Read Intentionally

Table Of Contents

How many words are you reading every day?

As a software developer, I read a lot. And I’m pretty sure that I should read even more. I need to stay up-to-date on my emails, a lot of Slack channels and, most importantly, on the things that other teams within the company are doing (i.e. read a lot of internal blog posts and other updates in our Confluence instance).

Your situation is probably similar. But how much of the information you read every day do you retain in memory?

If I was to guess the ratio of information I retain to all information that I read, I would say it’s something around 5%. That means 95% of what I read every day is lost. And these 95% split up into two categories:

  • information that I shouldn’t have read in the first place because they bring no value to me, and
  • information that I should have read more intently, to keep the knowledge in memory.
    The first category I can avoid by being selective. Unsubscribe from newsletters I don’t read, create email filters to highlight important emails, leave some Slack channels, and so on.

The second category I can avoid by reading intentionally. Some things that I do are:

Maintain a Reading List

I maintain a list of things I need to read on a Trello board with a comment on the card that answers the question of why I should read it.

When I have reading time, I can check if the answer is still valid and then either read it or scrap it.

Trello also provides the nice functionality that you can forward emails to it, which I use to re-read and answer emails at a later time.

Prime Your Brain

Ask yourself some questions you want answered before starting to read something.

For example, I ask myself the question “What do I expect to get out of this text?”. This helps me to filter out the important information.

It also helps to find the sections in the text that are most interesting to me and allows me to skim through the document more purposefully.

If I realize that my questions are not answered at all, I may decide to stop reading this document at all.

Schedule Reading Time

Actively scheduling some time for reading each day helps to stay on top of the deluge of information.

If it ain’t scheduled, it ain’t happening.

I’m reading 20 minutes in a nonfiction book in my lunch break every day. And I know I should schedule some reading time for work, as well… .

Take Notes

Taking notes helps to internalize the knowledge. It forces you to translate the information you read into your own words, increasing memory retention.

I like to take notes the old-fashioned way on paper and then transfer them into a digital, searchable version. This act of transferring the notes greatly increases retention, at least for my sorry brain.

Gamify It

I “collect” book notes. When I’m reading nonfiction books, I publish my book notes on the blog.

They are the worst-performing pages on my blog (no one reads them). But the point is that the process of publishing the notes gives me a sense of accomplishment that motivates me to take notes and even re-visit them to get them published. I’m basically tricking my brain into having fun reading.

Purposeful Reading

We’re all flooded with information every day. What you can’t (or don’t want to) say “no” to, you have to read in a way that makes the most of the time you’re investing.

Don’t just consume emails, documents, articles, and the like. Either read them with purpose, or don’t read them at all.

Written By:

Tom Hombergs

Written By:

Tom Hombergs

As a professional software engineer, consultant, architect, general problem solver, I've been practicing the software craft for more than fifteen years and I'm still learning something new every day. I love sharing the things I learned, so you (and future me) can get a head start. That's why I founded

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