|Here’s what my feed reader looks like right now.|
I’ve lost track of how many RSS feeds I subscribe to in my feed reader — somewhere between 100 and 200, I’m guessing. But that doesn’t matter, because despite the volume it’s surprisingly manageable and rewarding. The secret, I’ve found, is to let go of any sense of obligation to keep up with all that content.
It’s simply impossible to keep up. There’s too much stuff published online every day — hell, every minute! Why feel pressured or guily about not being able to achieve an impossible ideal?
Here’s what I do…
Four or five times a day I browse my feed reader. About half the time my goal is to keep up with my world; the other times I’m following my “beats.”
To follow my world, I first scan my “ego surfing” folder where I track references to my name, my projects, or new contributions to blog-comment conversations I’ve joined. I check this first not just because I have an ego (hey, let’s be honest), but because this is an area where I’ve found it pays for me to respond quickly.
After I’ve reviewed the latest “me news,” I click “mark all as read” for that folder.
Then, time permitting, I peruse either my “friends and colleagues” folder (where I track the blogs of people I know) or my “news” and “local” folders, to see what’s going on. For these I generally just scan the headlines. Of those, I’ll probably read just 2-5 posts out of the latest batch of fresh content. If the headline is cryptic or otherwise non-intuitive, I’ll probably pass right by — which shows the importance of writing clear, intuitive headlines for anything published online. It’s not just to lure people into reading, but to provide at least a bit of a useful update to people who won’t read the whole post.
And again, after I’ve reviewed that folder, I click the all-powerful “mark all as read” button.
In a separate folder I monitor my feeds from people I follow on Twitter, as well as my friends and groups on Facebook. That’s more efficient for me than actually taking the time to visit those sites. And when I’m done scanning, I click “mark all as read.”
Did I miss a lot of detail? Sure. Do I worry about that? No. Why? Because I know the really important news will either emerge as recurring themes in the headlines or hit me through other channels such as e-mail, phone calls, or conversations.
All of this takes me 5-15 minutes per session, typically, depending on how much is happening. So figure a half-hour per day to keep up with literally dozens of sources tracking the world from my perspective.
I also follow a variety of “beats.” A couple of times a day I’ll scan my feed folders related to projects or topics I work on daily: Contentious, E-Media Tidbits, citizen journalism, and environment/energy.
Usually I’ll give each of these folders a quick scan just before I start work on those projects — such as looking for something to cover in Tidbits or to linkblog for Contentious via del.icio.us. I do this to find something very fresh and intriguing to write about or to inform my perspective on my work. It’s basically a tool for following my “beats.”
Again, I first quickly scan the headlines. I’ll usually check out at least the summaries or first few paragraphs of 5-10 items per folder; and of these I’ll usually linkblog 2-3 per session. And when I’m done scanning, I click “mark all as read.” This takes me about 5-10 minutes per folder — generally about a half hour daily.
Finally I have a few folders that I only glance at occasionally when the mood strikes me: relationships & sex, life overhaul, PR & marketing, etc. I look at them maybe 2-3 times a week.
Add it all up, every day I spend about an hour per day scanning my personal and professional “radar” through my feed reader. I’m not trying to catch every detail; I’m just seeing what’s up. I feel zero guilt about all those posts I didn’t read. I’m not even trying to read everything. This isn’t a research project; it’s life.
Generally, the goddess of serendipity smiles on me through this process. Somehow I tend to find exactly what I need to stay connected to important news or insights from many of the people I care about — far more so than if I tried to contact them all personally or visit their sites individually.
And in my work, I find this process usually gives me just what I need to be enough ahead of the curve in many areas to justify my consulting rates while keeping me interested and energized.
Embracing serendipity, believing that I always will find what I need or can use, makes it easy to get rid of the guilt of not reading everything. It’s more about riding the current than treading water. And it’s more fun.
What do you feel or think about what’s in your feed reader? How do those emotions or perspectives affect your process (what you do) in your feed reader? Does the overall process feel rewarding or fun? Why or why not? Please comment below.