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December 23, 2019

Top Three Takeaways: Lessons From Reading

Reading is a very active process for me - it’s not just taking the words on the page and passing them through to my brain. I take notes, lots of notes. What happens to those notes when I’m done reading, however, has been a source of constant experimentation and more than a little stress.

I’ve tried Maria Popova’s Index Method. I’ve tried Ryan Holiday’s Notecard System. I also gave Jeremy Duval’s note taking system a go. More recently a friend recommended Farnam Street’s How To Read A Book: The Ultimate Guide by Mortimer Adler.

I like all of the guides and would recommend them, however, I seem to get tripped up at the last step. Specifically, when I’m done reading a book, the process of copying down notes as Ryan and Jeremy recommend takes me hours. Adler’s Analytical Reading seems to fit better with how I read and my goals for reading (i.e., to learn).

The biggest difference for me from Adler’s approach is that I’m less interested in summarizing the point of the book or remembering what the author wanted to communicate. Instead, I want to remember the parts that taught me something or made me look at the world in a different way.

This is where the three takeaways fits in.

My friend, Stephen Zerfas, recently introduced me to the idea when he provided his top three takeaways from a book he’d read. Immediately I got a sense of the book and what it promised to teach me if I read it. That night, I sat down and wrote the top three takeaways for books I’d recently finished.

While the work that goes into determining three takeaways is not negligible, it’s also not nearly as time consuming as copying my notes. This is because the lessons don’t need to be grounded in quotes or page citations. Instead, they’re the themes, motifs, and concepts that tie the book together.

Three takeaways may not be the answer, but for now they’re a good one. They give me an opportunity to distill what I learned from reading in a way that’s not too labor intensive while providing a resource that I can revisit later.


Stephen Weiss

Thanks for reading! My name's Stephen Weiss. I live in Chicago with my wife, Kate, and dog, Finn.
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