What I Do After I Finish a Book

I’ve read hundreds of books in my life. Unfortunately, I don’t remember many of them. My shelves are full of books that contain the wear and tear of turned pages, but those ideas are no longer in my memory.

Perhaps you can relate. It’s easy to pick up a book, read it, put it back on the shelf, and hardly remember anything you read a few weeks later. This is perfectly fine if you’re reading for fun – I don’t beat myself up because I don’t remember every detail from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. However, if your goal for reading books is increased knowledge or self-growth, you want to make ideas from that book stick.

So how can you make reading an activity with compounding interest? How can you turn books into usable resources that pay dividends long after the book goes back up on the shelf?

This is the system I’ve come up with. It’s not perfect, but it’s worked for me. If you do something similar, I would love to hear more about it. My hope is that this post is the beginning, rather than the end, of a conversation.

Also, a disclaimer: I normally fill in this outline after I finish reading a book. In addition, here are some of the things I do while reading that help me retain information:

  1. I highlight on almost every page.
  2. I dog-ear pages with especially important ideas or concepts. This way, I can easily reference them later.
  3. Occasionally, but not often, I take notes in the margins of the page.
  4. After I finish a chapter, I will go back to the first page of the chapter (which usually has space above and/or below the chapter heading) and I write 1-2 sentences to summarize the chapter.

And then, after the book is read, I process the information into the following outline and save it into a folder on my computer.


Action Steps 
Note: Action steps are very important. If you skip this step, your book will become a paperweight minutes after you finish reading. Make clear goals about what your response will be to what you have read. Also, I would choose three action steps maximum. Any more than that and application becomes harder to follow through on.

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

Basic Summary

Overall Book Summary (Pretend you’re writing a one-paragraph summary of the book to put on its Amazon listing. What would you say to capture the main ideas of the book, without giving away the whole story?)

Format of Book (What makes it unique? How are the chapters broken down? Are there application questions at the end of each chapter? Is there an appendix with helpful resources at the end of the book?)

List of Key Components/Chapters

Important Quotes (I sometimes limit myself to five, but feel free to do however many you want)

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .
  4. .
  5. .

Application Questions (These could be questions provided by the author somewhere in the book, or questions you make up on your own)

  1. .
  2. .
  3. .

So, what do you do to remember key concepts or information from the books that you’ve read? What works for you? I would love to hear!

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