How To Get The Most Out Of The Books You Read

When I was in school I hated reading. I loved stories but whenever I read a book, I found myself starting a new page while struggling to remember the previous one. Maybe you can relate.

When I started to read books on business, success, and marketing, I was determined to get the most out of them. The value of a book doesn’t come from reading it. It comes from acting on what you’ve read.

Fast forward to today and I read 2 books per week on average. My office is full of hundreds if not thousands of books that I’ve learned something from. (I don’t keep the ones that I don’t like or didn’t learn anything from)

Reading is a big factor in determining your success. The types of books you read matters. But how do you get the most out of one when you read it?

Here are a few tips:

– Read the book as if the author is speaking to you and you alone. This is easy to do with many books because some authors write in such a way that you feel they wrote the book just for you. (My personal opinion is that Napoleon Hill was the best at this. Today, Chris Brogan excels at this more than anyone.) If the writing style doesn’t allow that to come naturally, then use your imagination. The more you feel a book is for you, the more you will take from it.

– Read with a goal in mind. Don’t read a book just because it’s new and your friends are blogging about it. Read it because it contains a piece of information that you need to move closer to one of your goals. Decide on what you’re looking for before you open the book. This one distinction will transform the way you read and ultimately the results you get on a daily basis.

– Take Notes as you read. Write notes to yourself in the margins, at the beginning and end of chapters, and any other blank page in the book. (I once wrote 52 email subject lines to test in the back cover of a book I was reading while flying to Chicago) If you read digital books then keep a small notepad handy to capture your thoughts and ideas.

– Use the back pages of the book to list your action steps. As you’re reading you’ll come across many things you need to do. (assuming the book is any good). Make a check list in the back of the book as you go so that when you’ve finished reading it you’re ready to rock.

– Transfer your notes to a notepad. Whether it’s Evernote or a traditional notepad, don’t let your ah-ha moments be left in the book to die. You’ll refresh your memory by transferring them to another place and you’ll have a library full of quality information and resources in no time.

I will often read a book once to get a general idea of the content and concepts within it. Then I will read it again looking for specific details. And in many cases, I will read the book again at a later date to keep my memory fresh.

The best books I re-read regularly. Some once a year, and others once a quarter.

Abraham Lincoln was an avid reader but he also devoted time for reflection to process what he learned. You’d be wise to develop this habit yourself. Try it for the next 2 books you read and notice the difference it makes.

Remember that the value from a book comes from what you take and implement into your life and business.

  • John Nemo

    John great post! I’m a rabid reader (grew up as the son of two English teachers, in a home where the basement walls were literally lined floor to ceiling with books!) and have learned a ton from reading great business books and then applying what I’ve learned.

    I read everything on my iPad using Apple’s iBooks, and they’ve made the App a TON better so now you can literally cut and paste text from sections of the book directly into a notepad or an email or even post via Twitter. That way I can take and compile highlights as I read instead of highlighting everything, then having to go back and hand-type my notes up.

    For Brand Against the Machine I had to do it this way, and I literally ended up trying like 5,000 words because I had so many sections I wanted to highlight and remember.

    I also think it’s critical to apply what you learn to YOUR specific business model/company, and then the biggest part is to actually DO it!

    Finally I like what I learned from Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends – you should review your favorite books at least 1x every 30 days, so the concepts really sink in. At the very least go through your notes from those books. I find when I do that, I do a much better job executing as a result.

  • John Morgan

    Nemo!!! Great thoughts you’ve shared. I love Dale Carnegie. 

    Also, that’s good to know about the iBooks app. I’ll check that out. 


  • wordsmith42


    This is a message that really should speak to people. As a lifelong bibliophile, my office looks like that of a college professor’s–books, most of them with yellow sticky notes hanging out both ends, strewn everywhere. 

    I have always said (and recently seen it written) that readers make the best leaders. Someone who is at the top of their game AND is a big reader sticks out.

    Every one of the points you highlight above are ones I have used and continue to use. Some great advice I wish more folks took heed of. Thanks as always for sharing indispensable info, John.


  • John Morgan

    Thank you! 

  • Joe Sorge

    very solid advice, good Sir! 

  • John Morgan

    Woohoo it’s Joe Sorge!!! Thanks for stopping by! 

  • Brent Smith

    Thanks, John!

    I live to read, but I find that I’m very much in the moment as I read. Ideas resonate and generate my own, but they don’t often go much further.

    I really like the idea of making notes in the book itself, especially to make it easier to review and transferring those ideas to a notebook or digital source makes a lot of sense to aid in my retention.

