September 17, 2020

JF2207: How To Get The Most Out Of Reading | Actively Passive Investing Show With Theo Hicks & Travis Watts

Reading is very important when it comes to growth, however, it is also sometimes very hard to fit reading in an already busy and stressful day. Today Theo and Travis will be sharing two methods they each use to get through multiple books in a short period of time. Each method is successful in its own right so be sure to try both to see which flows more with your personality.

We also have a Syndication School series about the “How To’s” of apartment syndications and be sure to download your FREE document by visiting Thank you for listening and I will talk to you tomorrow. 

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Theo Hicks: Hello Best Ever listeners, and welcome to the best real estate investing advice ever show. I’m Theo Hicks, and we’re back for the Actively Passive Investing show. So Travis, how are you doing today?

Travis Watts: Doing great. Excited to be here. We’ve got a fun topic.

Theo Hicks: We do, we do. So we’re gonna talk about reading today, and how that can obviously help you in your investing business. We’re gonna go over a technique that Travis has for how to read more books every single year. So Travis, I did know that you wanted to mention something before we got started about the show and the reception the show has gotten, and you wanted to say some thank yous, so maybe you can say that first and then we can dive into today’s topic.

Travis Watts: Sure. Yeah, I forgot this completely last time; apologies. But so many people reaching out through social media and LinkedIn exclusively, it almost seems like… Watching our show, just thanking us for making it. So just thank you guys for tuning in, and hopefully, this adds some value. We call it the Actively Passive show because there is so much on the active side of being a passive investor, and we have folks on both sides of the coin, active investors and passive investors. So that’s, to the point of today’s topic, which is about reading, which is obviously something active that you would do to keep up with your education. Hopefully giving you some tips and tricks to make that an easier process, a quicker process, a more efficient process, and maybe point out a couple things you hadn’t heard before. I know Theo’s got some really cool thoughts and insights here on what methods he uses, and then I do as well. So between the two of us, you can find a couple things that’ll help cut the learning curve for you.

Theo Hicks: Yes, exactly. So let’s go over your strategy first, how you read, and then I’ll ask you some follow up questions or maybe give my thoughts on it as well. But I would say that overall before we dive into this, I think Travis’s strategy – he’ll explain it – but I think his strategy is really good for trying to very quickly pull out the top best things in order to immediately implement those in yours, whereas my strategy is more for if you want to read a textbook. If you are reading the Best Ever Apartment Syndication Book, and it’s more of a book that’s written by a step by step process. The reason I’m saying that is because our strategies are completely different. But the point is that both are helpful, based off of what you’re actually trying to accomplish and what types of books you are reading, and you mentioned that in the article.

Travis Watts: Oh, yeah, and that’s something to mention. This is all off of a blog that I wrote a couple months back called “How to Read 52 Books in a Year”, which is something I did in 2015. In full transparency, this isn’t the exact strategy that I used to read 52 books. I didn’t just skim 52 books, as we’re going to cover today; it’s  more or less how to get through a book in let’s say an hour, just to put a time frame to it. That’s actually not what I did then, but it’s what I do since, because it was just information overload that year. I had incredible amounts of information being poured at me like a firehose. But for anyone that’s familiar with the cone of learning – you’ve probably seen a diagram, it looks like the food pyramid. I think it was – gosh, what’s his name – Edgar Dale, I think was his name, that came up with this, and it’s basically how much information we can retain as humans based on what method we’re consuming the information. So for example, for reading, statistically, we’re only going to retain about 10% of what we read.

So this is just a method to make that percentage jump a little higher and to cut that time commitment. If it takes you a month or two or three to get through a book, as I said, this is a way to take one hour and get the majority of what the book is trying to tell you. But to your point, Theo, even my strategy here, this strategy is really non-fiction stuff, it’s self-help, it’s how-to books, it’s things like that. But anything that’s going to follow a chronological order or it’s going to be in story format, this is not going to be a good strategy for books like that. Just to lay that out there.

