Ethan Banks Getting work done in a world of distractions.

How To Wade Through 100s Of Articles Weekly

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The writing masses in addition to professional media generate tons of articles each week. What’s the best way to keep up? My strategy is multi-pronged.

TL;DR.

Filter quickly and mercilessly. Read only the most interesting articles.

  1. Know why you read. Ignore content that doesn’t align with your personal consumption goals.
  2. Ignore content with clickbait titles. These articles are purposely designed to drive traffic, generating salable ad impressions. Most of the time, they are content-free and safely ignored.
  3. Have no fear of declaring amnesty. Missing out doesn’t matter.
  4. Read it now; you probably won’t read it later. Don’t let articles pile up for when you have a better time.
  5. Use tools effectively. You can get through content more quickly and share or save the best stuff easily.

Know why you read.

Keeping up with technology is a big part of my business. Therefore, I subscribe to feeds about emerging tech from news organizations, independent tech writers, and technology vendors. From these sources, I monitor trends and hype, picking out what strikes me as useful or at least thought-provoking for IT practitioners. Articles that match this criteria inspire articles of my own as well as podcast scripts, and spawn research projects. My overarching goal is to bring to the attention of readers and listeners technology that might impact their life.

When articles, in my estimation, don’t match this goal, I delete them from my feed unread. I feel no obligation to read everything. I filter mercilessly by title. Vendor blogs tend to be spammy, emphasizing quantity over quality, pushing product agendas while adding no value to the reader. Some tech writers go into niches that are too narrow for my tastes. News sites cover topics that I often don’t find all that interesting or newsworthy. I estimate that I read between 5% and 10% of articles that hit my feeds.

Your personal goals will likely be different from mine, but know what those goals are. When you do, they will define which feeds to pay attention to, and which articles in those feeds are worth your time.

Ignore content with clickbait titles.

Every platform and author wants your attention, or at least your clicks to generate ad impressions. However, most professional writers with a daily quota don’t have enough to say to keep you coming back simply due to the overwhelming quality of their every word. To make up for the deficit in content usefulness, some writers and editors resort to clickbait titles.

Clickbait titles go after your baser nature through titillation or by sensationalizing a topic. If you feel perversely tempted to click on a link even though the title promises a content Twinkie, it’s clickbait. “Top X” articles, aka listicles, are also often time-wasters. (Yes, I’ve written them.)

Avoid these wastes of your time. There are ever more of them to be found, especially in vendor blogs and from old media organizations.

Declare article amnesty without fear of missing out.

Sometimes, real life takes over, and you don’t have time to read your feeds. That’s fine. Declare article amnesty by marking everything as read and starting over. If there’s anything so good that you might regret missing it, you’ll hear about it later from other people that tweet it or tell you about it. Fear of missing out is a pointless phobia in a world where it is impossible to keep up. You will miss out. Accept it.

In the spirit of hearing about content from other people and shameless self-promotion, we Packet Pushers offer the free Link Propagation newsletter covering the IT industry broadly. Greg, Drew and I “drink from the firehose so you can sip from a coffee cup.”

Read interesting content now.

I have learned over time that bookmarking an article to read it later means the article doesn’t get read. In analyzing myself to determine why I resist reading a piece immediately, I’ve determined that I’m worried I’ll spend too much time trying to “get it,” whatever it is.

This comes from reading lots of tech articles over the years where content occasionally gets into theory, deep science, or some arcane corner of the world I’m unfamiliar with, requiring careful focus. “Oooh, that title sounds provocative…but deep,” I’ll think, “so I better save it for a better time when I can really focus and wrestle it to the ground.”

Well…no. For me, this almost never works out, because “a better time” is mythological. If I’m spending time right now to read, then right now is the best time to go after that bit of meat and get chewing. Remember that the goal is NOT to get through your feed. The goal is to digest something new that furthers your goals — the reason you’re reading to begin with.

Therefore, prioritize reading right now. I’ve often found that the more I force myself to do this, the easier it becomes to absorb content, even meatier topics. It’s also true that article titles which seem initially intimidating often head content that isn’t all that difficult to get a hold of, assuming the writer can express themselves well.

Use tools effectively.

My system for reading starts with RSS. If a site doesn’t have an RSS feed, I don’t follow it, at least not closely. I might catch an interesting piece on Twitter or Reddit and click through, but the first thing I do when ending up at a new, interesting site is add it to my RSS aggregator.

