Harry Smith

Master Action List

Consolidate all the action items from the books you read and actually do them.

I’ve been keeping a ‘Master Action List’ to ensure that the key ideas that I discover get implemented. It’s a way of resurfacing the applicable concepts from books, courses, videos in one place. Don’t store good ideas but actually complete them.

We don’t remember a huge amount of what we read. We act on even less of it. I am a veracious reader, reading between 4-6 books a month. Often when a book is particularly powerful, the ideas of the book stick with me forever. I would be lying if I said anything but the central themes of a book stayed with me though. Key arguments stay with me but not much else. There is a wealth of other information that might be useful.

The core ideas of a book can lead to change. Not incremental change, but the sort of life changing paradigm shifts that set you on a new path. My experience though is that it takes time for the core ideas to cause the shift in understanding.

Most books are 10% a core claim, and 90% argument and story to support the claim. That 10% is what leads to insight. The 90% helps us get there. Dotted through out there is something more immediate - actionable information.

This actionable information is vital. It gives direction to where we should be going next. It can allow you to replicate the conditions in which the author gained their core insight. Thus gaining an even greater understanding of it. It is the difference between stumbling past a tool, and actually implementing it. It is way of turning reading into a powerhouse of positive change.

Actually try the ideas put forward by a book. It will encourage curiosity and creativity into you own processes. You will have a much deep understanding of the idea.

But how do we create an environment that encourages the completion of these action items? How can you systemise the process of reading, discovery, recording, actioning?

Note taking only get’s us part of the way there. We read, we discover and we record. While I do review book notes later, I do so for information retrieval. I don’t trawl notes looking for actions to take. When I am in the modality to take action I don’t want to be reading, I want to be doing.

The ‘Master Action List’ is a system for making sure that you complete action items. Not write them down and forget them. Never again think ‘that’s cool’ and turn the page, wondering if you’ll ever actually do it.

It is a simple concept. Go through all your book notes. Take any actionable information, and merge it into a single action item list. Whenever you read something new, do the same.

This is how I use this ‘Master Action List’ every week to take actions from my reading:

  1. Assign any and all action items from books, articles, or own ideas to master action list
  2. Categorise actions by source, and type (e.g read, research, habit..)
  3. Review action list every Sunday. Assign one action item to complete on each day of the upcoming week
  4. Complete these action items each day

One unexpected side effect of this process is that action items mingle in the list. Unseen relationships between ideas become easy to see. Ideas from different books fuse, creating new action items. This is very exciting to me and something I am exploring further. With this in mind each new book becomes a catalyse for novel personal innovation.

It’s obvious. It’s simple. It’s easy. Good ideas should be. Try it next time you read something, or start crawling your notes for action items. Put them in a list and make a habit of completing one a day. Now you aren’t reading a book, but unlocking the next steps on your journey.

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