I am an avid reader. When I say avid, I mean that I typically polish off between 100-130 non-fiction titles per year. Now I mainly read in four areas: theology, psychology, business and some fiction. It is my personal conviction that you a leader will become his or her best when they read.
I would like to lay out a few of my own strategies for maximizing the benefits of reading.
1. Always Read with a Writing Utensil in Hand
There are a few reasons I recommend this. First, you should always underline or mark anything that stands out to you. This will help your recall and it will also keep you focused on main ideas that the author is communicating. If you are someone who doesn't like to mark in books, get over it and mark in your book. Seriously. Go do it. You'll feel better and you'll get over your freakout.
Second, it is helpful to read with a pen or pencil in hand because it will serve as your pointer when reading. Your pencil or pen should be hovering over your page and moving along as you cover each word. The perks of doing this are great. You'll read faster since your eyes are focused on one point, you'll retain more information since your eyes are locked on to the words in front of it and you'll read longer since this method prevents eye fatigue.
2. Read with a Index Card Near You
I'll go more in depth on how I use my notecards later. For now, I would just recommend that you writing down or paraphrase anything you learn from the book you read. Just marking your book will not be enough for you to retain information. If you really want to make deep connections between what you are reading and your life, you should write down what you learn (either the quote or a paraphrase of the quote is fine). Make sure that you put the name of the book on the top of the index so you know where you learned the idea from.
3. Study the Table of Contents and Read the Intro and the Conclusion First
I believe one of the reasons people lose interest in non-fiction works is that they cannot see where the argument is headed. That is a legitimate problem that is often intensified by bad writing. However, some of the problem lies in the fact that it requires mental energy to see where an argument is going. In order to help you envision the author's flow of thought, you should do three things before you start any book: 1) Study the table of contents (since this will give you the full scope of where the author is headed) and 2) Read the introduction and conclusion of the book. The author often will talk about his big ideas in the first few pages of his book and then reiterate how he came to those concepts in the conclusion. If you read both the intro and conclusion you will have a firm grasp as to where the author is going and where he wants you to end up conceptually.
If you do these things I think you will notice a change in how you approach non-fiction and what you will retain when you read it.
Also, don't forget to sign up for my monthly newsletter where I will send you out a list of what you should read next. This annotated list will cover a broad range of topics. So whether you are a leader or just a passionate reader, you won't want to miss it.
Daniel Pandolph is co-founder of Ministry Assistant Services and founder of Theologian of the Boss. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from North Greenville University and an MA in Religion from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.