How many times has a book made you feel so inspired to do something, only for the moment to pass before you had a chance to act? Or how many times has a new idea made so much sense to you while reading about it, only to discover a few days later that you could hardly explain the concept to yourself or a friend?
You’re no doubt better off having read the book or article than not. But what if, with only a few tweaks to your practice, you could reliably make use of all the new ideas you discovered while reading? With modern technology, now you can. All you need is Readwise.
Readwise is software built on top of existing reading platforms — such as Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, and Instapaper — that conveniently resurfaces all the things you found important while reading. This interrupts the natural process of forgetting, creating repeated opportunities to actually do something with what you've read.
Here at Readwise, we call this process a reading workflow, which we define as "an external system for transforming reading into meaningful action and lasting insight." This might sound somewhat abstract, but it is actually rather straightforward once you consider the two main reasons (other than entertainment) that we read nonfiction.
We read in order to learn how to do something or we read to understand some new concept. For example, we might read a book to learn how to negotiate or we might read a book to understand behavioral economics. We call these motives meaningful action and lasting insight, respectively, and a reading workflow will help you get more of both.
This is the first in a series of articles that will show you how to use Readwise to develop your own reading workflow, starting with the most basic.
Reading is a deeply personal activity, and your system will ultimately be your own. However, we've observed that nearly all effective workflows include the following three steps in some form or fashion: Capture, Review, and Integrate.
Let's walk through each step in turn.
Step 1: Capture
The first step is to capture any and all the things that might be meaningful to you — today or tomorrow, small or large — in a reliable system outside your mind so you can make use of those things later.
With printed books, the process of capturing used to be quite tedious. You either had to transcribe passages by hand to your own notebook or index cards, or you had to manually markup the book using pens, highlighters, or bookmarks. With modern ebooks, however, it could not be easier to capture meaningful passages. All it takes is a swipe of the finger.
As to what to highlight, there are no rules. The objective is simply to capture whatever stands out to you. And what is salient to you will be different from every other reader. Maybe a passage makes you laugh. Maybe a passage makes you cry. Maybe a passage helps something you're working on. Maybe a passage reminds you of a friend. Just get in there and start highlighting. You'll quickly find a balance that works for you.
Step 2: Review
Now that you're capturing all the things that might be meaningful to you, the next step is to actually go back and review those things. Otherwise, what was the point of capturing in the first place?
It turns out that this is where most workflows cease to exist. We hear it all the time: "When I first started reading ebooks, I tried highlighting, but then I never did anything with those highlights, so I stopped." This is because reviewing requires time, effort, and discipline that most of us don't have. With Readwise, however, it's easy to start and maintain a review habit.
Readwise offers a variety of ways to consistently review your highlights, but the simplest and most popular is the Readwise email — a daily assortment of your best highlights. To get started, all you need to do is sign up for Readwise and synchronize your account with your various reading platforms — Kindle, iBooks, Instapaper, et cetera. You'll then start receiving an email with a few of your top highlights to review each day.
Step 3: Integrate
The gentle nudge to review a few highlights a day might sound mundane, but it actually has a profound impact on your ability to integrate your reading into your life — the third and final step of a reading workflow. Admittedly, integrate is a broad term with many potential meanings, and exactly what it will mean to you depends on your personal circumstances, but here are some examples.
Integrate might mean improved retention (or compression) of new concepts thanks to a lightweight form of spaced repetition. Spaced repetition is a scientifically proven method for efficient learning, built into the core logic of Readwise, involving periodic reviews of previously learned material at increasing intervals of time.
Integrate might also mean enhanced creativity resulting from the serendipitous juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas. Creativity is notoriously hard to pin down, but some have suggested that it is nothing more than making connections that no one else has noticed. As they say, "You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, just attach it to a new wagon." The interleaving of Readwise helps you make these unexpected connections across all the various ideas you've captured while reading.
Integrate might also mean sudden inspiration to act on something you've read due to a well-timed reminder in a daily review. How often have you encountered an idea while reading that you wanted to do something about, but you forgot about it before you had a chance? Readwise provides a gentle nudge or, as we like to say, a friendly reminder from your past self to your present self to do something today.
Of course, how you integrate what you've read is far from limited to these few examples. It entirely depends on your particular situation.
At this point, we now know that a reading workflow will help you get more of what you want by resurfacing all the things you found important while reading, creating repeated opportunities to actually make use of them. Before Readwise, consistently reviewing what you read was hard. With Readwise, reviewing is fun and easy.
If you haven't already, sign up for Readwise and start consistently reviewing the best parts of what you've read today.
Next Up: Intermediate Workflow
Once you get into the habit of consistent review, you might notice that you've started to read and highlight differently. This is because when you take a highlight, you now trust that your future self will someday see it again. This trust in the process means you're ready for an intermediate workflow. To learn more, check out Part 2 of this series.
The concept of a reading workflow might also sound somewhat theoretical, but if you look closely, they're actually quite common in practice. From Maria Popova's idea index to Ryan Holiday's commonplace book to Tiago Forte's Progressive Summarization, great readers across time have relied on clever, external systems to compensate for their inherent forgetfulness. In fact, it is rare to meet a great reader who hasn't developed some sort of reading workflow (whether they call it that or not). ↩︎
For those of you into Getting Things Done, the framework for capture is largely inspired by David Allen's concept of an inbox. ↩︎