An avid lifelong learner himself, Bill Gates knows a thing or two about studying. He reportedly reads roughly 50 books per year, nearly one per week, and takes steps to ensure that he actually absorbs all the material he’s read. Based on interviews with Gates, here are his five rules for reading.
1: Take notes. The best way to learn is to “attach” new information to the knowledge you already have, Gates says. He takes notes while reading, which helps him reflect on the material.
2: Finish the entire book. Gates says that he never leaves a book half-finished. If you don’t read the full text, you could miss important points or misunderstand the author.
3: Make yourself comfortable. Gates hasn’t joined the e-reader trend, saying he still prefers to read in print. Like Gates, you should read in whatever way makes you most comfortable. Even audiobooks—which some people think of as “cheating”—can provide extra context that helps listeners better understand certain types of texts.
4: Read for at least an hour at a time. When you only have five minutes, reach for a magazine, Gates suggests. But for serious reading, you should dedicate at least an hour to your book, he argues. His suggestions align with recent research finding that switching quickly between tasks reduces performance on those tasks.
5: Get context. If you read enough about a subject, you’ll build a base layer of understanding. “If you have a broad framework, then you have a place to put everything,” which makes it easier to remember new details of information, says Gates.
“So, incremental knowledge is so much easier to maintain in a rich way,” he says. “At first it is very daunting but then as you get the kind of scope, then all these pieces fit in” (Bariso, Inc., 11/21/18; Clifford, CNBC, 3/21)