How To Build Your Personal Library of Success



“In times of change, it is the learners who will inherit the earth, while the learned will find themselves beautifully equipped for a world that no longer exists.” — Al Rogers

I collect success.

From stories of heroes to gems of insight, I gather and organize principles, patterns, and practices for success.

It’s like a living playbook for life with short-cuts, success patterns, and proven practices.

It supplies me with insight and action that I can use for just about every situation.

Whether it’s motivation or strategies or tactics, it’s my unfair advantage and how I get the edge in life.

It’s truly how I “stand on the shoulders of giants.”

Keys to Building Your Personal Library of Success

Here are some of the keys to success when it comes to building a personal “Success Knowledge Base”:

  • Think in Nuggets.  Think in terms of “nuggets” or “gems of insight.”   Collect a nugget at a time and chunk things down.
  • Keep it Scannable. Think in terms of “tickler lists of insight.”  Keep ti scannable and write in one-liners where you can.  Make it easy to quickly flip, sort, or search through your KB.
  • Factor reference from Action.  If you have a bunch of blah, blah, blah, simply add three take aways or key actionable insight to the top.   Ideally, keep your actionable methods and techniques, separate from good concepts and stories, which are really reference information.  This will help you turn insight into action.
  • Keep it Simple. This is a must.  It’s crucial to have a simple way to store and retrieve things.   Otherwise, the little bit of friction adds up and it dies a slow death of a 1000 paper cuts.

I happen to use Evernote for my KB now, but I’ve also used pen and paper, Wikis, text files on my hard drive … etc.  

Whatever you use, simply make sure that it works for you and it’s simple.

What Goes Into Your Personal Success Library

I think the real key to building an effective “Success KB” is knowing what to put into it.  Here are some of the things I collect:

  1. Ah-Has – jot down the little ah-has you find or when you connect the dots.  For example, one of my ah-has I wrote down is “legacy is a by-product of giving your best where you have your best to give.”
  2. Book Nuggets – summarize the best insights from the best books.  For example, here’s my book nugget Argue Your Way to Optimism from the book, Learned Optimism.
  3. Lessons Learned – make a tickler list of your key lessons from mentors or experiences.  You can even draw from movies.  For example, here are my Lessons Learned from Peaceful Warrior.
  4. Mental Models – write down lenses you can use for looking at life.  For example, add the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to your tool-belt to help you understand yourself and others or the Johari Window to help you know and share yourself more effectively.
  5. Patterns – note down patterns you see, including your own success patterns, and name them so you can remember them.
  6. People – collect stories of success and lessons learned.  One way is to summarize lessons learned from your heroes.  For example, here is my lessons learned from Stephen Covey.
  7. Principles – note down timeless principles.  For example, Covey provides a nice set of principles to start your collection with.
  8. Questions – write down the best questions you find help you in any situation.  For example, some of my favorite questions are, “Is it working?” … “Who else shares this problem that I can learn from?” … “What do you need to be successful?” … “What do you want to experience?” … “What’s my next best move?” … “How can I use this?”  As you can see, questions are my game changer.
  9. Quotes – write down words of wisdom and the best quotes you hear from friends, books, people, movies, songs … etc.  The right words said the right way can change your life.   For example, here are some of my quotes collections.
  10. Success Stories — summarize success stories.  You come across success stories everyday, whether they are your own, or on the news, or somebody you know.
  11. Techniques – write down techniques, ways or methods for doing things.   This is your colleciton of “know-how.”

Ultimately you end up with a consolidated set of distinctions and reference examples to draw from.  The sum is way more than the parts.

Start Small with Your Library of Success

I started small.  A few years back, I got into the habit of dumping quick little insights.

If I took training, I would make sure I had three key take aways.  When I met with my mentors, I got into the habit of taking brief notes. 

If I read a book, I summarized the most important, actionable things.  If I heard a great quote, I jotted it down.  If I saw a movie, I walked away with three key take aways.

Next thing you know, turning insight into action became second-nature.

Remember that the goal isn’t to take the place of experience. 

It’s to supplement it and help you stack the deck in your favor. 

Often what you don’t know can hurt you, and in many scenarios, there is no need to start from scratch.


  1. Nice one,

    I have 3 documents I constantly write in to build a powerful knowledge database. One is for quotes, one is for golden nuggets, and one is for personal ideas or insights. Over time, all this knowledge showed itself to be valuable and gave me a sense of having the tools to deal with all sort of situations effectively. I just need to apply them.