Ah. The aggregator. I use Feedly, and pay for the Pro upgrade. Feedly Pro lets me…

  • Subscribe to more than 100 feeds, which I require.
  • Integrate with IFTTT, Zapier, and Buffer, all of which I use.
  • Backup to Dropbox, which I do.
  • Many other things which are less important to me, but might interest you.

Within Feedly, I organize my feeds into four main categories.

  1. Fodder. In this group, I keep mostly news media feeds that I’ll use for research, writing, or podcasting. These tend to be the most active feeds I follow as they are populated by professional journalists who do little but file articles all day. Therefore, I’m selective about which media feeds make the cut. Each feed covers a unique aspect of the tech industry, so that I minimize duplicate content. I cull feeds if the quality becomes too poor. 17 busy feeds.
  2. Fun. Believe it or not, sometimes I read recreationally. 39 not-so-busy feeds.
  3. Humans. This category contains independent writers, or at least writers producing content from an independent perspective, even if they happen to be employed by technology vendors. I name each feed according to the actual human writing the content, which makes the content far more personal to me. Most of these folks are friends or people I’ve interviewed. This is the least busy category, as independent writers tend to have paying jobs that occupy most of their time. However, this is what makes their content among the best technology reading on the web. 71 sparse feeds.
  4. Spin Zone. These articles are official vendor blogs or open source project announcement feeds. These tend to be awful, written by marketers whose chief aim is gaming Google search results. In addition, they are sometimes busy feeds, covering technical minutiae of interest only to a select few. However, useful product announcements or thoughtful engineering articles make it through the cruft from time to time. 22 busy feeds.

It’s possible to over-organize your feeds. Don’t fall into this trap, or you’ll find yourself wasting a lot of time moving feeds into categories, deciding which category to sift through at any given time, etc. I’ve made that mistake. Keep it simple. Don’t invent work for yourself.

I use Feedly mostly on my phone. I can quickly swipe away uninteresting articles, which is most of them. If I happen to be using Feedly on a big screen in a browser, I will do the same weeding by clicking the X to dismiss the content that doesn’t match my reasons for reading.

Winning content is read. I will read in their entirety articles that are genuinely interesting to me. Optionally, I will tag and/or share those interesting articles.

Tagging an article in Feedly is called “saving to a board.” These tags can be acted upon in IFTTT or Zapier. For example, I have an IFTTT recipe that posts articles with a specific tag into a Slack channel for me. This is an efficient way to keep track of the most interesting articles I’ve seen recently and share them with others in my Slack teams. We often build podcast scripts and newsletters in this way.

My other major use for Feedly tags (boards) is when I’m researching for a whitepaper, book, or presentation. Presentations, etc. are usually temporary projects that last a few months or a year. Therefore, these tags come and go. When the project is done and the articles all referenced, I’ll delete the tag to keep my Feedly interface as uncluttered as possible.

For sharing, I use Buffer, which pushes my shared articles to Twitter on a schedule. There are many ways to get content into Buffer, but I use the tight integration with Feedly the most.

Outside of Feedly, I mentioned that Twitter and Reddit are a part of my content discovery process. Twitter rarely offers articles, but sometimes. The Twitter timeline is so noisy, that it’s easy to miss articles that someone might be sharing. If I get lucky, I get lucky, but frankly, hours and days go by in between my checks of Twitter. My odds of catching all of the interesting content shared on Twitter isn’t high.

Reddit is still a new tool for me. I monitor several subreddits for interesting content, but most of it is for personal entertainment and not serious research. The quality is all over the place on Reddit. Moderators are usually not that active, and the articles shared are all too often clickbait, content-free, or spammy. Interestingly, I discovered today that if you feed reddit.com/r/subreddit into Feedly, you can monitor the subreddit with RSS. I am going to see if that is a more efficient way to go through subreddits than using the Reddit app on my phone.

A parting thought.

To keep up with dozens or hundreds of feeds, reading needs to be part of your daily routine. For the feeds I monitor, there is an average of roughly 125 articles per weekday. The weekends slow down a bit, as do holidays. But if you don’t keep up, you’ll be overwhelmed with articles. I usually read first thing in the morning and late at night, taking me anywhere from 1 to 3 hours total each day — usually closer to 1.

As I said, there’s no harm in declaring amnesty. Fear of missing out is pointless. Almost nothing on the Internet is going to change your life. However, if you’re declaring amnesty all the time, you’re oversubscribed. If you’re in that situation, pick the best feeds and forget the rest. You want your reading to be profitable — not a burden.

By Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks Getting work done in a world of distractions.

You probably know Ethan Banks because he writes & podcasts about IT. This site of his covers personal productivity.

Get the details on his about page.