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How to Read a Book, Reviewing What You Learn, & Reflection as the Engine of Organization

Resource: Virginia Woolf on How to Read a Book
Description: Guidelines for getting the most out of your reading experience


The first rule of reading is that no can tell you how to read. You have to decide what you will read and how you will read it for yourself.

The most important element to bring to the reading experience is your personality. Let your taste and intuition guide you.

Suspend your beliefs and preconceived notions when you read. “Give it 5 minutes.” Make learning a higher priority than being a critic.

The fastest way to improve your reading is by writing. When you write, it forces you to wrestle with the difficulties involved in communication. This gives us a deeper appreciation that we bring to our reading experience.

Let the dust settle on your reading experiences. Take walks, sleep on it, give your books room to breathe and the hidden meanings of the text will speak to you when you least expect it.

The act of reading has an invisible and indirect impact on what gets written. What readers read affects what writers write. the joy we take in reading may be a selfish job, but it has an impact that’s good for everyone who reads.


On the reader’s need to read without rules:

“The only advice … that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at the liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions — there we have none.” -Virginia Woolf

On reading without preconceived notions:

“Few people ask from books what books can give us. Most commonly we come to books with blurred and divided minds, asking of fiction that it shall be true, of poetry that it shall be false, of biography that it shall be flattering, of history that it shall enforce our own prejudices. If we could banish all such preconceptions when we read, that would be an admirable beginning. Do not dictate to your author; try to become him. Be his fellow-worker and accomplice. If you hang back, and reserve and criticize at first, you are preventing yourself from getting the fullest possible value from what you read. But if you open your mind as widely as possible, then signs and hints of almost imperceptible fineness, from the twist and turn of the first sentences, will bring you into the presence of a human being unlike any other. Steep yourself in this, acquaint yourself with this and soon you will find that your author is giving you, or attempting to give you, something far more definite.” -Virginia Woolf

On how writing helps us become better readers:

“Perhaps the quickest way to understand the elements of what a novelist is doing is not to read, but to write; to make your own experiment with the dangers and difficulties with words.” -Virginia Woolf

On reading as a way of exercising our creative powers:

“But also we can read such books with another aim, not to throw light on literature, not to become familiar with famous people, but to refresh and exercise our own creative powers.”

On letting the dust settle on your reading experiences:

“Wait for the dust of reading to settle; for the conflict and the questioning to die down; walk, talk, pull the dead petals from a rose, or fall asleep. Then suddenly without our willing it, for it is thus that Nature undertakes these transitions, the book will return, but differently. It will float to the top of the mind as a whole.”

On how our reading choices affects what authors write:

“If to read a book as it should be read calls for the rarest qualities of imagination, insight, and judgment, you may perhaps conclude that literature is a very complex art and that it is unlikely that we shall be able, even after a lifetime of reading, to make any valuable contribution to its criticism. We must remain readers; we shall not put on the further glory that belongs to those rare beings who are also critics. But still we have our responsibilities as readers and even our importance. The standards we raise and the judgments we pass steal into the air and become part of the atmosphere which writers breathe as they work. An influence is created which tells upon them even if it never finds its way into print.”

On the heavenly and eternal rewards of reading books:

“I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgment dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesmen come to receive their rewards — their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble — the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, those need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’”

Resource: “What Did You Learn Today?” by Jane Bozarth
Decription: The power of asking “What did you learn today?”


A great question to ask yourself every day is “What did you learn today?” Although you learn many factoids and make several new observations on a given day, this questions serves as a reminder of that fact and it gives you an opportunity to practice the art of making your observations more explicit.

“What did you learn today?” can also be a great question to use for starting group discussions and meetups. It breaks the ice, creates an opportunity for fun conversation, allows some people the chance to share problems, creates a connection among group members, and becomes a kind of learning experience itself.


