Managing the digital to-read pile

How do you deal with all the interesting information we now have available to us on the Internet, from international news to updates on the lives of an acquaintance’s children? There are numerous ways to tackle this flow of information you want to consume in a way so you don’t feel overwhelmed.

Chris Miller explored this topic:

Sooner or later you have to sit down and say:

  1. My time and attention are the most valuable things I posses.
  2. There is too much stuff on the Internet for me ever to read it all.
  3. Therefore, I’m going to be super-choosy about what I read and what I do.

Where are the places you may want to be super-choosy?

Social media

Are you trying to be active on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter? Maybe it would help to focus on just a few that best meet your business and/or personal needs.

Within each community, are you engaged with too many people? Are you friends with people on Facebook who you can’t even place? Are you following thousands of people on Twitter? Maybe it’s time to prune the lists.

Have you used whatever filtering tools are available? For example, I use TweetDeck to read Twitter, and I have filters set up to hide any tweets mentioning specific TV shows that tend to get mentioned a lot, and which I just don’t care about.

People who do this type of cleanup often comment on how much better they felt afterward. Kelly O. Sullivan recently wrote: “Unfriended someone on Facebook who was adding no value to my life. Feels good.” And Dennis K. Berman wrote a whole blog post titled “The Purge: I Unfollowed 390 People on Twitter, and I Feel Great.

RSS feeds

If you use RSS to read blogs and other news sources, have you evaluated what you’re reading lately? Maybe it’s time to delete some of those subscriptions.

I just deleted a subscription to the blog of an acclaimed writer, whose articles I found myself skipping over when they appeared in my list. He may indeed be writing wonderful stuff, but it just wasn’t stuff I felt like reading. I had to get over my own case of the “shoulds” — the internal voices telling me I should read his work — and decide it was perfectly okay to decide not to read it.

Email newsletters

Do you tend to ignore these when they hit your inbox? Have you created an email rule to move them to their own mail folder — where they languish, unread? Maybe it’s time to do some unsubscribing.

News and magazine apps

Did you download a bunch of these at some point — only to find you don’t use most of them? This is another area where you might do some cleanup.

Pocket, Instapaper, and other read-it-later tools

Kevin Fox commented on Twitter: “My Instapaper button would be more accurately titled ‘Read it Never.'”

Are you like Kevin? Do you have lots of articles you’ve saved to read later — that you never seem to get to? You may want to review that reading list and see which ones you still want to make time to read, and which you can just delete.

But some people are fine with a long list, and you might be, too. Om Malik spoke to Nate Weiner of Pocket, who noted that people go back to read 10-70 percent of the articles they put into Pocket, with the average being 50 percent. But Weiner went on to add:

The key is to think of it like a Netflix queue. You are never overwhelmed or concerned about the number of items in your Netflix queue. You just keep putting things in there because you know that when you have the time to view something, you can guarantee you’ll have something great in there that you’ve been meaning to check out.

Maybe you don’t need to clean up your saved-for-later reading list — or your RSS feeds, your email newsletters, or your apps. Or maybe you just want to do some limited cleanup. Do you like having a large number of items to choose from when you have some reading time, or does having such a large collection overwhelm you? The answer to that question will help you determine your strategy.

But whether you keep your reading list short, or keep it long (knowing you’ll never read it all), you’ll still need to be super-choosy about what you eventually spend time reading. Because this wish from M.S. Bellows, Jr. probably isn’t going to come true: “I want to be reincarnated in a way that preserves all my bookmarks, pockets, and favorites, so I can spend 80 years simply reading.”

9 Comments for “Managing the digital to-read pile”

  1. posted by Scott on

    I’ve become better at curating my list down. I stripped out 80% of rss last year, and keep pulling more out. I can always do better.

    As for Netflix, I hit the limit of 500 movies in the Q and now have to have a separate “Someday Movies” list.

    However, I’ve realized (thinking GTD wise) the Netflix list shows there are really two types of “To Read” (or To Watch). Those that I want to read, and those that are maybe, someday but I won’t feel bad if I never get to them. The stress comes when these lists are co-mingled.

