Reading For Insight with Jennifer Mathieu

Certain books I read and can’t put down. But with most books lately, I like to read with intention. I have gotten to the point where I have multiple books going at one time. I read until I gain an insight so clear that I stop reading and pick up the book at later point when I feel I am ready for a new insight.

Various research studies and articles have been posted about the retention of content that you read. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that researchers have found that you only retain 10-20% of what you read - and how much exactly, seems to be dependent on a lot of different factors. And that is the case for physically reading a book. It is seemly much lower if you are listening to the audio version of the book. 

So why take all that time on a book if you aren’t going to remember most of it? Well, I believe that it is more effective to read for insights rather than trying to consume page after page. Rather than trying to get to the end of the chapter or section or the book, focus on specific quotes or statements that bring out that ‘ah ha’ moment.

Here are a few tactics I employ to read for insight:

1.     Be open to insight rather than specific chapter or paragraph markers.

Books are obviously organized in a way that tells a story – even the business and leadership books that I can’t seem to get enough of. While general themes are outlined in sections and chapters, insights aren’t necessarily waiting for you to perfectly end a chapter. When I find an insight, depending on the time I need to reflect, I may choose to stop reading or I note the page number and continue on.

2.     Read for understanding, and then skim for ‘ah ha’ moments.

I read books at a pretty standard pace. I am not looking to breeze through the pages very quickly, but I don’t read them so slowly that it is distracting to the bigger picture of what is being conveyed. Once I feel like I gained some great perspective, I pause and go back to each of those pages/sections that I noted insights on. I typically skim through these sections again to gain additional clarity, and see if the pages beyond that insight provided me more depth in my perspective.

3.     Create a space for your reading reflections.

Once I go back to each of these ‘ah ha’ moments or insights, I add them to a running document that I have for the books I have read. In this document, I outline each book and each insight. The insight is usually in the form of a quote from the book, the page number it was found on, and a few sentences or several paragraphs of thoughts that these insights provided. Many times, I find specific translation to how I might use this information and make note of how this information can support the work I do. Creating a document that is searchable and can be accessed from any device is most effective for this type of process.

Reading for insights help me remember more of what I read and allows me to access this information when I want to come back to it. If I am going to invest my time in something, I want to make sure I am making the most out of the experience!

- Jennifer Mathieu, Executive Director, CCEI