More efficient use of our RSS readers can have a big impact on our overall productivity. As Google Reader is one of the more widely-used RSS readers, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips for getting the most out of it.

Google Reader

I’m an RSS junkie, and while I realize that not all of the world’s problems can be solved using RSS, for many of us, more efficient use of our RSS readers can have a big impact on our overall productivity. As Google Reader seems to be one of the more widely-used RSS readers and is the that one I currently use, I thought it would be a good idea to share some tips for getting the most out of it.

Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

You can blast through your feeds with a few simple keyboard shortcuts that allow you to quickly move around without slowing down to reach for the mouse or the touchpad. It also seems that some features don’t really have a click-able counterpart, so the only way to access them is through the keyboard shortcuts. You can get a list of the available keyboard shortcuts from the Google Reader help page, but here are a few of my personal favorites that I use most frequently:

  • ? – get a list of keyboard shortcuts
  • j – move to the next item in the feed
  • k – move to the previous item in the feed
  • <space> – page down
  • <enter> – open or close an item
  • v – view original post
  • r – refresh feed

Go Full screen

For really serious reading, you’ll want to go into full screen mode and use all of your available screen real estate for reading feeds. In full screen mode, you get a simple window showing the current feed with no additional clutter. You can navigate using the navigation shortcuts above, in addition to some shortcuts that are specific to using full screen mode:

  • f – enter or exit full screen mode
  • <shift>+u – show pop-up navigation menu to change feeds

Ditch the Home Page

While the home page has some interesting things like tip of the day and recently read items, if your goal is to maximize your productivity and efficiency, you should set your landing page to something else. I have all of my most important feeds in a single folder named “Critical” and I start there. You can change your start page by going to Settings -> Reader settings -> Preferences -> Start page, and select from any folder that you have created, or from a selection of other pages (All items, Starred items, etc.)

Group and Prioritize

I make extensive use of folders as a way to group and prioritize my feeds. They have become even easier to use after the recent addition of the rename folder functionality. The feeds that are most important located at the top of my navigation window. The order of the folders denotes their importance to me, but this shifts around a bit depending on my current projects. I simply drag the folders around within the subscriptions navigation pane to reorder them.

I also group things into folders based on projects or context. For example, I usually put my work-related feeds into a couple of folders grouped by topic that I can easily get through without being distracted by personal items. Keep in mind that you can also click on a folder and navigate through all of the posts within that folder across all of the feeds, so you can get through the folder more quickly than if you are navigating the individual feeds. As a result, I sometimes put critical feeds in multiple folders (critical folder and project folder) so that I can glance at it when I land on my start page of critical feeds or when I’m browsing through the project folder. Reading an item in one folder also marks it as read in any other folder, so you don’t have to worry about duplication.

Use Trends

The trends page is surprisingly interesting and useful. You can find it in the left-hand navigation pane, or with this shortcut combination: g then <shift>+t. While you can get some interesting insights into which feeds you really read, when you read them and what you clicked, the real value is in pruning your feeds. Take a look at the frequently-updated feeds section of the subscription trends; these are the high volume feeds in your reader. Now, which ones do you really still read and which ones have the zero percent read rating? You can unsubscribe from the dead weight by clicking the conveniently-located trash can, and it won’t take you long at all to reduce the clutter.

What are your favorite tips for using Google Reader?

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  1. Getting rid of the “dead weight” sounds like a good idea, but I’m not convinced it is. The feed(s) in question was obviously important enough at one point and just because it isn’t updated as frequently – doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dead. My point is that having a dead feed in Reader doesn’t really save you any time because you aren’t “reading” what can’t be read. Be eliminating it, all you’re accomplishing is ensuring that in the off chance your once favorite site does in fact publish new content – you will miss it.

    1. Read the post again. Dawn wasn’t talking about “dead weight” meaning sites that publish infrequently, she describes getting rid of sites whose publication frequency is high but that you never read (which add to the clutter considerably).

