Feed overload? Ditch the guilt, embrace serendipity

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.

10 thoughts on Feed overload? Ditch the guilt, embrace serendipity

  1. I can’t stay informed without the Reader.

    But I am stressed with it also. There’s a lot to read and I can’t access to it during the day. So, at the evenings, I have 1000 or more feeds …

    Depending on the day in some of them I click on the ‘read all’. It’s too stressing…

  2. Saw that you’d linked to this post on your Twitter feed; thanks for helping me deal with the guilt! 🙂

    I’ve always been an info junkie, with stacks of magazines on all topics pouring into the house, and I’m a good skimmer so it seemed sorta manageable.

    Nowadays with that plus online content, I just can’t do it unless I do nothing else all day, and I feel like I’m going to miss something important. Must remember that the echo chamber will help me catch any biggies that I might miss the first go-round.

    Thanks for your post.

  3. Núria, I know exactly the stress you’re describing. I lived with it for a long time.

    That’s how I came to develop my no-guilt approach to my feed reader. Seriously: remind yourself as you go to look at it that you really don’t need to read everything. Scanning headlines really is enough. Take a deep breath and try it.

    Personally, I’ve also found that sorting feeds into folders that relate to general topics or current projects can help, because then you’re not trying to review everything every time.

    And of course ditch the feeds you don’t really need or care about.

    Sheila nailed it in her comment: “The echo chamber will help me catch any biggies that I might miss the first go-round [in my feed reader].”

    I know letting go of guilt can be hard. Hey, I was raised Catholic 🙂 But actually guilt is a very poor motivator for just about anything. (Actually, it’s an inhibitor, not a motivator, so it only gets in the way when you’re trying to do something.) If you’re going to ditch guilt anywhere in your life, you might as well start with your feed reader 🙂

    My 2 cents, anyway

    – Amy Gahran

  4. I secretly love when, by accident I not so accidently click on the wrong part of the name of the feed or the folder and everything in it disappears. Oh well. 🙂

    I think I need to do that, actually.

  5. Interesting that I just came across this post (serendipity!) because I just came back from vacation and was thinking about all those feeds that I “need” to catch up with. I know that I don’t have to read all of them, but sometimes I feel that I would miss out on something. Now I know….thanks!

  6. There was an article once — that now, of course, I can’t find — about how people are just clicking on each topic in their RSS list to clean it out. The article mentioned that some people feel a sense of accomplishment or peace from looking at an RSS feed with zero new items. I can relate to that, though a zero new items-reader is is becoming more and more rare for me as I add more and more feeds to the list.

    I’m glad you’ve got a management system that’s working for you… I might have to steal your ideas. Thanks!

  7. Shameless self-promotion, but I let a computer do the choosing. A bit like listening to music with a Shuffle. I co-created tiinker.com to help me with this problem, and now I hardly ever visit my reader.

  8. my motto (one of them) has been to ‘loosen up’. Yes, there is a lot on my plate, but I find that skimming, scanning, taking some time to deal with feeds gives me alot more interesting (and current) things to talk about…Brad

  9. Pingback: Podnosh Blog : High Fibre Podcasting » Archive » Social Networking Tips… Beth Kanters Question. My answer

  10. Pingback: Feed Reader Overload: Mark All As Read - Dawud Miracle @ dmiracle.com -

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *