Simple, this one. It’s probably been suggested by a million other productivity bloggers, but it only just occurred to me. Admittedly, calling this a hack is a bit of a stretch…
At last count, I subscribe to 126 different websites. Poetry blogs, literary journals, Mac fan-sites, tech/app blogs, productivity journals, web design/development news and resource sites, typography and digital design sites, generally interesting personalities— that’s a huge body of incoming information. It’s all too easy to lose track and get behind. If I haven’t opened any of my RSS readers for a few days, it’s not unusual to have to trawl through hundreds of updates to get back to some sense of inbox zero. And that’s not even email. RSS is an entirely self-inflicted affliction.
Is there benefit in these various subscriptions? Definitely. Roberto Greco alone is responsible for a shift in the way I value the web and various findings (follow his Delicious stream for a full bore feed). And that’s not to mention all the goodness I get from the Paris Review, Swiss Miss, LineBreak, Nicholas Bate, Sacha Chua, The Setup, Creative Applications, It’s Nice That, The 99 Percent, Tony Schwartz, Jeff Kopito, Brett Terpstra… the list is (almost) endless. Infinite in fact, in the sense that there’s more good web content out there than I’d ever have the capacity to digest in any meaningful way. Much as I chide my mother for hoarding suitcases, old furniture and a houseful of stuff she’ll never use and has no real attachment to, I’m just as much of a packrat. A digital packrat. Do I have to keep up on all of that to be good at what I do? Not by a long chalk. And as much as the numbers of unread articles ultimately mean little in the real world 1, there’s always the tug to attempt to sift through everything, to find the information/content that might just make a difference 2.
As I mentioned not so long ago, I’ve shifted to consuming RSS through Mr Reader on the iPad. At the same time, I made a small but significant change to the way I organise my subscriptions. I now group subscriptions by day of the week. A folder for each day from Monday through Saturday. Monday for music blogs, Tuesday for productivity and lifehacks, and so on. Each day, there’s a hard and fast limit to the number of subscriptions I feel obligated to check in on. Each morning, usually over breakfast, I read through the day’s folder. Anything that’s a longer read but seems worth the effort gets pushed to Pocket. Anything else I don’t get round to reading gets zeroed. Whatever happens, the folder’s cleared down by the end of the session. One “daily” folder is allowed with a small number (less than 10) of particularly high value subscriptions. No folder for Sunday, which is dedicated instead to deeper reading of physical books (You mean paper? Shock! Horror!) and queued items in Pocket. Simples.
1: You know that “unread badge” that displays the number of unread items in an application on that application’s icon? Yeah. Switch it off. Works for email, works for RSS and probably everything else that can distract you from whatever else it is that you’re supposed to be doing just by being in your eye-view. Skype just about gets away with keeping its badge on my iPad. And only just.
2: Trends for dealing with the overwhelm have offered up intelligent news readers (like Fever or Flud for example) that can figure out what you should be reading based on what you’ve read before, or what other people are reading, or both. But then you knew that already, didn’t you?