Theo Hicks: Is Edgar Dale’s cone of–

Travis Watts: There you go.

Theo Hicks: –experience, E-D-G-A-R? You said a pyramid, and I found really nice pictures. There’s a  green pyramid that has the different types of ways you can consume content, and then it has the percentage of information retained based off of whatever you’re doing. So I never heard this before. Interesting.

Travis Watts: Oh, really? Okay. The book I’m going to talk about as my example is Robert Kiyosaki’s book. I think that’s where I probably picked up on that for the first time, was through him. But just to give simple– I don’t have it in front of me; I forget what they are. But I know 10% is reading, and I think it’s like– I don’t know. 30%–

Theo Hicks: 20% of what you hear, 30% of what you say, 50% of what you see and hear, 70% of what you say and write, and then 90% of what you do.

Travis Watts: Exactly. And we’ll get to hopefully more than that 50% to 70% range, and I’ll show you how to do that. Again, this is just a form of speed reading. But instead of just flying through page by page like that and going through 400 of them and trying to retain what you can, it’s a little bit different strategies. So it’s five steps, and I guess I’ll just jump right into them.

The first three steps have nothing to do with even reading. So it’s pretty easy, there’s only two real steps. But setting some blocks of time aside to read. So I think, myself included, and I know a lot of people, when you make this vague commitment like, “Hey, this Saturday, I’m just going to read all day,” or “I’m going to read this afternoon,” and there’s no clear timeframes or timetables, we often get distracted. You might get 45 minutes in and then “Oh, I got a phone call. Oh, I forgot about that email. Oh, I got to go cook dinner” or whatever. So I think blocking out two or three intervals per day, 15, 20-minute range, something like that puts you in the ballpark of an hour per day, and it doesn’t have to be every day. Think about yourself, your schedule, your routine. Make it sustainable. Maybe it’s ten-minute intervals three times a day – I don’t know – morning, evening, night, whatever works. So that’s step one.

Step two is decide ahead of time on what you want your outcome to be for the book that you’re reading. That’s really important. I don’t think a lot of people do that. This book here that I’m going to use as my example is called Second Chance, Robert Kiyosaki, came out several years back, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad. So Second Chance, what comes to mind, if I knew nothing about this book, is let’s say I lost a lot of money in the last recession or the downturn, or maybe I made some financial mistakes in my life previously, and what I get from this is, well here’s a second chance to think differently about it, or to come back stronger, or try something new or different. So that would be my outcome. I want to learn how I can have a second chance financially speaking. That’s step two.

Step three, we talked about this before the show – bookmarks, sticky notes; I’ve got all kinds of colors and types and sizes. It’s whatever works for you. But the point is, you want to highlight sections that are easy to find, like key concepts, topics, things that really stood out, things that were really helpful. And when you put this book away back to your shelf, you have these tabs so that, again, back to the cone of learning, we only retain 10%. Let’s say if I read this book, well, I want to be able to go back in five years and say, “What was that book about again?” or “I know there was something in that book. I can’t remember exactly what it was, but it really was helpful, or whatever”, and then you can just clearly go back in a matter of minutes and figure out what it was. A little overwhelming to go back to a 400 or 500-page book and forget what it was you’re even looking for and try to find it. You pretty much just have to reread it. So that would be step three, is simple organization.

So one, two, and three is just prep work. So to jump into it, this is what I do to get through a book in roughly an hour, depending on the book, obviously, and the size and the chapter length and all that. Step four is read the front cover, the subtext for your money, your life in our world. Kiyosaki, Second Chance, yadda yadda. The back’s actually got quite a bit on here. It says the past, the present, the future, you will learn how we got into this financial crisis and what we can learn from the past. The present is learning from the past. You’ll have the opportunity to make new decisions from the present for a better and brighter financial future. And in the future, you will learn how to guide yourself and your loved ones through this growing financial crisis.

