Bill Gates Has the Most Genius Ways of Remembering What He Reads

Retaining information isn’t as daunting as it seems.

Lintao Zhang/Getty Images
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Books are so much more than sources of information: reading has many other benefits, from making us more empathetic, to increasing our well-being, to improving the quality of our sleep. At Thrive, we’re big fans of books and reading. Know who else is a fan? Bill Gates, who regularly releases lists of his favorite books.

Given his schedule, the fact that Gates is an avid reader is an impressive feat, but he also somehow manages to retain much of what he reads — enough to drop facts he has gleaned from books into everyday conversations. He recently sat down with Quartz to share some tips for how to remember what you’ve read. We’re not promising his level of retention, but at least this is a good start!

Look for connections

Gates does more than just read a lot — he also looks for connections between what he’s read.

“If you read enough, there’s a similarity between things that makes it easy, because this thing is like this other thing,” he told Quartz. “If you have a broad framework then you have a place to put everything.”

For example, he explained that if you want to learn about science, then you should read about the history of scientists, and what they were confused and curious about, and the tools or insights they used that allowed them to make progress in their fields.

“So you have the timeline, or you have the map, or you have the branches of science and what’s known and what’s not known,” he added.

Think of what you learn as pieces of a puzzle

At Thrive, we’re all about taking Microsteps — small but meaningful changes that can have a big impact — over trying to multitask or try and do too much at once. Gates’s little-by-little approach to retaining what you read reading is similar. “Incremental knowledge is so much easier to maintain in a rich way,” he explained. “At first it is very daunting. But then as you get the kind of scope, then all these pieces fit in.”

Don’t be afraid to question something

As great as books are, we can’t just assume that everything printed in one is an absolute fact. If something seems off, or goes against something you thought you knew, don’t be afraid to question it. Gates does this, and said that he finds it fun to figure out where a new piece of information belongs in his mental repository, and whether or not it contradicts something else he previously knew. If it does, he looks it up. (More reading!)

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