In last week’s post, I wrote about the frustration many people feel at being inundated with too much news and information, much of which is poorly written and irrelevant to their lives. I discussed four simple principles I have adopted that help me gain more control over the glut of news feeds and blogs that stream across my devices each day.
Getting to the most useful content is a lot like panning for gold. There is much detritus to sift through in order to find the best reads. With the right tools, however, the process can be fairly easy and even enjoyable.
I use a three-step process with three corresponding apps: Feedly, Pocket, and Evernote. I use each app in conjunction with the others to manage the steps of scanning, reading, and archiving. The figure to the right illustrates the idea.
Step 1: Scan Once a Day
One can think of the process as a sort of funnel, with all the news, blogs, and other “stuff” waiting at the top for processing. I use Feedly to subscribe to about 100 professional blogs in my field and another 20 or so on professional development, personal branding, and productivity. I also subscribe to the National Catholic Register, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and a myriad of high-quality local, national, and international news outlets. I try to include sources that are both left and right-leaning, to avoid getting caught up in a little bias-bubble (see Rule #3 from last week about reading outside your comfort zone).
Once a day, I scan all those RSS feeds in the app. Feedly has many viewing options, but I use the “Title-Only” view. That allows me to rapidly scan headlines and the first few sentences of text. This helps me make prudential judgements about what might be worth reading. All told, I am subscribed to about 165 sources and, while that might seem like a lot, most of the professional blogs I monitor only put up new posts every two or three weeks. This means that on any given day, only 15 or so of them will actually have new content for me to scan. The news outlets are far fewer in number. It is a lot more manageable than one might think, and the daily scan only takes me about 15 minutes.
When scanning, I look only for headlines that are insightful or potentially useful, ignoring all the rest. Feedly has a number of sharing icons next to each headline that allow one to send articles to all sorts of places, including Pocket. Those that make the cut I send to the Pocket app for reading later in the week (see Rule #4 about reading only once a week).
This first step is probably the most important, and requires a fair amount of discipline. Again, I am scanning for things that appear to be either useful or actionable. I try not to fall into the trap of sending an article to Pocket because it might be “nice” to read. Lots of things are “nice,” but if I am going to take precious time to read something, it had better be a lot more promising than just “nice.” (see Rule #2 about keeping your FOMO in check). I have never really counted, but I would guess that only about 3% of what gets scanned actually makes it to the next step.
Step 2: Read Once a Week
The next step comes at the end of the week, when I set aside some reading time with Pocket. I could certainly read the articles from within Feedly, but Pocket for iOS has a beautiful user interface. The screen looks like my own customized newspaper filled with the stories I was sending to it all week. Pocket is available for all my macOS and iOS devices, but I especially enjoy using it on my iPad. I like to pour myself a cup of coffee, put my feet up, and immerse myself in what I hope will be some insightful content. I look forward to this time each week, and because I am focused exclusively on reading and not scanning, I can concentrate better and get more out of what I read.
Step 3: Archive the Best; Delete the Rest
Occasionally, I come across an article that is compelling or insightful enough that I want to archive it. Pocket comes with a built-in archival feature, but because I use Evernote as my digital brain, I prefer to archive things there instead. I do not have to launch Evernote at all. I can specify the title, tags, and notebook from within Pocket. The next time I open Evernote, the item will be waiting for me right where I put it.
I should add that I am very selective in this step. If an item is going to make it into Evernote, then it has to be a real gem. Once there, it becomes available to all my other notes via Evernote’s internal hyperlink feature. It is a great way to make good articles accessible to my project notes with just one mouse click.
Step 3½: Curate Content for Social Media
I use social media exclusively for professional purposes, and currently I am subscribed to only two services: Twitter and LinkedIn. One nice thing about Pocket is that it makes it easy to share great articles with my colleagues who follow me on those services. I can post links directly to Twitter or LinkedIn, or what I usually do is share them to my Buffer account, which spaces out the posts according to an optimized schedule.
Another advantage in using these tools is that they are all available for my Mac, iPad, and iPhone, so I can work through the above steps wherever I am and with whatever device I have at the moment. I appreciate the convenience, as it means I can work through the process at times when I would otherwise be doing nothing. (e.g., waiting in a noisy gymnasium for my daughter to get her bags packed up).
Of course, no system is foolproof, but I find that the more intentional I become about managing news and information, the more time I have to spend on what maters most. If nothing else, I check my phone a lot less these days, and that is a good thing.