Do you really read?

Spend five minutes on any social media site and you’ll see hundreds of articles shared and discussed. In our world of infinite knowledge at our fingertips, the challenge now becomes Quality, not Quantity.  As you read any article, book, answer or social media post, it’s important to take the time to digest what you consume.  Did you just waste ten minutes or was it worth the read? What did you learn? Do you really get it?

In our fervor to join the conversation or “catch up” on those thousands of articles you’ve saved in RSS, Pocket, Instapaper, or otherwise, we often miss the point.

We are all Hypocrites.

Too often we read something, share it and talk about it, but fail to retain its meaning. Maybe you retweeted something about taking care of employees, but then you failed to show interest and compassion for an employee that came into work visibly upset. Maybe you just shared an article about the importance of open communication, but then disregarded comments from someone who tried to bring up a problem with you. Regardless of what it is, you’re wasting your time with all your reading if you don’t use it to drive action.

I struggle every day to follow through on the things I passionately read and write about. As a habit, I re-read my own posts to remind myself what I care about so much. It’s easy to forget things like actually giving praise despite knowing how important praise is in motivating and appreciating your employees, remembering to always use the best structure for customer development interviews, or to keep applying the best takeaways from a great book I read.

What do we do about it?

I challenge myself to answer the following questions in everything I read:

  1. Has this taught me anything new and valuable? (If not, move on quickly)
  2. How can I apply insights from this article today? (Wait and I’ll forget)
  3. When have I applied the ideas from this post? Where have I not, but could have? (What was the difference?)

The real key is Self-Awareness with Discipline.

One of the hardest things to do in life is to get outside your ego. This awesome post by the CEO & founder of Redfin captures it well:  

“Most people spend nearly all their energy trying not to change. This is what the philosopher William James meant when he wrote the mind’s main function was to be a fortress for protecting your ego from reality. When the mind has to accommodate a new fact, James argued, it doesn’t settle on the change to its model of reality that is most likely to reflect reality. It protects the fortress, calculating the smallest possible modification to its bulwarks that can account for the new fact.

As I read and observe my daily life, I try to look for opportunities to apply all the great things I’m reading and everyone is sharing. And when I write or give others advice, I challenge myself to make those things not just aspirational or what I do at my best, but what I apply day in and day out. It’s not easy, and I don’t always succeed at this, but it has helped make me and those I interact with a little better every day.

How do you apply what you’re reading?


30 thoughts on “Do you really read?

  1. — How do you apply what you’re reading?

    Great question. I apply it using, a micro site I built for gathering the essential points that you read and want to embrace. Tidbytes randomly mails you one of these points each day, as a reminder.

    • Interesting, Drew. I use Evernote to save really good ideas I read about, so I have a note for recruiting, culture, leadership, tech, etc so when I need a spark or an idea in an area, I have a reference point. I also find just the act of taking a few notes if I read a good idea helps with retention, as I’m sure your email system does for you.

    • OH! Thank you, this reminds me – in Where Good Ideas Come From, the author Steven Johnson talks about using a program called DEVONthink for cultivating private serendipity through technology. He uses it to curate quotes he finds intriguing as well as storing his own writing and it has some algorithm that detects subtle semantic connections between distinct passages of text so will remind you of things that may be related but that you had forgotten about. Am going to try that, will check out Tidbytes too – sounds interesting. Thanks!

      (and great article, thanks Jason!)

  2. Thanks for your reply.

    I’m curious: do you ever find yourself reflecting on a point you jotted down previously, and how it relates to a recent experience? Do you find yourself writing or wanting to write about that as well? Perhaps simply even if you were successful or not at remembering the advice. I ask because of a feature I was thinking to add—a sort of “journal” for each of the notes you’ve made.

    • Honestly, I think more about results going forward. If I put too much text into my notes, I won’t be able to find the gems. Therefore I try to condense it as much as I can.

      A journal isn’t of value to me, because in the end I look at results as binary; I succeeded or failed and either I want to positively reinforce myself on what I did or learned or reflect on the failure and do better next time.

      • Thanks for your input Jason. I really appreciate it. The “reflect on the failure and do better next time” is really what I’m looking to encourage somehow. I’ll think a little harder on it before adding that feature.

  3. You mean… people tweet articles they haven’t read?!

    Other than local stuff/politics I try to be very intentional about what information or advice I’m looking for when I read so that I **do** get something out of it. I don’t pressure myself as much anymore to read the latest social media tips post or Suster post just for the sake of reading the latest stuff. It’s more about what I personally am trying to learn right now. Sometimes that will take me back to articles written in 2010 or even sooner. I guess since it’s “old news” I’m less inclined to share it.

    • Janet,

      Yeah, I think there’s a decent amount of that not-reading-but-I-shared-it and also some it-wasn’t-that-good-but-sharing-anyways. That being said, I only share what I read *and* really like and that seems to do very well in getting people to pay attention to what I have to say and pick up followers that actually put me on the lists they check (or making the cut for people that only follow a few hundred or less!).

