2015 Resolution: Read Better with An Idea Index

It’s a sin to read absentmindedly. And heaven knows I’m a professional sinner when it comes to reading because I often find myself thinking about other things when I need my mind to picture what the newly-introduced character of the book looks like.

That’s why I support Slow Reading movement (learn more here and here) and found my own Slow Reading Club which is currently in a hiatus because I have a reason that I don’t want you to know. But I’ll let you know when it kickstarts again. I promise you (or not).

Anyhow, besides reading slowly, one of the ways to get more out of the books you read and keep your reading session from the danger of absentmindedness is to create an idea index, a method of note-taking probably initiated by the awesome BrainPickings’s Maria Popova.

Let me pull a little Chuck Palahniuk: I know this because Cal Newport (whose blog I follow) knows this, and he knows this because Tim Ferriss knows this (apparently, Tim had the chance to interview Maria and published the podcast on his blog). So yeah, I’m just paraphrasing/quoting here.

For laypeople like you and me, note-taking is usually done by highlighting or underlining passages with pencils or hightlighter pens. Some do bookmarking by bending the edge of a page (this applies only to physical books, of course). Some use sticky notes.

You’re doing it wrong, Charlie!

Although nothing’s intrinsically wrong with these strategies, sometimes they are just messy and somewhat ineffective. When we try to get back one particular book to find particular quotes, we have to, in Cal’s words, “skim through all the marked pages.” You see, that’s kind of annoying sometimes.

The idea behind idea index is to resolve this problem and I’m gonna let Cal explains how the method works (I know he wouldn’t mind).

Around thirty-one minutes into the interview, Popova explains how she takes notes on books:

  1. As she reads, she creates an index at the front of the book that lists its most interesting ideas.
  2. Every time she encounters a passage relevant to one of these ideas she adds the page to the relevant line in the index. If it’s a new idea, she creates a new line for it.
  3. As she reads more, the index grows.

Here’s what’s great about this idea index method: When you pick up a book read long ago, you can quickly recall what it has to offer by glancing at the index. Then, if you want to grab some quotes about one of these ideas, the index tells you exactly where to look (no more reading every annotation!).

(Now is the time for you to cheer “Great tip!”)

Since Maria Popova is no layperson (reading 15 books per week and writing 3 long articles per day? INSANE!), her technique is worth a try.

My personal goal this year is to read at least 25 books. But my real goal is not only to read more, but also better. I’m going to do it by reading slowly (real, physical books mostly), minimizing external distraction, and taking more notes using this idea index method.

So, what’s your strategy to read better?

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Citra Saraswati

I'm a bit into cycling and photography.

5 thoughts on “2015 Resolution: Read Better with An Idea Index”

  1. My strategies to read better this year:
    – Turn off your cellphone (or the data connection)
    – Do not read in your home or bedroom, because the temptation of your possessive bed is irresistible
    – Read books in a public, but quiet place (it can help you to read slower and better)
    – Read alone. If you should go with an accompany or more, make sure that they’re book worms too and bring books or another reading materials.


  2. That is a great idea. I’ve never really had a strategy so I am going to start with this one. Thanks for sharing it.


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