New Year’s Resolution: Keeping Head Above Water With RSS Feeds
Posted by Bob Warfield on January 1, 2008
If you’re like me, you took a little time away from the blogosphere and you’re coming back to find your cup runneth over. Here are my tips for dealing with that problem all the time:
Develop a Triage Mentality
If you are bothering to read very much of this article it’s because you have too much to read in your blog reader! Develop a triage mentality. You have to root out and mark as read as many articles as possible as quickly as possible so you can go back and focus on the important stuff that requires more thought. Create a Slush Pile and Empty it Frequently
Use a reader that let’s you put feeds into folders, such as Google Reader. Create a “slush” folder. Put feeds in there that you won’t feel badly about if you don’t read every single post. For me, that’s things like Techmeme and Scoble’s Feed Blog (sorry Robert, but it’s 1/2 to 1/3 of my messages some days!). Dump the slush folder every time you get finished reading. Just toss out all those unread feeds. If they’re important, they’ll turn up somewhere else before too long anyway.Use the Share Log and Star on Google Reader
When I mark an item to “Share”, it goes into my link blog so others and I can refer back to it as desired. When I mark it with a “Star”, it means I really need to think more on the topic and maybe even blog on it. I use the “Star” as a priority marker. This gives me three easy priorities. Starred are highest, Shared are next, and the Slush pile and items marked “Read” but not shared or starred are the lowest.
Scan First for Low Hanging Fruit
In the spirit of triage, learn to scan everything quickly first. You’re not reading, you’re just scanning. I do the low hanging fruit scan looking at “All” feeds.
Leave the slush pile out of the scanning process–you don’t know if you’re going to get to it or not. Scanning gives you a quick idea of the major themes. Try to identify the low hanging fruit. These are articles that are easily marked “read” so you can move on. Once you mark one article “read” on a theme, mark the rest without scanning any further than it takes to know they’re about the same topic. You’ve already made a decision to pluck that low hanging fruit. Learn to triage 2 out of 3 or so articles, or at least 2 out of 3 themes. Anything less, and you probably won’t have time to read the interesting stuff.
If it’s important to know more about the low hanging fruit you sent on, it will either come up again, or you can go back and search for it. At least you know about it.
Relegate Whole Categories to Low Hanging Fruit
This New Year’s I’m not even bothering to read anyone’s retrospectives. Why? Because all that stuff is old news. If it’s important, it will come up again somewhere soon. Someone will link to it. You’ve probably already read it and triaged it earlier. Why rehash it?
I am tempted to put predictions into the same category, and have been pretty ruthless at triaging all but my favorite bloggers.
I put link lists into this category year around. Unless they’re really short and one catches my idea as I’m preparing to delete it, I’m not interested. Sorry, but if it’s important, it will come back up. It will be linked to in the context of a fuller article. After all, the person publishing the link didn’t think it was important enough to spend much time on it, so why should you? Note that I am schizo about it. If someone makes their link lists as a feed, such as Scoble has done, I will often subscribe, but I’ll still stick that feed into my Slush Pile:
Create a Few Tags for Your Major Interests
I use these tags as a way to organize and triage. I try to apply the tags during the scanning pass. Fewer is better. Say a dozen or so that you can easily remember. For me, it’s things like “SaaS”, “Web2.0”, “Marketing”, “Startups”, and so on.
Zap The Oldies
I tend to leave stuff hanging around in the reader when I think I want more time to get to reading it. When the box gets overly full, it’s time to sort “All” into oldest first and get ruthless. Am I really every going to get to that? Is it even relevant any longer? I once heard this described as the Napoleonic School of Organization. If it’s important, it will come up again. If you really feel guilty about zapping these, tag them. It feels like you’ve almost done something meaningful with them if they’re tagged.
Learn to Quickly Triage the Biggest Posters
Techcrunch files a lot of posts. I have to be more ruthless about triaging them. I zap every “deadpool” post without a pause, which is a Techcrunch-specific tactic. I zap the pure gossip from Techcrunch. I look for real trends and interesting pieces that matter. With frequent posters, look for fast “no’s” and zap lots of posts.
Consider which of the feeds you subscribe to generate most of the posts. Develop some reflexes around triaging them based on what you like or dislike about them.
Dump Your Least Favorite Bloggers
Sometimes you subscribe to a blog thining its going to be great, and then it isn’t. Maybe they always say essentially the same thing, just twisted to the theme of the day. Maybe there is too much of their personal baggage involved. Maybe they only write rarely about what you thought they were going to write about a lot. Dump them from your feeds and find someone new. Anytime a post annoys me, I go to the blog’s home and just take a look at the last 10 or so posts. If there is nothing redeaming for 10 posts, I dump the feed. That’s too high a tax to wade through. If they say something important about a theme you’re interested in, you will likely see them quoted elsewhere.
Put a Time Limit on Your Blog Reading
It’s very easy to get stuck checking for new posts all day long. That’s a huge time sink. Triage is effective when measured against a fixed time limit for blog reading. I allow 1 to 2 hours a day maximum. I prefer to read for an hour when I first sit down at the computer. I may extend that to 2, but usually because I’m writing blog posts or researching a topic. I will have completely scanned what’s there in the first 5 or 10 minutes and the rest of the time is more serious reading and research.