  2. Nice post J.D. I used to try to read as many books and gain as much knowledge as I could, but I realized that this was a long and tedious process. Sometimes information in books can be covered in 1/2 or 1/4 of the time. That’s why I agree with you that we should keep things simple. This can be gathered from taking the most valuable short excerpts, passages, quotes, or main ideas that we learn from different resources to help us build or personal knowledge base.

  3. Thanks for this post, J.D. I’ve been enjoying your blog for a while, thought I’d say hi.

    I’m curious: Do you keep all the books you read or do you rely exclusively on your notes to refresh your memory? Also, do you keep primarily text notes or do you also make mindmaps?

    I’m planning a big move overseas in 3 months and I’m going to have to get rid of a lot of books, but I’d like to preserve the wisdom from them somehow. I’ve even thought about scanning them, but it would take forever.

    Would you have any suggestions on how to best approach this?

    Thanks again for a very helpful blog.

  4. @ Eduard

    Thank you. It sounds like you’ve got a great set of documents — a powerful, personal KB.

    @ Hubert

    Thank you. There really is a lot of power in checklists and one-liners. While it’s great to have the full explanations the first time around, it’s the tickler lists that help turn it into action.

    @ Annabel

    Hello there and thanks for stopping by.

    I feel your pain, especially since I like to lean down and I travel in an RV.

    I have 3 flavors of books:
    1. how to / non-fiction
    2. fiction
    3. sentimental

    For my how to books, I primarily turn these into notes and mind maps. Then I’m free to give the books away. I first buy the physical books so that I can flip through them fast and stick post its. They don’t work well on my Kindle.

    For fiction, I now get them on my kindle to save space.

    For sentimental (such as my ancient Arabian Nights book or my Sesame Street book), I just have to keep them.

    Getting rid of my books is a process … first I box them, then I sell them or give them away.

    Given your time frame, I would use sticky notes and rip through your books fast. Stick the notes where it counts, then go back and type up quick reminders. You will be amazed how many books you can go through this way.

    @ Alik

    Unless of course it’s for the fun of it 🙂

  5. I love journals, I have one for quotes, one for insights, questions, ideas, one for various workshops, courses I take or books I read, one for each purse, so I am always equipped when going out. Great post J.D! And I still keep looking for retweet button.

  6. @ Lana

    Thank you!

    It sounds like you’ve got quite an incredible personal KB.

    I’m exploring some “share flare” so I should be retweetable soon 🙂

  7. J.D, you know that weird guy who was ways chasing Arnie in the “Terminator” you remind me of that cyborg’s energy and determination, only you crusade with the Best, most helpful things available. Unstoppable! On a mission to help.

    Nuggets! Chicken for the body. Scannable bites for the soul.

  8. @ Jannie

    You have a way with words.

    I have such a simple mission — just give people the best know-how to get results. Today’s landscape is tough … I’ll share the skills to pay the bills.

  9. Having success stories is a great way to build up a place to go when sad and/or uninspired. I only collect great books that I can open to any page and gain insight. I also do this with work happiness articles for myself as well as my blog.

    Two of my favorite authors are:
    – Tony Robbins
    – Dale Carnegie

    They’ve gotten me through many rough times.

  10. @ Karl

    Tony and Dale are kings of inspiration and insight. Some people really do have a way with words.

    I think it’s great you’re sharing your insights on work happiness which means that more people will benefit from your gift, and will be quoting you when they need a lift me up.

  11. Yes, success stories do get you fired up. Underdogs that go on to win are my personal favorites. I think your posts are getting better. Not the info which was always 1st class but the writing style. Thanks!

  12. @ Annabel

    I know what you mean about underdog stories — they are my favorite too. In fact, one of my mantras is “Exponential results for the underdog.”

    I’m still having a tough time switching between my “authority” voice during the day, and my conversational blogger voice at night. I’m gradually bridging the gap.

  13. Hi JD ..thanks for the knowledge base ideas .. great & I started using Evernote – but to family circumstances day to day intervenes.

    My thoughts and ideas are similar to those you’ve expressed and so I’m glad I’m on the right track .. slow but sure at the moment.

    I love those books that summarise success stories down into chapters – the precis has been done for me .. and I can as you say pull the nuggets out. I also have the obituary books – that make interesting reading ..

    The next year will allow me to hone my work down as you’ve done – but I need to bide my time for now and learn as I go ..

    Once again – thanks for your ideas and recommendations etc ..

  14. @ Hilary

    Slow and steady wins the race.

    I’m always amazed at how the nuggets add up over time. It’s like building a constellation of ah-has that gets brighter over time.

    Honing is part of the fun, so it sounds like you have a ton of fun ahead of you.

  15. Thanks JD
    The key is, as you said, turning these notes into actions.
    Not sure if you wrote about that, but please share the link about it again

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