A primer on ‘deep’ reading and learning

Reading is the single most productive habit I picked up during my teenage years. As a kid, I indulged in spy books and horror novels (Goosebumps, anyone?) but started to properly incorporate disciplined reading into my routine while in university. Today, I attribute any growth, learning, and success in my life and career to my reading habits.

Reading has been a game-changer and Epictetus couldn’t have said it better, “Books are the training weights of the mind”.   

Recently inspired by Josh Waitzkin’s “The Art of Learning” (a personal thesis on meta-learning and skill mastery), I wanted to share some thoughts on ‘deep’ and effective reading that has helped me thoughtfully and deliberately tackle 14 books in the first half of 2020.

This is not a feature on speed reading or reading quickly, but rather a piece on actively reading and effectively synthesizing your learning.

Diving in … here are some ideas to keep in mind before, during, and after reading a book:

Produce your own summary and framework. 

Writing a summary based on your personal interpretation will force you to think critically and reflect deeply on your takeaways from the book. Taking this further, creating your own learning frameworks and mental heuristics will help reinforce the ideas and material. I like to schedule one to two hours monthly to add new entries to my ‘reading journal’, and the summaries usually consist of:

• General overview of the key topics and themes discussed
• Note-worthy excerpts
• Summary of key takeaways
• Personal thoughts, considerations, and any actionable items

Having a cadence of summarizing and reflecting on your reading will also ensure that any new information is remembered, and more importantly – understood.

Assess different points of view. 

Read other summaries (annotated or not) and interpretations of the book. See how other authors, critics, and fellow readers have perceived the it and what their takeaways are. Having different perspectives will help ground your understanding and shed light on any biases or potential angles the author may have had. Additionally, acknowledge and consider the author’s worldview, including incentives and motivations they may have had for writing the book. Some good resources are user reviews (Goodreads), published book summaries (BlinkistAllen Cheng summaries), or blogs (Nat EliasonRyan Holiday).

Explore the idea in depth. 

Consider other mediums and forms of media on the subject: articles, op-eds, blog posts, forums, and even social media. If intrigued by a book, I’ll tend to follow the author on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter), blogs (MediumSubstack) and subscribe to their content to get more context. Going deeper on a topic may also involve getting granular and technical in certain areas. One of the best introductory books I’ve read as a primer on “Tech & Product Strategy 101” is “Swipe to Unlock”, by Aditya Agashe, Neel Mehta, and Parth Detroja which provides an overview of product management, tech economics, and software. Subsequently, I found it useful to do a deeper dive on these topics (product management → product marketing, tech economics → blitzscaling and the VC model, software → web development and APIs) to get a better understanding of the main themes.

Consider the past, the present, and the future. 

Most content can broadly be categorized into three buckets: the past – historical events, the present – current affairs, and the future – predictions. It’s important to allocate time and energy to each bucket to have a well-rounded perspective; reading on the past will allow you to appreciate the ‘why’ and understand past failures and successes, the present will ensure that you’re updated with key current events and recognize any opportunities, and the future will assist you in planning ahead.

These are some reflections I’ve had in the past couple of months – hopefully they’ve been helpful in providing a new perspective on reading. I’ll be continuing my reading journey for the second half of 2020. Feel free to reach out; I’m always open to any new book recommendations, thoughts, and ideas relating to reading, learning, and growth.

Andrew is currently an Operations & Enablement Lead at Facebook New York, focused on building and scaling new initiatives to support the performance of global sales teams. Previously Andrew was at Bell within corporate strategy, marketing, and operations, working on providing a best-in-class customer experience. Andrew is incredibly passionate about the areas of innovation, growth, learning, and performance psychology—Andrew writes about these topics on LinkedIn and Medium. Outside work, Andrew trains mixed martial arts competitively (Brazilian Jujitsu & Kickboxing) and loves to play chess.

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