So that’s just one small section, but this gives you clearly what this book is about, some things to think about. You may even need to use that to go back to step two, which is defining your outcome. Then, a lot of books have a jacket. There’ll be some text in here. This one doesn’t have it, but definitely read that after you read the front and back cover; the inside jacket there. This one has a dedication, that’d be fine to read that. I was really thinking about more the introduction. Definitely read the introduction. This book only has literally a one-page introduction. So that’s really short. So the foreword, the introduction and the jacket. And then we’re gonna jump right into chapter one. Okay, and this is all step four.

So the jacket covers, introduction, dedication, chapter one. So most books are gonna lay out the land for you in chapter one. It’s usually a pretty lengthy chapter, and it’s just the core concept. This is what this book is about, this is why I wrote it. They’re making the case for what it is. So it’s going to have the meat of what this book is all about. Now, so far, we haven’t done much different from reading any other book, like we’ve all learned in school and done our whole lives. Here’s where it changes though.

Step five, the last step, you’re going to skip all the way to the last chapter in the book, for the same purposes as I just pointed out for chapter one. Often in the last chapter, there’s going to be a really detailed recap. Okay, this is what we learned in the book, this is what we studied, these were some of the key takeaways, this is more or less what the conclusion is. So again, just painting the big picture. And then this book, I think, even has final thoughts. So definitely check that out.

But you can see in here, this is all part of the last chapter. It says right here, “Here’s a few ideas as you consider your second chance on what this could mean for your life, your spirit, your family, your future – one, two, three…” So it’s just recapping the book to give you the most out of this. A lot of people are phased out in the middle anyway, they’re not going to retain a lot of that. So this is just getting right to the point, highlighting, bookmarking, taking notes, all that good stuff.

Then, here’s the very last step that you do. Go all the way back to the table of contents in the book. And here’s the key – find one or two, maybe three at the most – depending on how much you love the book at this point – chapters that you actually want to read that are going to help you accomplish your outcome or your goal. So just skimming through here, I would probably read The Next Crash, chapter five, because I want to know thoughts on what is this crash? What are you talking about? What does that mean for me? What else would I read? Chapter 13, The Opposite of Get Out of Debt. That sounds interesting, because you would think you’d want to get out of debt, so what does he mean by the opposite of that? So those would be probably two chapters that I would focus on.

From there, literally, you’re going to be so much more organized than most people who read. You’re going to have things that you can reference and go back to. Of course, you can read the full book, if you’re really that into it, and you love it. But the concept here is, you put five books on your table and that’s overwhelming sometimes. You think, “God, that’s gonna take me a year to get through all that,” and here’s a way to do that in a week. You can just blow through them, and then maybe pick the favorite one of those five and say, “Man, that one seemed really interesting from what I read. I’d like to finish it.” And then double down on that one, and maybe one of them, you skim like this for an hour and you go, “Yeah, it’s kind of crap. I don’t think I’m gonna learn much from that book,” and that’s the point. Don’t waste your time. Value your time. So that’s the strategy to get through a book a lot quicker instead of the traditional speed read, which is reading super fast and trying to comprehend that. I’m not good at that. I’ve taken courses on it and I just struggle with it. So this is a way to retain more and to your point earlier, Theo, with that cone of learning. I think you said 70% is write, or at least that’s part of the 70% equation. No, write down notes.

Theo Hicks: Say and write, yeah.

Travis Watts: Yeah, say and write. So say it after you read the book. Recite your bullet points to someone. Now you’re all the way to 70% instead of 10%. So something to think about. But that’s my strategy in a nutshell.

Theo Hicks: Thanks for sharing that. And if you’ve ever written a book before, or you understand how the process of writing a book goes, this strategy makes more sense, because as Travis mentioned, typically what happens is you want to really summarize the book in the intro or the first chapter. So obviously, in that book Travis was talking about, it was summarizing– the intro was summarized in the first chapter. So you usually don’t write the intro until after you write the entire book. And then if the intro is 20 paragraphs, it’s one paragraph per chapter. So even you could even use the intro and say, “Okay, well in paragraph 15, it talks of something very, very interesting,” and then you go in the table of content and say, “Oh, Chapter 15 is talking about that particular paragraph in the intro.” So you can read that too. But obviously, you get that from reading the first chapter or reading the intro.

