolset or integrate into my regimen.

Up top on my books, you’ll find even more dog-ears. These are things and topics I know I need to revisit. I know they either are or are going to be, very important to me. So, this is maybe the top 5% of the 15-20% of the book that is relevant to me. Think of this as your bullet points of takeaways from the book.

If I reopen any book I’ve read to those dog-ears, I know I’m going to get some value. Then, I fold it up and go on to the next one. Again, going back to The 5 Love Languages, if there was an exercise I dog-eared, and my wife and I try it, then I can undo the dog ear and move onto the next one. This is the way I whole-heartedly put into practice what I read. No excuses.

I can revisit a book year after year, and if there are still dog-ears at the top, I know I still have a lot of work to do. And I find that humbling.

Once all the dog-ears are gone and I’ve mastered the book I can feel confident it’s become part of my DNA. All the creased pages and highlights are visual indications that I crushed that book and have made it part of my daily regimen. 

Making Your Books Grow Along With You

One of the best parts of all of this is that you will continue to change and grow. A book that you may have read through once or twice and pulled value from might deserve a fresh look later on.

If I read a book in 2019 and highlighted lines and sections in purple, if I reread it in 2021 hoping to gain new insights, I will switch to orange. It’s always interesting for me to see which things overlap, which things aren’t applicable anymore, and which new things strike my attention.

It’s a really cool and humbling exercise to have a book grow with you through your professional or personal journey. It’s easy to read a book cover to cover, but it’s not easy to take that book and make it a part of your life. Turn the concepts into tangible takeaways, methodologies, and exercises. 

Just from the top 15% of the books I read, I’ve gotten an awareness, an understanding, and a value from it. I’ve gotten some tactical takeaways that I incorporate into my day-to-day and I’m proud of that. And I challenge you to do the same.  

About A.C. Evans:
AC Evans is the CEO and Co-Founder of Drips. Since the early age of 16, A.C. has been an entrepreneur. His passion for ‘scaling the unscalable’ has led him to be a driving force of innovation and he was recently named as one of the top 40 marketers under the age of 40 for 2019. He is a thought leader in the conversational marketing® space and continues to share his journey as CEO of a growing start-up.