  2. I’ve come up with a pretty solid way for me to go through my Google Reader effectively, and detailed it here: http://www.rickycadden.com/2009/03/how-to-power-through-350-rss-subscriptions-with-google-reader/

    Basically, I use ‘n’ and ‘p’ (n = next item; p = previous item) to scroll through my list quickly, reading headlines and skimming articles. Anything that looks like I want to read it in depth, or follow up on it, I press ‘s’ (s = star), and then keep going. I can easily blow through a few hundred items in less than 30 minutes this way. Then, I can just go back to my starred items more in-depth and fully process these however necessary.

    This method also makes mobile google reader more useful – I can clear out my new items on the go without having to worry about missing anything.

    1. That’s a pretty good strategy, Ricky, and is similar to what I do, although I tend to skip over some site’s feeds entirely when I’m busy.

  3. I email useful Reader articles to myself and upload into a docs folder to create a file.

  4. While dropping low signal to noise feeds is a good idea, it’s not enough for me. I like gigaom, but not all subjects or authors. Same for O’Reilly Radar. I love the NYT, but please no more local news, I live on the west coast. So I created a filter that learns from my feedback and pull my feeds through it and then into reader as usual. Still a prototype, but you can check it out at rightload.info. It needs some time for the learning to kick in, so if you decide to try it, be prepared to stick with it a bit — no instant gratification unfortunately. And please send me feedback.

  5. I just put a link on my desktop that goes straight to my “high importance” folder in reader (you do rank you feeds right?) because I know I want to read those first as they’re the most relevant.

    Also, I didn’t see “n” and “p” in the shortcuts. I believe “n” is next unread and “p” is previously read.

  6. The howto above is not totally exact – ‘j’ means “goto next item *and* *open* it”, ‘n’ means just “next item” (useful, since rapidly pressing “nmnmnm” runs over several items, killing them).

    As a rule of thumb, ‘space’ means “do the most reasonable thing in this situation” (as it should in every piece of software); and shift+letter often means “do in the list of feeds what the letter alone would do in the list of items”.

    Everybody should really read the whole shortcut listing page, there is much more and almost all of it is useful (and different styles of work are appropriate for different feeds – e.g. in arxiv.org/astro-ph (with over hundred items daily, but very few of them interesting for me), I just skim the headlines on the weekend, open an interesting one (about once a week) using ‘v’ and kill the rest (‘shift a’); and in pharyngula (few items daily), I ‘v’ almost all of them).

  7. I have about 200 feeds that I skim daily. I use ‘j’ (next) ‘p’ (previous) and ‘v’ to open. I added a greasemonkey script from http://sunnywu.net/2007/08/02/google-reader-tweak-open-links-in-background/ that allows for ‘v’ to open in the background. This way all the stories I’m interested in are loaded by the time I’ve gotten through my feeds and I just hit ctrl-w when I’m done reading. While at work, if there’s a story that I deem NSFW, I star it and read it at home. If there’s a story that I’ve opened that I want to read in more depth, I send it to instapaper. The only problem are the auto-play audio or video sites, so I mute my system.


  8. I have 850 subscriptions in Google Reader, having accumulated them across a dozen or so feed aggregators over the past 10-12 years.

    My main tips are:

    * Ignore the unread count, be okay with almost never reading everything.

    * Group feeds into folders, order folders by personal importance.

    * Shuffle the folder order occasionally where importance is ambivalent.

    * Never try to read everything: skim & scroll quickly, star interesting things, only try reading things that you starred or open in a new tab.

    * Hold Shift, type “ano” to mark all as read in the current folder and open the next folder.

    * Occasionally declare a mini-bankruptcy: mark older than one day as read.

    * Occasionally declare total bankruptcy: mark all as read.

    * Sort by magic is surprisingly good.

  9. I also recently installed gReader on my Android and it sync’s my google reader feed with my phone. Makes life much easier in an offline environment such as an airplane.
    [disclosure: none, actually. I'm just a happy user of gReader ;) ]

  10. One of the best ways for me to interact with Google Reader is through the “Mark All as Read” button. I put the feeds into folders with some broad category names (To Read includes blogs that post 1000+ words at once, Humour, Technology, News, etc.) On days when I’m feeling overwhelmed with the number of unread posts, I’ll target the folders with the most items, and clear them all away with a click. If I’m catching up after several days of not reading, I’ll use the “Mark All Items Older than a Day” as read and clear it all up.


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