Retaining Knowledge with

I read a lot in areas ranging from the finer points of cooking gumbo to recent developments in California trade secret law. For a long time now, I’ve done this reading digitally. I read long-form articles in Instapaper and books in the Kindle app on my iPad or directly on a Kindle device.

I have friends who lament about reading books digitally. They tell me about the experience of reading paper books and feeling the weight of it in your hand. I remember when paper books were the only option, and I remember their weight alright. I remember how heavy my bag was with three or four books in it back in the day. I also remember how frustrating it was when I carried all of those books only to find I left the book I needed at home. So I am fully invested in the idea of digital books. I don’t need the feel of them, I just need them to be with me.

The convenience of digital books took on a new level for me recently with my subscription to Readwise is an online service that can sync with your Amazon Kindle account. Readwise can then look at your Kindle books and collect all of your highlights from a book. You can then export your highlights as a Markdown file to add to your research notes on the book (or use any other way that makes sense to collect highlights).

My workflow is:

  1. Read the book, making digital highlights.

  2. Collect and export the highlights from to my notes app.

  3. Read the highlights and make a second set of highlights of the highlights.

  4. Summarize critical points in my own words.

In addition to automatically collecting highlights from my Kindle account, it does the same thing with everything I’ve highlighted in the Instapaper app. There are several more connected services, including Pocket, Medium, Hypothesis, Goodreads, Airr, Feedly, Apple Books, and Twitter. They even have a way to save to Readwise with an extension on iOS. If you’ve read other books without digitally highlighting them, Readwise can share a list of their most common highlights from that book as well.

Another cool Readwise feature is the option to send you a daily email with a collection of highlights from all of your resources. Every morning, I spend a few minutes looking through this list at ideas I thought were important enough to highlight. It’s one more way Readwise helps you retain what you’ve learned.

The system is all digital, all searchable, and always with me. I’ve done variations of this since I was in college in the ’80s. This is, by far, the best implementation.