During a Reddit AskMeAnything on Friday, someone asked billionaire Bill Gates about his voracious reading habits.
Reddit user IFlippedTheTable asked Gates how he is able to "focus and absorb so much information" as he reads, especially when he's on vacation and reading for leisure. (Gates famously packs a tote bag of books when he goes on vacations.)
"On vacation I get to read about 3 hours a day so I get through a lot of books," Gates wrote on the Reddit AMA.
Taking notes is one way that Gates synthesizes all the information he reads. He said he will take notes on about 20% of the books that he reads, and although it doubles the time it takes to read the material, "for a lot of books that is key to my learning," he said on Reddit.
"When you're reading you have to be careful that you really are concentrating," Gates told Quartz in a 2017 interview. "Particularly if it's a non-fiction book, are you taking the new knowledge and sort of attaching to knowledge you have?"
Writing notes in the margins of a book "helps make sure that I'm really thinking hard about about what's in there," Gates said in 2017. For example, if he disagrees with something that the author writes, he will write out his viewpoint in the margins.
Turns out there is some science to this strategy: Studies have shown that people retain information longer when they take notes by hand rather than computer, in part because it requires you to slow down. In a 2017 study, researchers found that writing by hand requires a higher level of neural activity that's related to cognitive processing and learning, which allows the brain to encode new information.
As you read more, it becomes easier to contextualize and remember information, Gates explained in a 2019 Quartz interview.
"If you read enough, there's a similarity between things that make it easy, because this thing is like this other thing," Gates said. "If you have a broad framework, then you have a place to put everything."
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