If you're anything like me, you take reading seriously. Why? Because I view reading as an investment in myself. I'm investing capital today (time) in the skills and knowledge (dividends) I want tomorrow.
Or as Kevan Lee put it in this excellent Buffer post:
"I look at books as investments in a future of learning rather than a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgotten."
With the massive amounts of content we're consuming these days, how do you ensure reading is not a fleeting moment of insight, soon to be forgetten?
You need a system — a system to help you organize and remember all the important ideas and concepts you've read about. This is the key to maximizing your return on time invested in all this reading.
Fortunately, we can now leverage technology to help us remember significantly more of what we read. And if you're an Evernote user, you can create a powerful system by integrating your existing Evernote account with Readwise.
The Systems Authors Use to Remember What They Read
Before I dive into my reading system with Readwise and Evernote, it might be helpful to explore what a "reading system" actually is.
For this, we can look to nonfiction authors.
By the very nature of their work, nonfiction authors must read a lot. But they don't stop there. In order to get the most out of reading, nonfiction authors almost always develop external systems for categorizing and revisiting what they read.
For example, the bestselling author Ryan Holiday uses a notecard system to leverage his reading. It's a complex, category-based analog system where he collects noteworthy passages, ideas, and insights from the books he's read for use later. (This system is also often called a Commonplace Book.)
There's also a growing number of authors that publish some version of their book notes online. For example, Derek Sivers posts hundreds of book summaries with ratings from 1 to 10 on his personal website. Taylor Pearson does something similar on his website, but instead of rating each book, he organizes them by categories such as psychology, self-help, and history.
The reading systems of nonfiction authors are typically powerful, but for most readers — who are not professional writers — they're generally a little too cumbersone.
A Step-By-Step Guide How to Synchronize Your Highlights to Evernote
Let's now review my simpler reading system which leverages both Readwise and the ever popular note-taking application Evernote. Once you connect your Evernote account to Readwise, all your digital highlights — including Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, and Instapaper — will be constantly automatically updated to Evernote, enabling a variety of different workflows!
Here’s how to connect Evernote to Readwise:
First, you must import all your notes and highlights into Readwise. (Readwise supports an ever-increasing number of highlight sources including Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Instapaper, Highly, Medium articles, audiobooks, and more.)
Next, you must connect your Evernote account to Readwise. You do this by clicking on "Evernote Export" in the main dashboard.
Then you'll then follow the prompts to configure your desired settings. For example, you can export your notes and highlights from all your books or you can select specific titles. You can also tell Readwise whether to include or exclude the highlight locations as part of the export, and whether to automatically or manually export new highlights to your Evernote account moving forward.
Next, you’ll be prompted to log into your Evernote account.
Finally, the Evernote sync will begin. In this example, I exported notes from 75 books to my Evernote notebook and the process took less than two minutes.
By default, Readwise creates a new Evernote notebook for all your book notes. This is what it looks like unformatted.
Organizing and Reviewing Your Highlights in Evernote
After your Readwise highlights have been exported, each book will have its own note in an Evernote notebook titled
Readwise. You can now incorporate these notes into your Evernote workflow.
In my system, I like to tag each of the book notes with additional categories. For example, I'll start by tagging each with a general tag called "book notes".
This tag is configured as an Evernote shortcut. So, I can quickly find and search all the book notes that I’ve reviewed.
In addition to the vague "book notes" tag, I also tag these notes based on:
- Key Themes
- Subject Matter
I've also recently started filtering and tagging books by location using Evernote's Atlas feature. This is particularly fun for books I read on vacation because I often form strong associations with those experiences and the concepts I encountered in my book. These connections help not only my reading retention, but also serve as natural starting points for stories, anecdotes, and examples in content that I might write.
We’ll wrap with a couple real-life use cases of my Readwise and Evernote reading system.
If you're easily distracted while writing like I am, you can leverage Readwise's integration with Evernote to minimize temptation. I can research and add quotes to a blog post without ever leaving Evernote. Avoiding the internet obviously helps me avoid distractions where I might otherwise get sucked into social media, Youtube, or other internet research rabbit hole.
Another powerful use case is to connect your Readwise Evernote notebook with project management software using an automation tool like Zapier or IFTTT. These links enables you to send your book notes to hundreds of other apps such as a Trello Card or an Asana to-do list item.
These are but two examples of how you can use Readwise and Evernote to generate a significantly higher return on time invested in reading, there are hundreds of other use cases.
If you’ve set up a similar reading system, I’d love to hear from you. What are some examples of how you are using Readwise and Evernote to get more out of what you’ve read?
And if you haven't already, sign up for Readwise today for a free thirty-day trial.