  2. posted by [email protected] on

    I don’t deal with any of those problems too much but I struggle with all the books I’ve downloaded on my Kindle. I check daily to find out what books are available free and download them. Then I hear about a good one and purchase it. I do read a lot but I can’t keep up. I have a huge list of books and it completely overwhelms me. I kind of miss the days when I had a stack of books and just picked the next one.

    I’ve thought about making a list of all the books and highlighting them as I read them but I add to it all the time so I’m not sure I could keep it current.

    I was reading a freebie the other day that was just awful and I wondered if maybe it was time to slow down on the free downloads unless I know it’s good.

  3. posted by Kevin Miller on

    RSS is a huge time-saver when it comes to tracking a lot of websites without needing to visit them all on a regular basis.

    I have a decent system for managing my feeds (which include this very blog). I group all of my feeds into one of three folders in my reader app, uncreatively titled A, B, and C.

    “A” is for the can’t-miss feeds (I’m very selective about what goes here). “B” is feeds that I enjoy, but don’t always have time for. “C” is feeds that I don’t mind simply skimming the headlines: New York Times, Engadget, etc.

    I set a four-hour refresh interval on my RSS reader, so a raft of new articles only appears twice per workday. When they do, I skim through the “C” list, opening anything I’d like to read in browser tabs, and then mark the whole thing read. Then I repeat for “B” and “A.”

    If I’m ever running behind, I can just mark an entire folder unread without looking at it at all. Having the “A” folder ensures that I won’t miss something important.

  4. posted by Marie on

    I get dumbfounded looks when people ask me to ‘friend’ them and I tell them that I don’t bother with social media. Inevitably they spend ten minutes berating me into joining, then another ten minutes whining about the high-school drama that occurs on it. When they finally wear themselves out, I say “Thanks for proving my point.”

  5. posted by Liz on

    For email – I have several accounts. The first one is the “junk” account and I rarely check it, but it is the account I use when I have to list an email address. The system deletes the emails after a certain period of time or I do it once a year. I have email accounts for business and personal.

    I use filters and send emails to folders. Then I look at the inbox for some stuff and know that other folders either can be ignored on busy days or are must see on others. This is important if you are with organizations that send lots of emails with even more replies. Having specific emails go to dedicated folders means that some important ones will not be missed.

    Even if I sign up for a newsletter, I might set up a filter to send it to the spam folder. I always glance through the spam folder to make sure that nothing was sent there by mistake. If the title line doesn’t interest me, it is already out the door.

    Since the email stays on the server and not in my computer, I just set up more folders to store things. You can always search on sender or topic to find the essential email, but when the time limit or the issue is over, it is easy to delete the folder without looking at each email.

    Since I don’t print out the emails, this is the most efficient way for me to maintain some history without that much stress.

  6. posted by Rebecca on

    I love these tips, the internet can be so hard to keep up with sometimes!

  7. posted by Janet on


    That’s a great line! I couldn’t agree more. Most people who try to convince me I have to participate in social media usually recount more examples of why it is a waste of time vs. proven benefits. I know it makes me sound like a Luddite, but when did it become necessary to keep up with “acquaintances children”?

    EVERYTHING is interesting when you have a curious mind but we can’t read everything, can we? Why are we becoming so afraid of missing out on the latest post, article, whatever? Why do we have to follow so many feeds or “friends”?

    I am just as guilty in some of these areas as everyone else and I have been asking these questions of myself lately, so this is not intended as just criticism for all of you and not me. I realized that in my quest to remain “informed” about so many things, I was actually learning less by becoming distracted and scattered. I am trying to turn that around now but it’s not easy!

  8. posted by DebF on

    I’m wondering if you’ve published anything (or can ask your readers, and then publish something) about good methods of auto-filing email into folders determined by the USER?
    I spend a lot of time filing things like notifications and emails, and a lot of them, I don’t use again. However when I DO need it, it’s vital, so I need to file them, and they need to be where I can find them again.
    I’ve seen several mail filing programs which apparently tell the user where they’re going to file stuff, but I want stuff filed according to MY rules. Outlook’s own process wasn’t successful when I tried that. Would love to hear about what has/ has not worked for people.

  9. posted by April on

    Patty, you can make folders on your kindle. Make ones labeled “to read,” “already read,” and “favorites” (for ones you want to reread), and sort accordingly. You can even archive them to get them off your device.

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