Blog Post

Simplify Your RSS Feed Reading

There are dozens of tips out there about how to be more productive in your RSS feed reading … how to organize the feeds better, how to make time for the hundreds of posts you need to read each day, how to read them faster.

Except that reading so many posts each day isn’t productive, in most cases … it’s busy work, it stresses you out (especially if you’re not keeping up with the hundreds of posts you need to read), and it keeps you from doing truly important work. Not always the best idea.

Instead of reading more productively, try simplifying your feed reading. Read less, spend less time reading, get more done. And stress out less.

Sound impossible? It’s simple, actually.

Three steps:

1. Cut down your feeds. I started with about 100 feeds, and through a succession of cuts, I’m now down to only the 10 most important feeds. Each time I made cuts, I unsubscribed from about a third of my feeds. The first day of cuts, I was down to sixty-something feeds. Second day, about 40. Third day, 27 feeds. Fourth day, 18. Fifth day, 12. It took me six days of cuts (spaced about 3-4 days apart) before I got down to just my top 10. But you know what? I don’t miss the other 90 feeds I cut at all. I’ve narrowed my reading down to the 10 feeds that give me the absolute most value each day … and for all the rest, I will usually hear about the best posts somehow.

2. Set Google Reader to list view. I recommend Google Reader, as it seems to me to be the fastest of the feed readers. But if you’ve got another preference, that’s fine, as long as you can switch to list view. I used to read it in full mode, and scan through each post to see whether I wanted to read the full post. However, that took a lot of time … switching to list view gave me the headlines to scan through, and nothing else. Now, I quickly scan the headlines, and wheel-click on the posts that interest me so that I can read them in a new tab. After picking the posts I want, I “Mark all as read”, close Reader, and go to read the posts in their tabs.

3. Only read 5 posts a day. When opening the posts I want to read in new tabs, I only select 5 posts. I might want to read 10, but that will take an hour. I only give myself 20 minutes or so of reading, so 5 posts is just about right. You might choose a different number, but the key point is that limiting the number of posts you read saves time, and forces you to focus on just the most important ones. Eliminate the chaff and just read the wheat.

11 Responses to “Simplify Your RSS Feed Reading”

  1. Another trick I learned from Steve Rubel. If you use Google Reader, when you want to cut down the feeds you don’t read often, don’t dump the feed, put it in a folder labeled Archive. Then you can use the functionality of Google Reader Search.

    I let the Archive build up and every week or so I open it and click “Mark all as read”. This builds up a nice little custom search engine that just accesses feeds from sources that you are interested in.

  2. I’ve thought a lot about this, and I recommend the same thing to clients for *all* electronic “incoming” – For email I wrote Got the email blues? Only three things you can do: Get fewer, Get faster, Get control. Sound familiar? :-)

    For RSS, getting fewer requires stringent application of Koch’s 80-20 principle. (And before you think “yea yea, 80-20” *read* the book. There’s a lot more too it than you think.) Unfortunately, there’s a HUGE opportunity for tool-makers (Bloglines and Google Reader) to help with this. Nothing so far (see Information provenance – the missing link between attention, RSS feeds, and value-based filtering).

    To get faster, apply best practices for processing and organizing information (see Afraid to click? How to efficiently process your RSS feeds).

    And to get control, block out time, set a timer, etc. All the good tips on habits you see on this site.

    Good topic!

  3. I use Netvibes.

    I have set up different pages (General News, Blogs, Social Sites, Tech, etc.).

    I have found Netvibes very powerful as I can see headlines from up to 9-12 RSS feed sources at any given times.

    If I am in a hurry, I inspect my ‘Essential feeds’ page where I have listed all my most important feeds which I can view in less than 10 seconds.

  4. A good opportunity to cut your feeds is when you didn’t look at them for a while and have like 550 unread items. Then you simply go through them and if none of the articles a blog has published is worth reading, just cut it.

  5. I use illumio as a feed reader. Overall I’m subscribed to more than 150 feeds in 10 different topic areas, but illumio filters these according to my interests. I see the most interesting articles automatically without having to throw out feeds that every once in a while might publish an interesting item.

  6. I routinely (at least once a week) look at which feeds I have in Google Reader and decide which I don’t want, need, or don’t update regularly enough for me. I have to say that I can’t stick to just five a day…there are so many that interest me from daily journals of other bloggers to new Windows Mobile apps that come out.

    What if WWD had that sixth feed! :-O