As business leaders, we are frequently challenged beyond our current set of knowledge and skills. This “stretching” is critical to growth and how we respond to it defines our competence and our client’s confidence in our offerings. While the acknowledgment that life is learning is essential to a growth-mindset, the depth and breadth of our personal experiences are finite; therefore, depending on our observations alone will result in limited growth. Reading provides us with the grand opportunity to tap into the great minds of the past as well as skillful analysis of contemporary challenges. It enables us to live the lives of others and benefit from their errors, experiments, and insights. The physical limitation of the individual evaporates with the reading of the written word.

Active Reading
Reading is an active engagement with the author. Through their recorded dialogue, the author establishes a connection with the reader, shares their insights, and offers supporting information for their conclusions. The reader receives the information provided, digests it, and integrates (or rejects) the newly gained material into their understanding of the world. An impactful read will confound any effort to plow through a reem of script. The reader’s mind will produce ideas, alternate theories, questions, challenges, and emotions amid the reading process. A great book will challenge your paradigms, reveal your bias, and arouse strong feelings. Attempting to manage the traffic within an engaged mind can confound the most disciplined of focus-masters.

Maintaining a reading journal is an effective tool for gaining the most from your reading. When the metaphorical honking horns and revving of engines resound in your mind, a journal provides a means to pause and document the resounding introspection. This allows the free-way of your mind to clear out and unfetter the flow of new information. While it is valuable to have goals regarding the progress of reading, it is vital to permit the mind to respond and respect its prompting by documenting its notions.

Additionally, the benefits of a reading journal include shifting the act of reading from being random to intentional. A journal provides the opportunity to document learning goals, achievements, and a means of a greater understanding of your broader epistemological journey. In many ways, a reading journal becomes a story in itself from which you can reference and contemplate further at a later date.

Starting a reading journal can be intimidating. With its blank pages, potentially revealing notes, and the impression of formality, a reading journal has the potential of turning a pleasant respite from life into a homework assignment. However, with these basic guidelines, your implementation of a reading journal will become a welcome companion.

At the beginning of the journal, capture your overall reading goals. Maintain a list of books read and your high-level assessment. Not all books capture your imagination or meet your expectations. Include, and designate, the “did not finish” books in your list and why it failed to be completed.

Capture basic information about the book as the “intro” page for that section of your journal. Key points of information include the title, the author, the date of reading, how you came across the book (ie: Gary recommended the book in our conversation about…), your goal in reading the book, your general impression of the book, and its impact on your life, work, and perspective.

Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. This journal is for your benefit and is not intended to be published. The intent is to facilitate active reading and provide a place to capture the flood of thought and ideas.

Capture notable quotes, concepts, ideas, impressions, questions, observations, and even emotions. If desired, also include drawings and diagrams to aid your process of understanding the concepts presented in the text.

Capture reading recommendations or references that appear in your reading. Books often reference other books which can offer a means to dive deeper into the subject at hand.

Capture new words and definitions of terms. As these terms are used throughout the book, they can lose their meaning. Recording these terms in your journal will provide a quick reminder. Additionally, you will observe the growth of your vocabulary.

Don’t over think it. Your first reading journal will be much different than in your second journal. Some aspects will be added, some elements will fall away. Some books will be sparse in notes and thoughts, others will spark tens of pages of rumination. Over the years, the “recommended journal” will evolve into a journal that presents the aspects and elements which are important to you.

Keep it simple. If the journal is burdensome, it will fail to be adopted. While the electronic capture of a journal can be tempting, there is a lot to be said about the simplicity, convenience, and raw fluidity of pen and paper. Seek a beefy, bound journal with a durable cover which can be found at online retailers and brick-and-mortar bookstores near you.

Keeping these benefits and guidelines in mind, I encourage you to invite this willing companion along in your expedition of growth and learning. The practice of journaling may prevent you from completing that 900-page treatise in record time; However, the mass of information that you digest will nourish your mind more completely and result in the growth you intended.