Something else too is a lot of the middle parts of the books is what authors do is they’ll have per chapter, maybe it’ll be one particular concept they’re trying to get across. So they’ll say that concept in the intro and in the beginning of the chapter, and then they’ll have 20 or 30 pages going into more detail and giving examples, which is obviously good to read sometimes. But really, if all you want is the concept, then you don’t even need to read that chapter in general. And then one other thing too I thought about as you were talking was I remember– I think his name is Tai Lopez. He talks about how he reads a book every day. So his strategy, from what I remember – I watched his video years ago – is he just downloads SparkNotes and he reads the SparkNotes of that book, and then that’s how he gets all the info. Now, the only issue I think with doing that is you’re going to be getting a summary out of maybe a real estate book or a self-help book that’s not written by someone who specializes in that, so you’re like “Didn’t I miss something?” So I think Travis’s strategy is a lot better, because you won’t miss the important things.

And then the one thing I wanted to mention before I talk about what I do really quickly, is taking a step back and asking yourself, how do I know what books to actually read, because there’s thousands, there’s millions of books out there, and if you don’t have a lot of time to read, obviously, this strategy would help. But if you even have less time, and you want to make sure that every book you read is completely worth it, then just make sure you’re getting your book recommendations from someone who’s at where you want to be.

So if you want to be a really successful apartments syndicator, then I would recommend reading books, listening to the podcasts, or reading the blogs of really good apartment syndicators or really good passive investors and see what they’re reading, and then just pick those books and just start there. That’s a lot better than going to a random top book list online or following the recommendations on Amazon, or something. So that’s how I pick books that I want to read, is that people who have information that I want or are at where I want to be, if they have a recommended book list, I’ll read that and only that. And once I go through that, I can move out somewhere else.

Travis Watts: That’s one of the most common questions I think I’m asked when I’m a guest on a podcasts, “What’s your favorite book or your top three books that have changed your life?”, things like that. That’s a great source to get that information. Again, if you want to be  a passive investor, go listen to a podcast with passive investors, see what they say about books. Great point. I love it.

Theo Hicks: So just really quickly, what I have is similar. So usually, whenever I read books, I go in a lot of detail, like a crazy person. So this strategy is more for if you– let’s say you follow Travis’s strategy and you find that one book that you want to read through fully. So again, I’ve never heard of this Edgar Dale’s cone of experience before, but he says that the best way to retain knowledge is to actually do it, act on that knowledge. And then before that is to say and to write it. So a little bit of what I’ll do is I’ll read the book, and while I’m reading it, I will underline, highlight maybe a statement or two, what concept is being talked about or whatever. So I’ll read the entire book that way, and then I’ll go back through and I’ll look at the words I had at the top of each page. And then it depends on how detailed the book is. But maybe for each chapter, you take a post-it note and you put it at the front of the chapter, and then you write your notes on that chapter. It could either be very detailed or it could just be bullet point form. And then you do that for each chapter, and then you can stop there. I don’t stop there. I go further than that. But if you stop there, then you go back to your book, and like Travis has these little notes at the top for you, you don’t even have to open that book again if you don’t want to. You can just say, “Okay…” You can just quickly read through that ten post-it notes in five minutes. So five years later, you want to go back to the book and remember what you learned, all you need to do is read these five bullet points, as opposed to reading the 300-page book again. So that’s the– you take care of the reading part and you take care of the writing part.

