How can some people remember so many concepts and ideas from the books they read or the podcasts they listen to, while others hardly recall even the broad idea of the content they finished a few days back?

Did it happen to you to read an article or to listen to a podcast during commute and at the end of the day you couldn't recall what it was about?

To benefit long term from the information you consume - to remember and to be able to later apply the concepts and ideas you find useful - you need to engage with the content.

Simply put, engaging with content is a process that consists of three important steps: note down the meaningful ideas, organize your notes, reflect on and revise your notes.

Before going into details let’s address a common thought that you may have about this process.

Maybe you’re thinking that you tried to highlight passages on books, fold page corners, or even jot something at the end of a book, but it didn’t help you to remember the main points for more than a few days.

The reason is that taking notes is just the first step of the process and it doesn’t work alone. Remember when you were in school and used to take notes during classes. Was it enough to just take notes? No, for most of us it was not enough and we needed to revise those notes and reflect on them in order to perform on tests.

To get the most out of the books and articles you read, the podcasts you listen to, and the videos you watch, you need to engage with the content you consume. Let’s break down this process.

1. Save the meaningful ideas

The first step is to save the ideas and concepts that you find interesting, so you can use them later. Store all your notes in a single place, not spread across multiple notebooks, index cards, etc. This way you can easily come back later to revise your notes and search for ideas that are relevant to the content you’re currently consuming.

Use technology for this step and store your notes in the cloud to have them available at any time. But you should still type the notes by hand, not use copy-paste, even though you’ll re-write some of them with your own words, in step 3.

2. Organize your notes

The second step is important because it helps you explore your stored ideas and discover connected concepts afterward. In this step, you should organize the content on multiple levels:

  1. By type - book, podcast, video, tweet, etc.
  2. Into categories - finance, health, fiction, etc. You can - and should - use multiple tags on every content you consume.
  3. Highlight your notes with colors and be careful to use the same color for similar ideas. You can label your highlighters beforehand.
    For example, you can use the blue color to highlight questions that you want to self-reflect on, a green shade for notes that give you actionable advice, yellow for funny facts, and so on.

By organizing your content with such granularity you will be able to come back and quickly revise and re-learn ideas, concepts, and facts. You do this step for your future self.

3. Revise and Reflect

This is the most important step because you get to re-write the notes using your own words and this process makes the brain store the information in the long-term memory and increases retention.

Start by reading the note again, understand the idea behind it, see if you can find links with similar ideas from other disciplines, and then re-write the note with your own words, not with fancy phrasing, but as if you were talking to a friend or a colleague.

At first, you will find this step to be difficult, but this is what develops your thinking and deepens your understanding. Of course, you don’t need to re-write all notes and some words are better to be left as the author phrased them, but, again, you should type and not copy-paste.

Optional: Share your notes and thoughts

After you reflect on your notes and re-write them with your own words you can share them with people for the purpose of starting a conversation and getting feedback. This way you might find a new perspective or you might better understand the subject.

For this step, again, you can leverage technology and share your notes on social media. This is a good way to engage in new conversations and hear other opinions. Twitter is a good platform for this kind of interaction, but other platforms can work too.