On the difference between capital “L” learning and lowercase “L” learning:

“We tend to think about “Learning” with a capital “L”, as some rather abstracted high-minded pursuit, a lifelong systematic interconnected journey of brain enrichment. (Heck, I have a doctorate in that. Don’t get me started.) But the rest of the world thinks about “learning” as “solving a problem” or “getting an answer” or “figuring it out” or “looking it up”.” -Jane Bozarth

On learning out loud:

“Answering “What did you learn today?” can also serve as a great, quick way to show your work/work out loud. My own organization had great success with this some years back when I convinced then-management to change a line item on our weekly reports from “Research” to “What did you learn this week?” Not only were people working out loud a bit more, but the question helped teach them to reflect on their own learning and to better recognize it when it happened. ” –Jane Bozarth

On being mindful of your learning practice:

“Answering “What did you learn today?” has been valuable for me, personally, too: I’m a #lrnchat moderator and try to participate every week. I know the question is coming. Still, I sometimes struggle to answer it. While I’m sure I must have learned something new– even if just some factoid from reading — I have found that can get lost in the clutter of a busy day, Knowing the question is coming forces me to think back over the past few days, and I can always find something– something– to say in answer. Answering the question helps to sharpen the saw.” –Jane Bozarth

On making room for reflection:

“Do whatever you can to build a bit of reflection into your practice and workday regardless of what kind of work you do. Among other things, it will help build mindfulness and awareness of your learning.” –Jane Bozarth

Resource: Getting Things Done by David Allen
Description: The process of reflection


The most valuable aspect of being organized is that it outsources low level thinking to external systems. This allows your brain to play the role of having ideas without being bogged down by holding ideas.

The brain is a creator, not a container. When you rely on it as a container, you compromise its ability as a creator.

All of your lists need to be regularly reviewed and updated. When your lists, don’t remain updated, your brain will take back the job of remembering things for you and this is not good. You don’t want your brain remembering things for you. You want your calendar, your next actions list, your in-tray, and your reminders/triggers to do all the remembering for you.

Your process of reflection should be frequent, routine, and efficient. If you’re properly organized, it shouldn’t take you more than a few seconds here and a few seconds there to review your lists.

Spend as much time as necessary thinking about what you need to do so that you don’t have to spend unnecessary time thinking about the things you need to do.


On the purpose of GTD and the power of reflecting:

“THE PURPOSE OF this whole method of workflow management is not to let your brain become lax, but rather to enable it to be free to experience more elegant, productive, and creative activity. In order to earn that freedom, however, your brain must engage on some consistent basis with all your commitments and activities. You must be assured that you’re doing what you need to be doing, and that it’s OK to be not doing what you’re not doing. That facilitates the condition of being present, which is always the optimal state from which to operate. Reviewing your system on a regular basis, reflecting on the contents, and keeping it current and functional are prerequisites for that kind of clarity and stability. ” -David Allen

On the necessity of regular review:

“If you have a list of calls you must make, for example, the minute that list is not totally current with all the calls you need to make, your brain will not trust the system, and it won’t get relief from its lower-level mental tasks. It will have to take back the job of remembering, processing, and reminding, which, as you should know by now, it doesn’t do very effectively. All of this means your system cannot be static. In order to support appropriate action choices, it must be kept up-to-date. And it should trigger consistent and appropriate evaluation of your life and work at several horizons. ” -David Allen

On keeping your system tidy and review-ready:

“Your personal system and behaviors need to be established in such a way that you can see all the action options you need to see, when you need to see them. This is really just common sense, but few people actually have their processes and their organization honed to the point where they are as functional as they could be. ” -David Allen

On keeping it simple and short:

“A few seconds a day is usually all you need for review, as long as you’re looking at a sufficient amount of the right things at the right time. ” -David Allen

On the surprising ease of reviewing a well-oiled system:

“People often ask me, “How much time do you spend looking at your system?” My answer is simply, “As much time as I need to feel comfortable about what I’m doing.” In actuality it’s an accumulation of two seconds here, three seconds there. What most people don’t realize is that my lists are in one sense my office. Just as you might have Post-its and stacks of documents that represent work to do at your workstation, so do I on my Next Actions lists and calendar. Assuming that you’ve completely collected, processed, and organized your stuff, you’ll most likely take only a few brief moments here and there to access your system for day-to-day reminders. ” -David Allen

On the relationship between organization and happiness:

“The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. —Ayn Rand

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