And then if you want to go even above and beyond that, you can write a page worth in Microsoft Word summarizing the chapter after you’ve read that chapter or later. Or even better, as Travis said, you can say it out loud. So usually, when I read a book, I’ll annoy my wife by [unintelligible [00:20:13].21], I’ll just start talking about the concepts that I learned in that book to her, and she’ll ask questions, and it makes you think about it more. Or you can turn it into a thought leadership platform where you can talk to listeners about what you learned. So not only are you obviously helping other people adding value to their lives, but you’re also helping retain that knowledge even more, because then he says in here, the best way is to perform a presentation on the information that you learned. So this is design and perform a presentation. So you read a book, you take your notes, and then you do a presentation on that book for, say, an hour, even if you don’t even record it. It’d be good to record it and post it, but you don’t have to. You can just say it out loud in your office to yourself, and that way, you’ll retain that knowledge, as he says here, 90%, as opposed to just reading it, and that’s it.

Travis Watts: Exactly. That’s something I just started doing too, just these relevant book reviews to the industry that we’re in, multifamily. I did one last week on The Hands Off Investor, and it really helped. I just finished up that book, and for reasons that we’re talking about, I wanted to really sink the point home of what that book was about and recap it. So I did make a video, I did record it, I did post it, but I don’t know how many of those I’ll do.

But one, it helps other people. Instead of what we’re talking about reading a book in an hour, maybe they can watch a ten-minute video and get the gist of it. But two, it helped me remember some key concepts. So whatever works for you, like I said earlier before we started this, whether– it’s not about my method versus your method versus anybody’s method; just do what works for you. But don’t waste your time reading a book that’s not giving you any value or a super long book that you’re already six hours in and you can only say one thing about it. This is just a point to almost like that book’s out too. The most time you’re going to risk is an hour, and if it’s junk, you just quit. And if it’s great, then you saved a month or whatever. So it’s a win-win.

Theo Hicks: Yeah, it’s definitely a really good vetting process. Again, going back to this pyramid and the experience of writing a book or writing blog posts or whatever. You’d be surprised by how much more you retain information when you write it. Someone could say something and you might remember a blog post you wrote five years ago about that topic, but you spent five, six hours writing. So I think that if you truly want to retain that information once you identify it using Travis’s strategy, you need to, in some form, do this, perform a presentation, whether it’s writing it or saying it out loud, if you truly want to retain it and be able to have it naturally come up whenever you see something that might be relevant. Is there anything else that you want to mention about this reading technique or any reading technique or how you read? I remember you mentioned that you don’t necessarily follow this strategy or you didn’t or I can’t remember exactly what you said in the beginning.

Travis Watts: Yeah, just remember that this is good for books like these nonfiction, how-to, self-health, all that good stuff. But again, if you’re going to go read Harry Potter, forget about this and things like that, fiction books. The other thing is I listen to a lot of audiobooks too, at least before COVID. I was traveling a ton. All the time I was on the go, sometimes hard to read a physical book. So mix and match. Maybe as you’re in your car, you’re doing an audiobook. But when you get home in the evenings, you’re doing a physical book. So it’s just one tool. I’m all about just sharing helpful knowledge hacks and tools and things like that. So try it out. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself – go grab a book, a nonfiction, how-to, self-help book and just try it. Try it for yourself and see what you think after an hour of that, and then take a book maybe that you’ve read previously, where you didn’t do this; you just read it front to back three years ago. How much do you remember about that book? What could you tell somebody? Could you teach a 20-minute presentation on it, and just see if it helps. That’s all I can really say.

Theo Hicks: Yeah. So I would summarize and say, when it comes to reading, I think it’s quality over quantity. So it’s much better to read one fantastic book that you get 52 takeaways than to read 52 books that you get one takeaway from.

Travis Watts: I can attest to that.

Theo Hicks: So if you want to read this blog post in full… It’s a really well-written blog post. It gives case studies of some very successful people and how many books they read and their thoughts on reading, and then it has the step by step process on how you benefit. It’s called, A Life Changing Technique – How to Read 52 Books A Year by Travis Watts. This one’s on BiggerPockets. I think it’s on the Joe Fairless website as well. So Travis, thanks again for joining us. I always enjoy these. And Best Ever listeners, thank you for listening as well. Go out there and read your book today in one hour, and have a best ever day. We’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Travis Watts: Likewise. Thanks, Theo, and thank you guys so much for listening and tuning in.

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