    Thanks for giving me permission to reread my favourite books. I’ve also decided that I’d like to review the ones that resonate with me most on my blog, as well as on Amazon.

    Brent Smith

  • Stephen Melancon

    Great tips, John! 

    Much of your introduction reminds of myself. When I graduated college, I thought I would swear off reading forever. I think I was just burned out. Now I read a dozen or more books a year. Just like you, I only keep the ones that I liked and learned from. In fact, if I don’t connect with the author’s writing style or content in the first chapter, I’ll move on.

    I really like the idea of “Read the book as if the author is speaking to you and you alone”. That is a great strategy. I can see what you mean about Napoleon Hill. I think that Gary Vaynerchuk does a great job with this as well.

    I still do a good bit of driving, so I buy many books on audio. That is an easy format to review periodically. For my favorite books, I’ve also bought hard copies to highlight and write notes in. Recently I put the Kindle app on my IPad, and now I’m hooked on eBooks.

    Thanks for the post!

  • John Morgan

    Brent, there’s NOTHING that helps an author more than leaving them a review. Also, I think your audience will appreciate you sharing the books that impact you & why. 

  • John Morgan

    I read a lot on the Kindle as well although I still read the majority of books the old fashioned way. I find that if I REALLY want to read the book and get something from it then I’ll read the physical copy. If I’m just curious about it then I’ll read it on Kindle. 

  • Stephen P Brown

    Thank you, John. I’ve started reading a lot more in the past year or two and was never sure how to carry the education from one book to the next. Your ideas have given me some direction. Cheers!

  • Priscilla Taylor

    This was a PERFECT blog post! I found that I was reading a lot of books and underlining but I was wondering why I wasn’t seeing the changes I wanted to. Your technique is perfect because it requires me to be an active reader and think about the application along the way. Now that I know this, I’m going to read your book again.

    Thank for sharing it with your readers!

  • John Morgan

    Always happy to help!

  • John Morgan

    Thank you Priscilla! I’m glad it was helpful to you. I’ve done the same thing where I read a lot, take notes, underline, etc but then completely forget what I’ve read just days later. That’s why I wanted to find a better process for it. 

  • Jennifer Nash

    I really appreciate the advice, John. I’ve always been a bookworm. However, when I switched to reading more business-related books, I found it difficult to remember the material so I have to re-read them. I can think of 4 books right now that I need to re-read. I’ll try your technique to see if I can make a better use of my time and the information.

  • John Morgan

    Let me know how it goes!

  • Yolanda A. Facio

    Excellent advice.  I’m on a challenge to read 100 books this year.  I generally get through about 50.  My biggest issue… guilt.  I absolutely love reading and even though I’m reading business related books I feel guilty doing so during my work day.  LOL

    I use iBooks as much as possible now and highlight important stuff so that I can quickly go back and review my highlighted notes.  I am trying to make a practice of doing handwritten notes as a way to reinforce material.  But I find that my memory just isn’t great for remembering all that I read so being able to keyword search has helped me greatly since I return to great books over and over like you do John.  Hope you’ll share some of your favorite books with us.

  • Priscilla Taylor

    I commented on this post before but it’s changing my life so much I have to comment again. I started using this process for articles I’ve read and it’s made a huge difference. I used to read the hundreds of articles that got sent to my inbox everyday but I wasn’t really getting anything out of it and now I finish with an action plan I can put into motion. I’ve been sharing this with everyone I know. Thanks again John! :-)

  • John Morgan

    100 books is a great goal Yolanda! Don’t feel guilty reading during your work day. That IS work. It’s knowledge you need to move your business forward. 

    I’ll certainly be sharing a list of my favorite books! Lots of people have asked for it and I’ve been putting it together. 

  • John Morgan

    I LOVE hearing this!!! Congratulations to you! 

  • Dave Macdonald

    Thanks for the post! We actually use Evernote and Google Drive to collect notes on all the books people are reading within the company. Then when someone is looking for a new book they can review different notes to make their choice accordingly.

  • John Morgan

    Very cool idea Dave.

  • SubComprehension

    – Read with a goal in mind. Don’t read a book just because it’s new and your friends are blogging about it. Read it because it contains a piece of information that you need to move closer to one of your goals. Decide on what you’re looking for before you open the book. This one distinction will transform the way you read and ultimately the results you get on a daily basis.

    That’s the only good advice the rest is garbage. thanks

  • Brandon A

    Great article! Lots of people read for the sake of reading or bragging. Getting the most and taking action is where words come alive and lead people to change their world. Brilliant taking action approach.