David Marshall Posted by David Marshall, CEO & CFO, Berrett-Koehler Publishers Inc.


Five Simple Steps to Reading and Absorbing Nonfiction Books in a Half Hour

Does your nightstand or coffee table look like this? If so, I’ve got a professionally-tested way to clear this book pile up for you.  I’m a book editor and must read 40-50 books per year for work, each of which averages 250 pages.  In addition, I try to read at least one non-fiction book per month that is not related to work. What’s my secret?

It’s easy.  Here are my five simple steps for reading and retaining any book in 30 minutes or less.

Pre-Read – Write the title on a 3 1/2″ square Post-it Note, and stick it on the inside front cover (1 minute).

Step 1  – Read the inside and back jacket copy if it’s a hardcover, or the backcover if it’s a paperback, but skip the endorsements (2 minutes).

Step 2 – Read the Table of Contents, and notice the chapter that stands the most interesting (2 minutes).

Step 3 – Read the first and last paragraphs of each chapter, including the preface, foreword, and introduction if applicable. Notice which chapter sounded the most interesting (15 minutes).

Step 4 – Choose the chapter that interested you the most and read it from start to finish, or at least read the first and last paragraphs of each major chapter section (7 minutes).

Step 5 – Write down the Big Idea on the Post-It note in seven words or less.  Write down the Learnings you will take from this book in ten words or less (3 minutes).

Digital Option – If you read ebooks, or don’t want to fuss with paper Post-It Notes, create a “Books Reads” document on the Notes app on your phone and update it with the Big Idea and Learnings.

Now move that book from your nightstand or coffee table to your bookshelf, or donate it to your local library.

Ahhh, doesn’t that feels good?!


David Marshall is the Vice President of Editorial and Digital for Berrett-Koehler Publishers by day and coauthor with his wife Kate by night and weekends of family journals to foster family communication.