The Complete Guide to Effective Reading

Learning how to learn: how to make your ROI on reading explode

Maarten van Doorn
30 min readApr 27, 2019


Learning is a heavily misunderstood concept.

As a paradigm example of deep work, we understand that, when reading, directing your full attention to the material at hand is essential. Grasping complex information is hard.

But this is only half the battle.

After some string of words hits your retina and has made its way to your brain, you’re not done.

In a cruel irony, these hours of deep work often cause flow states and the feeling that ‘you’ve had a good day’ and learned a shitload of new stuff.

But for many reading episodes this feeling is deceptive. There is an ineliminable aspect of learning that takes place after the glorious flow state.

The other half of the battle is to transfer the newly acquired intelligence from your working memory to your long-term understanding and integrate it into your standing stack of mental models.

If you don’t facilitate this, your learning gains are only a fraction of what they could have been.

In this article, I’m going to breakdown how to win the battle and the war — how to avoid these traps and organize your reading habit for a maximal Return On Investment (ROI) on reading hours.

This is what we’ll cover:

Table of Contents1. Meta-Learning
2. Learning is a two-step process
3. Remembering the right things
4. Enter: Mental models
5. Learning = upgrading your mental models
6. How to ‘get it in there’ (macro-level)
7. How to ‘get it in there’ (micro level)
7.1 Know your why
8. Active reading
8.1 How to make a mind map
8.2 Which Returns are you aiming for?
8.3 Written active recall with bullet points
8.4 How to actively read a book
8.5 Remember your why (yes, again)
9. Advanced active reading
9.1 The QEC method
9.2 Keep a running tally
9.3 Put your unconsciousness to work
9.4 Pulling it all together
9.5 How to actively read a book (advanced)
10. Organizing repetition and reflection
10.1 Setting up and using your review cycle
10.2 Improved



Maarten van Doorn

PhD philosophy. Essays about why we believe what we do, how societies come to a public understanding about truth, and how we might do better (crazy times)