How To Take Notes Like a Rock Star

Leaders are readers!

But perhaps not all readers, just like leaders, are the same. My tried and true reading style used to involve a beverage of choice, a comfy chair in a room with some ambiance, and a highlighter. Yellow, pink, blue, orange. Books full of colorful lines, highlighting all of the pithy quotes that inspire.

And then I had kids. I stopped reading for pleasure (and sometimes for work) between 1995 and 2007. I read the details of medication dosages and researched vaccinations, but the days of a glass or mug of something with a great book faded as the highlighters dried out and were replaced with washable markers or bath crayons. I was the mother at my youngest child’s first day of first grade (cue Veggie Tales) who sang, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” because the baby of the family was finally in school all day.

Reading for pleasure came back slowly, but with this new season of life, reading, and leadership came a need for new highlighters. Enter friend, colleague, and mentor Greg Jao. Greg is a voracious reader. He is known to send protégés and colleagues copies of magazine articles or book suggestions that he has come across, and each one a gem. (Just in case you didn’t catch that, read the last sentence again. It’s a freebie.) And I asked him a few years ago about his note-taking methodology.

I’ve never read a book the same way.

In a nutshell, I still highlight but I hold both a pen and a highlighter. I grew up using chopsticks so it seems normal to me. Anything highlighted or underlined then gets cross-referenced in the front cover and blank pages of new book. I tend to rewrite the entire quote with the page number. That way you don’t need to flip through an entire book of highlights to find the quote you were looking for. Brilliant! I also write down my own questions or commentary, which is why I am often reluctant to loan out my books. (Bet some of you are wondering what I wrote in my copy of “Lean In”.)

This doesn’t work for everyone, but it has helped me process a bit more as I am reading, retain more of what I am reading (though anything would be better than what I can remember from those infant/baby/toddler years), and exercise my critical thinking skills.

What about you? How do you take notes while you a reading? And do you have a favorite brand pen or highlighter?



  1. searchingforsubstance April 16, 2013

    i bookmark them because i don’t like to write in my bookpages. but afterwards, i retype up all the good quotes onto my goodreads account for easy access to them. when i want to think of something an author said in this or that book, i can easily find them there.

    • Kathy Khang April 16, 2013

      Nice! I’ve thought about going electronic, but I still have a thing with nice pens or bright highlighter colors…and I forgot to mention the sticky flags I use as well.

  2. Jody Wiley Fernando April 17, 2013

    I love this, and completely identify with the whole no-reading-with-little-kids thing. I’ve just started reading again the past few years and still feel like I’m warming up!

    I’ve always kept a quotations database because I type faster than I write. I categorize quotes by topic, subtopic, author, and book title. I haven’t done it with every book I read, but this is a great idea to note take!

    • Kathy Khang April 17, 2013

      I like your quotations database idea. Greg also has a system for that, which was beyond me. I do see a need for a system like yours…maybe after B goes to college? 🙂

  3. Kbooklover April 17, 2013

    I like your post, when I’m a reading a paperback or hardcover I take notes in a journal or notebook, but when I’m reading on my Kindle in addition to taking notes I highlight a lot.
    Most of the times, I put my notes and reviews in electronic files as well.

    • Kathy Khang April 17, 2013

      I have read a few e-books, which makes time on the elliptical passing faster. I haven’t mastered the notes on Kindle for iPad yet…maybe because I am not coordinated enough?

      I have given more thought to moving to electronic notes, but I’m not there yet.

  4. joseasanoj April 22, 2013

    Reblogged this on My Day Out With An Angel.


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