#087: How to Get Through (and Absorb!) That Pile of Unread Business Books

I love to read

In fact, I have more books I want to read than I have time to read them.

Sound familiar?

Yes, I’ve tried some speed-reading courses. They helped, but I’ve yet to reach a level where I can read 50+ books a year.

So when I came across Brandon Hakim’s techniques on how to read and absorb dozens of books a year, I was intrigued.

Just by applying a few of his simple ideas, I’ve read two books in the past two weeks — something that would have normally taken me two months to accomplish.

In this interview, Brandon will explain how he reads over 300 books a year. He describes a key mindset shift you need to make in order to get to this level. Plus a handful of practical techniques to help you get through nonfiction books much faster.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

Tell us about yourself

Brandon Hakim is an entrepreneur, writer and restaurant owner. He’s developed several online courses related to productivity, life-long learning and getting the most out of business and self-improvement books.

How did reading and absorbing information become a priority for you?

After finishing business school, Brandon took over his father’s restaurant. The restaurant was not doing well, and Brandon quickly found his business school education didn’t help much.

Brandon quickly learned he could get better, more relevant advice from one book than his whole college education. As additional problems came up in his business, he turned to books for answers.

He soon became obsessed with reading and absorbing information. Today, he reads about one book a day and his restaurant business is doing great.

Give us an overview of the process you use

You have to start by changing your mindset. You have to shift from reading things to have a conversation (as in school) to reading things to extract information you can use.

How do you know what information is actionable and what isn’t?

Start by previewing the book. Don’t read it from beginning to end. Look through the table of contents to identify how the book is organized and what parts you could apply to your life or business. Read the back cover. Dip into different sections and see what parts resonate.

If you’ve identified a few sections that resonate with you, start by reading those sections. But, if many sections resonate, then you can start reading from the beginning.

While reading, continue to look for things you can skip, such as stories, bullet points and descriptions. Look for things that take up space but don’t add much value. Sometimes there’s nothing to skip, but that’s rare.

Sometimes stories help you understand and retain information. But sometimes stories aren’t relevant to your situation and, even if they are, contain a lot of fluff. Move on once you’ve grasped the main idea. Be your own guide.

What techniques do you use as you go through a book?

Look at subheads. Look at the first sentence of paragraphs. If they aren’t applicable to you, go to the next section or paragraph.

Brandon also marks up books as he reads. Use the book as a tool. Make notes in the margins and underline text so you can refer back to them later.

Does marking up the book slow you down?

The secret to getting the most out of business books is to read selectively, not quickly.

Go deep in sections that are actionable. Skip sections that aren’t. Taking a little extra time to mark up your book will help you retain the information and find what you’re looking for when you refer back to it.

Some people feel that selective reading is “cheating” because you haven’t “read” the whole book. But it’s better to get that one big idea that can change your life than to spend hours reading material that you can’t apply. Spending time on every section also means less time to read other books.

Does your method work with digital books as well?

Physical books are easy to preview, flip through and read. You can make notes and fold pages so you can find things when you come back to it. It’s harder to do this with digital books.

Brandon likes to record his main takeaways and actionable items on the first page of each book. It creates an easy reference and forces him to identify the most important, relevant points.

How do you choose which books to review?

What you choose to read should depend on what’s going on in your life.

Let your life be your guide. What challenges are you facing? What questions do you have? You may find the answers in a new book or by going back to a book you’ve already read.

Tell us about your course

Brandon’s course is designed to help participants read more books (a lot more!) more quickly and get more relevant information from them. The ultimate goal is to improve your business and your life.

To learn more about the course, reach to Brandon through his site: InsiderSchool.com/ed. He’ll send you an email with a link where you check out his course.


  • Brilliant episode. Thanks guys and see you in Delray Ed!

    • edgandia

      Glad you enjoyed it, David. Thanks for checking it out. See you soon!

  • Good stuff! I probably have 100+ books so I am going to take a few and try this out – now that I have permission to skim because that’s not “cheating.” 🙂

    I also have found that when it comes to business reading, physical books are better for me (not digital). Every time I get a digital book, I struggle to find “that one section” that I want to refer back to. So annoying.

    • edgandia

      Cool, let me know how it goes. I found that giving myself permission to plow right through it was the biggest thing I needed to get 80% of the value of the book quickly. And I’m with you 100% on the digital vs. printed thing. I NEVER buy nonfiction in digital format. Only fiction.

  • Eric Lynch

    The above workflow that Brandon uses is pretty much what we busy executives use when reading white papers…with the exception of opening a restaurant, of course.

    • edgandia

      Right on!

  • Rachel Speal

    I actually buy plenty of non-fiction digital books, but that’s largely because I live outside of the U.S. and it’s either ridiculously expensive or takes too long to get here. I find if you’re reading on a Kindle, you can easily highlight, add notes, etc. In fact, it’s much easier to find that “one section” because you can just do a quick search.

    I do read quite a bit- about 3 books a week (fiction) and 1 non-fiction about every week or two weeks. But of course, even at that rate, it’s never enough…

    Also if anyone is interested, an older book called, “How to Double Your Power to Learn,” by Eugene Schwartz has an excellent method – not one I’ve seen in most places- on how to read nonfiction books.

    • edgandia

      Thanks for the book suggestion, Rachel!

  • This was awesome, Ed & Brandon! I’m almost positive I’m the slowest reader on the planet. (I’m not even going to tell you how many times I have to renew a book from the library just so I can finish reading it.) So I’m excited to give these tips a try. Thanks for another great podcast!

    • edgandia

      Cool! I’m a slow reader too, so I feel your pain, Holly!

  • Brandon presents solid advice on how to quickly and efficiently get the key information you need from a book.

    There’s one key step I always add before I even buy a book: read quality reviews online. Amazon is an obvious choice, but many good sites publish in-depth reviews of books. These reviews often state the most important points of the book, and it could be that’s all you need and you don’t have to either purchase the book or take the time to go through it. Or the reviews could alert you to the most important ideas and action items you want to investigate if you do choose to get the book.

    Furthermore, you may find out from multiple reviews from credible reviewers that the book is flawed in important ways and perhaps you shouldn’t read it all. Such reviews may also point you to better books that will be worth your time.

    • edgandia

      That’s a great point, John! Some of these reviews are incredibly detailed and helpful. Sometimes they contain 60% or more of the book’s ideas. I’ve also subscribed to Soundview Executive Book Summaries in the past. Very detailed and helpful summaries (and the audio versions make great companions in my car). Been thinking about subscribing again.