How to Recall an Entire Book in 5 Minutes or Less

How to Recall an Entire Book in 5 Minutes or Less

Have you ever read a great book, and after only a short period of time could recall just one or two ideas from it? It is very frustrating – and it happens all the time. But there’s a way to avoid forgetting what you have read and, if you do, instantly refresh it in your mind.

Reading Goals, Cheated

The key to reading effectively is to be fully engaged in what you are reading. Underlining, questioning, taking notes – these all help – but there’s one single element that is essential if you want to read effectively: you need to know what your goal is. This is standard advice, and is indeed a good one. But if you want your reading to be truly effective and long-lasting, you need more than simply a goal: you need a very specific and tangible one.

Take, for example, a book such as Getting Things Done. The goal “to get more organized” would be good enough – but just as a generic goal, not as a specific one. A generic goal may be enough to motivate you to start reading a book, but won’t be truly effective by itself to keep you fully involved while reading it. We need something more concrete.

The problem is that we only know the specifics of a book after actually reading it. So what should we do as we want to set a specific goal beforehand? We cheat.

I’ve found that one of the most effective goals to set when reading a book is to commit yourself to create a mind map of it.

This will serve as a specific goal that you can use for any book. Yes, having a “general-purpose specific goal” certainly feels like cheating, but you won’t believe how effective it is. It will really help boosting your reading comprehension; and the best part is that you’ll have a book summary you can revisit at anytime. Contrary to regular book summaries, due to the specific properties of mind maps, you’ll be able to review it at lightning speed, quite often at a single glance.

Top 3 Benefits of Mind Mapping a Book

1. Boost Comprehension While Reading

Being sharply focused on creating such a specific deliverable as a mind map will get you 100% engaged in your reading, guaranteed.

Moreover, every time you reach for your mind map to add more information, you’ll be looking and recalling what’s already in there. In fact, this constant reinforcement works so well, it usually takes months before you need referring to the mind map again.

2. Quickly Review the Entire Book Anytime

This is when mind mapping really shines when compared to other note-taking techniques. It is absolutely amazing what happens when you look at a mind map months or even years after you created it. It is like rereading the entire book in just a glance.

When you first read the book using this method, you did it in such an active manner that by just quickly scanning the mind map brings you all the memories from the book – even the ones you didn’t include in your mind map. In fact, the neural connections formed are so strong that even the emotions you felt at the time often resurface. And with such a personalized and handy summary, you really don’t need more than 5 minutes to review it.

3. Distill the Real Substance of the Book

It is not rare for long books resulting in small mind maps. By creating a mind map, the real content of the book becomes evident. Not everything in a book is straight to the point: authors (validly) use repetition, stories and examples to build and elaborate important points. All you need to do is use standard mind mapping features to reflect that importance: use bold, write your topics in bigger letters or different colors. With your personalized mind map, you’ll be able to trim all fat while keeping the relationships and the relative importance of each topic intact.

Tips to Get Started

Keep the Flow

Avoid reading and creating the mind map simultaneously, as that will disrupt your reading flow. Circle, underline and take notes while reading, pre-selecting the important concepts and passages for your summary. This intermediary step not only keeps you in context and engaged in the book, but also makes it much easier to quickly create your mind map once you read the relevant parts of the book. And by doing this, you’ll have yet another content reinforcement in the process.

Sleep on It

Try not to work on your mind map right after reading the book – let your mind chew on what you have read for a while first. Doing it the next day is a good rule of thumb. If you read every day, a good way of doing it is by working on your mind map for yesterday’s topic right before today’s reading session. Also, try not to get your reading too far ahead of your mind mapping – you’ll lose the benefits of repetitive reinforcement and feel overwhelmed if there’s too much content to add in a single sit.

Use Dual Bookmarking

Instead of using just one bookmark, use an extra one to indicate up to where your book has been mapped. I also recommend using colored Post-it flags, so you won’t need to worry about your second bookmark falling while you’re reading.

Try It

Won’t reading books with this method take much longer than usual? Sure it will – but what’s the point in leafing through several books, only retaining a tiny amount of their content – and only for a short period of time?

If you’re just reading casually and you feel this method is overkill, you are probably right – don’t force yourself to use it, by all means. But if you get your hands on a great book – and there are so many out there – please give mind mapping a try. You won’t regret taking these extra steps to make your books really last in your mind.

To check out a mind map created using this technique, please see One Small Step Can Change Your Life or Never Eat Alone.