Spending Less Time In Google Reader
A few weeks ago, I felt overwhelmed by information overload and moved to think about how I wasted time online and alter my behavior toward efficiency. My first target: Google Reader.
Over the past year or so I’ve been a Google Reader addict, subscribing to about 200+ feeds, and literally churning through 500+ posts on a daily basis (about 1/2 hour a day). If you do the math, that means I’ve probably skimmed over 200,000 posts in the past year.
The really scary thing is: I seriously cannot remember more than a handful of them.
With so many posts glanced at, I wasn’t giving any enough attention to create even the faintest of memories. I also didn’t enjoy the feeling of a constantly-refilling pile, like a new rowboat to bail out each morning. That partial attention isn’t fair to the article writers. So I’ve changed the way I use Google Reader significantly to save time, feel less overwhelmed, resulting in hours saved over the course of a week.
Reducing the number of RSS subscriptions
Before: Subscribe to any feed from a blog or site that caught my interest.
Now: After a mass purge, I have reduced my feed subscriptions from 200+ to about 60.
How did I decide what feeds to eliminate? Google Reader has a “trends” section where you can see what blogs haven’t updated in quite some time, those that update way too often with trivial content, or what feeds you read the most. Lots of winnowing opportunity.
Another criteria for feed deletion is redundancy. Many prolific bloggers use Twitter and FriendFeed to share their blog posts. Most have that same blog imported into their FriendFeed. Therefore, I can subscribe to their FriendFeed Feed, and delete their blog’s RSS feed from Google Reader, and still be up to date on their recent blog posts. If someone is broadcasting the same message on several channels, why tune into all of them?
Browsing Through Feeds More Quickly
Before: I would open Google Reader in list view, click on the first headline to expand it, and then open every subsequent post by hitting “J” repeatedly, until every post was marked “read.”
Now: I just scroll and skim all the headlines. If something grabs me, then I’ll click on the headline and expand the article to read. I may then “share” that item (Shift + S) via my Google Reader Shared Items. The amount of time spent in Google Reader is reduced significantly.
I don’t know why I was hitting “J” repeatedly. When I go to Reddit, Digg, or the New York Times, I feel no obligation to click on every headline. How pointless would Reddit or Digg be if one hit “J” for every article?
No Guilt About “Mark All As Read”
At the end of my headline-skimming, I click the friendly button: Mark All As Read. If nothing grabbed me this time around, there is little chance I’ll return to it later in the day and find something I missed, because more likely, new posts will have filled the queue, dividing my attention.
I feel no guilt because articles in a feed reader are not email. I have no obligation to read them or to respond. If I skip a bunch of them, what does it matter? There will always be more articles to read later. The truth is: if I missed something interesting, most likely it will show up in: FriendFeed.
Using FriendFeed To Find What’s Really Worth Reading
I’ve mentioned FriendFeed several times. Many of the folks I follow subscribe to tons of RSS feeds themselves. If something is really worth checking out, odds are it will appear in one of their FriendFeeds.
Also, my Google Reader Shared Items are pulled into my FriendFeed feed. Each shared item is up for review by other FriendFeed users. I can go into FriendFeed later, and see if someone has liked something I shared, which indicates that that article is worth returning to and reading more carefully – or possibly even writing a blog post about.
As a result of the above actions, this capture of my Google Reader over the last two weeks says it all – much less time spent reading articles. And I feel just as informed as before.
If you’re skeptical, consider 200+ Google Reader feeds as equivalent to 200+ cable channels. Do you feel obligated to flip through each channel on a daily basis to see what’s on, or stare at the cable program guide to figure out what to watch? A smart use of technology would be to choose exactly what show to watch and use Tivo to “time shift” a show. To find a show to watch, ask some friends (who are way more television obsessed) and eschew inefficient channel-surfing. Leverage their time so you don’t have to waste yours channel-surfing.
Similarly, FriendFeed is replacing Google Reader as my information aggregator / filter. One big reason is the social filter of other FriendFeed users. In Google Reader I have just a pile of stuff to wade through with no indicators as to items’ quality. Just as sharing links through Digg and Reddit saved us time from browsing the entire web with the help of rabid web-surfers, so FriendFeed is doing the same with RSS feeds.