      As for old articles, I still share those when I do similar research to what you described, I just sometimes either A) preface that it’s old if something in it makes it dated or B) Don’t worry about it, because great is great. Some of them end up being the most RT’d for me as they stand out as different than everyone else’s stream.


  4. This is about basic high school and college-level reading comprehension, retention, and interpretation. I don’t tweet things that I can’t claim to have read or even to have a basic understanding of. If you’re doing this, it’s time to slow down and learn to be a better reader/interpreter.

  5. Great post… How do you internalize articles that you can’t really apply yet? Let’s say I read an informative helpful article on Parenting, which doesn’t at all apply to me yet but will in the future. Should I even bother reading them now?

    • Rohan,

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I generally focus on reading things I think will be useful now or really useful/interesting in the future. If you find something that you think is a gem for parenting, I’d put a few key points from the post into an evernote on parenting stuff you read. Over time, that will build up into a bunch of helpful suggestions and tips that you can reference when you need it.


  6. I struggle with this with books as well. If I’m not in the retaining mood, I read the words but don’t read the words. Push ahead just to push ahead. What’s helped me on that department is following along each line I read with an index card. It helps you focus on the line and not jump around.

    • Wes,

      Thanks for reading. If you’re not feeling it, why force yourself? I find that if I focus on maximizing the times I am focused, I get way more out of it.

      Check out the book The Power of Full Engagement; it has some awesome insights on bringing focus to your work and life so you don’t grind in those “not in a retaining mood” situations and instead get back to when you would be sooner.


  7. Pingback: Do you really read? | Leonardo34's Blog

  8. Very interesting post, I’ve been thinking a lot about this since reading Seth Godin’s “I get it” post, which is very similar to the topic discussed here:

    I’ve devised my own method of really internalizing what I’m reading to get the full benefit out of what I read
    Step 1: Mark in readability (Amazing for offline reading of online content)
    Step 2: (On weekend) Trim down the Readability shortlist
    Step 3: Read only the most intriguing articles/longreads left in Readability
    Step 4: Spend 10 minutes on the takeaways from each article/post applying it to what you should have done in the past and what you can do in the future

    Setting out time to have a post reading meditation/internalizing period is the only way I’ve been able to internalize what I’m reading (similar to the self-awareness section you wrote about).

    • Punit,

      Good to hear from you! Thanks for reading. That’s a pretty solid, disciplined method. It’s not far off from what I do with my evernote logging of great ideas/tips.

      Thanks for the Godin link. I actually linked to Seth’s post in the early part of the article above. A friend I asked to proof the post (thanks Ryan Hoover!) read that and pushed me to then get my unpublished draft out there since I’m apparently not the only one thinking about this.


  9. I use amazd to actively highlight and maintain a set of points I find interesting in any given article I read. As an example, here is profile
    Whenever I get time, I go back and read these sets of highlights I’ve made. It’s quite reflective.

    • Ahmad,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! That’s a very interesting approach I bet some others will benefit from checking out. It looks like it could use a little more organization, but perhaps the tagging system just isn’t immediately noticeable by me.

      Thanks for sharing!


  10. How do you apply what you’re reading?
    I treat this the same way I treat my inbox – sift through and filter the information into buckets (use right a way, save for later, share with others). Anything you don’t use right away should be archived in an easy to recall manner.

    • Katy,

      Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you have a very organized system. I think the challenge is that a post may be 500-1000 words but only one or two lines or ideas matter; having a summary of the key points may be helpful in addition to your great organizational system.


      • Hi Jason. That is true, summary of key points is important in communicating to the reader why they just spend the last few precious minutes. My experience is from academic research — reading LOTS of material critically, almost like a lawyer would look for a needle in the haystack. So that is of course slightly different from reading blog posts.. but the same principles apply. After reading a post, I can bookmark the link, share a quote, share the whole post, comment on it to start a dialogue with the autor, or forget about it entirely :)

    • Kevin,

      Thanks for reading this then :)

      You don’t have to read all the time; just make the most of the time you do spend reading.


  11. Great post Jason. I like to share a lot of what I read through social media and I am constantly asking myself – did I take on that advice myself? It is a constant struggle which you have captured well in this post!



  12. Thanks Jason. Very interesting.
    I read a lot. I try and assimilate as much as possible.

    When I am researching a particular topic and find lots of information across books, webpages, blogs etc., I try and use Evernote to store them.

    If there were a tool using which I could write down my understanding of what I read and using which I could link to items I have read from else where, it would be very nice. Essentially, I should be able to organise, re-order, add more stuff etc. and finally export a mini-book of sorts of my understanding of a topic for my future reference. Have you or anyone come across a tool like this, which is simple and user-friendly? (I know you can do some of this in Word or a text processor, just wondering if there’s something easier)

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