The solopreneur course focuses on taking a piece of educational or self-improvement media, and translating it into a homework assignment, which I then complete and share on my website, making it simple for others to take the same actions (to seek similar benefits), as well as see exactly what I did, and how it worked for me. I already regularly consume a large quantity of self-improvement media, but I believe the most impactful learning and life changing events I’ve experienced happened though my actions, not from reading a book, website, or blog, so I rooted the course in taking action. In the spirit of ‘work smarter not harder’, I decided to start by learning how to read. Before tackling the list of articles and books I have planned for the mini-courses, I wanted to improve the way I read so that I can learn as much as possible, and optimize my takeaways.
I spend a large portion of my life reading, and I read almost exclusively for the purpose of learning how to live, or to take away lessons that will benefit my life, but in the past I fear that through distraction, an imperfect memory, or a failure to internalize the ideas through first hand experience, I have failed to implement the ideas I hoped to learn while reading. As time passes and I become further separated from my reading I also become removed from the achievement of it. Sure I can say ‘I read that’ when a particular book comes up in conversation, but I want to get much more out of my reading. I want to see my life change as the result of my reading, and know exactly how (what ideas and actions it inspired, and how they worked). It would also be nice to talk about books that had more of an emotional impact on me, or get some sort of intellectual achievement out of spending more time and attention focusing on a book instead of speed reading and forgetting it.
For my first business course I borrowed a solution from one of my favorite readers, Ryan Holiday, who: appears read for the same reasons that I do, I admire as an author, and I use to find most of my book recommendations. His article about ‘how to digest books above your level’, suggests a better method for learning as much as possible from a book and allowing it to have a deeper impact on you. While reading a few of his other articles I found that Bill Gates, Noah Kagan, Derek Sivers, and many other smart and accomplished individuals write book reports for the books they read, which Holiday calls marginalia. Producing marginalia would allow me to show what I’ve read, and how it benefited me, serve as content for my website, and could potentially become a source of income for me in the future (as Ryan Holiday’s monthly reading list is for him). I’ll explain what I did, and how I did it in the “one pager” below.
Solopreneurship Course #1: Read to Lead/Marginalia:
Before Starting the Book:
Read a few reviews of the book. Usually I see if my favorite book reviewers have read the book and written about it. If they haven’t I just read the ‘most helpful’ reviews on Amazon. This allows you to keep an eye out for certain important concepts, or things that benefited others, as well as things to be critical or cautious of while reading.
While Reading the Book:
Read every page, in order. This includes reading all the intros and forwards. They can seem boring, but they often give you the historical perspective, or some of the authors thoughts that are meant to prime you into the right state of mind for understanding the book and its intentions or cultural impacts. It also humanizes the author and helps you realize that someone, no better than you, wrote this, which I find motivating.
Highlight passages that stick out to you. Whether its a writing style that you hope to emulate, a seemingly quotable passage, a mantra you want to repeat, a concise embodiment of you learned while reading, an actionable exercise, or something that simply causes you to have an emotional reaction, highlight it, and fold over the top corner of the page.
Underline the words and ideas you don’t understand, or want to learn more about. In addition underline all the books that the author recommends or mentions. This comes in handy later, and can be used for ideas about what to read next. Fold over the bottom corners of pages on which you have underlined something.
After compiling the book:
Reread the highlighted passages. Type them out. Now you have a bunch of quotes easily organized, and you can quickly find the ideas you hoped to learn from the book without manually searching or having to reread the entire text. In the same document, type out all the underlined phrases and words. After writing them out, look them up, and type a short (< one sentence) explanation of each of them in your own words. Take a break from the book for a week to allow its ideas to solidify in your mind, and to see how reading has changed your perspective. As you move through the world you may try some of the exercises, or see things that will change the way you think about what you’ve read and learned. Keep these in mind.
After spending a short amount of time ((ideally) less than 2 weeks) away from the book:
Write your marginalia. I like to write about how the book impacted my life in an emotionally expressive format, but find whatever suits your writing style. Put this article somewhere on your website, with pictures of your highlights, notes, and the cover of your book. In your article use Amazon Affiliate links (particularly on the pictures and titles of the book) to link to it. This will allow you to get a small percentage of the revenue if someone decides to buy the book after reading your article. It is important to maintain authenticity, so don’t write a sales page for the book, write as honest of an article as possible. You are writing for your own benefit, to learn and to have something to look back on, the (potential) income is just a small bonus.
Choose a book that you found while reading (typically in your underlines) to read next, and repeat the process outlined in this one-pager.
For an example, and my homework assignment check out my marginalia on As a Man Thinketh.
Now I want to give a review on this mini-course itself, so I can share what I learned though taking these actions. While performing this exercise I realized another benefit of reading and sharing books this way; it allows you to give others the benefits you found yourself from the book, while saving them time, money, and effort. A book recommendation can improve someone’s life, but if you trust the source (meaning the person recommending the book, in this case me), you can shortcut the whole reading process and ask “how can this book change my life?” Just as I am taking abstract pieces of knowledge in this article, and translating them to a straightforward executable list, the same thing can be done for any book, movie or other piece of art that influenced you and has the potential to influence others. So in my book notes articles I include my important actionable takeaways, so my readers can live the lessons I learned from the book immediately after learning about it. In fact if you want to “lifehack” the reading of my articles, just read the short actionable summaries of the books (or business courses), since I believe the majority of the content is there, the rest of the article is about my journey, feelings, experience, or rhetoric so readers understand where I’m coming from.
I throughly enjoyed this experiment, and I plan on continuing to write marginalia about (almost) every book I read in the future, regardless of the results. It motivates me to read more, more carefully, and live the lessons of my book (so that I can write an interesting article in the future). It really does feel as though I’ve accomplished something looking at the article on my website, or just the cover of the book on my notes page. Whether or not I receive any results from writing book notes, Solopreneur Course #1 is a success, since I am looking for work that doesn’t feel like work (that I am passionate about and enjoy doing) and that’s exactly how I feel about writing book notes for my website.
From a business perspective, this experiment has been more successful than anything else I’ve ever done for the blog. I experienced a giant traffic spike after my article trended on StumbleUpon, and my As a Man Thinketh article has more page views than anything else I’ve ever posted on my blog, by a large margin. Although I didn’t expect to, I actually made money from the article as well. While writing this article I discovered that I had made $0.52 from affiliate sales off of my Amazon links, and that the sales happen pretty randomly. Books are timeless (especially timeless books), and I expect my standalone article to be a very small (on the order of $1/year) source of revenue for the website, that will scale as traffic to the website increases. It may seem small, but going from 0 to 1 is much harder than going from 1 to 100, and it was an incredible feeling to make my first money from the website. It really made this whole course feel real, and made me feel like a legitimate solopreneur, even if I am still a small one.
The emotional benefit from this experiment has been incredible as well. Since opening up in my article, I’ve had friends read the book, and it’s led to some really deep and impactful conversations for me. Even friends that haven’t read the book, read my thoughts, and shared with me that they were going through something similar (I talk about this on the Megan Episode of the Podcast) which helped me in two ways: I knew that I wasn’t alone, and I was given a new perspective on what I learned through the book as well as what I hoped to learn by reading the book. As people interact with my articles it allows the learning to continue long after I’ve set the book aside.
In short, this has brought me closer to people I care about, has been the primary driver of traffic to my website, been the first thing that has made any money on my website, and wildly improved how much I remember, recall, learn, and live the lessons from the things I read. I strongly recommend it to others, so much so that I am taking my own recommendation, and will be repeating this experiment in the future!