How to Stay Productive in Your Feed Reader by Avoiding Content Overload

I love to follow interesting blogs using MnmlRdr. The problem, though, is that over the years I’ve accumulated just over 1150 feeds to keep up with…quite a lot if you ask me.

Tracking this many feeds individually can be really overwhelming. I’ve actually declared “feed bankruptcy” a few times in the past, starting again from 0 each time. Since then, I’ve developed a few simple steps to help stay productive when following 1000+ blogs using an RSS feed reader.

Step 1: Turn off unread counts

When subscribing to a large number feeds, you’ll most likely get hundreds or thousands of new articles each day. Having that unread count rise each time you open your reader can be really intimidating.

You don’t have to treat your reader like your email inbox. It shouldn’t stress you out every time you open it. Turning off unread counts keeps you from feeling this stress.

If you could only try one of these steps, this is the one you should give a shot. Not having “15421” unread articles displayed to me every morning is refreshing.

Step 2: Organize your feeds into at least two groups

I’ve organized my feeds into a few groups ever since reading this article by Tim Bray back in 2008.

The basic concept is to separate important feeds from high-volume feeds to make it easier for you to read the best articles first and ignore the ones that are not important:

Group A: “Important”

Put all of the feeds that are very important to you in an “Important” group.

I generally classify these feeds as the ones in which I want to read every article.

Group B: “The River”

Put high-volume and unimportant feeds in a second group.

I call it “The River” since it’s like a river of content coming in. If you look away and an article “floats by”, it’s not a big deal since these articles are not as important. (This is the basic premise of Dave Winer’s “River of News”.)

Step 3: When you want to read, set a time limit

Being the creator of a feed reader, I could definitely spend my entire day just reading interesting content.

To help me from spending all of my time (especially “work time”) on reading, I usually set a 15 minute time limit. (I use TimeBar on my Mac.)

Once the timer goes off, stop reading and get back to “work”.

Step 4: Read from the “Important” group first

The goal of this system is to keep from being overwhelmed by the amount of content coming into your reader.

After setting a time limit, jump to your “Important” group first and start reading…after all, these are the articles that you think are the most important and should read first.

To help with this, I usually set the “homepage” of my reader to this group so I see these articles first and cannot be distracted by the other feeds.

Step 5: Read from “The River” group last

If you still have time left after reading through your “Important” group, move on to “The River”. Skim these as quickly as possible.

I generally don’t read things from “The River” fully at this point. Instead, I put interesting articles into my “Read Later” queue to follow up on when I have more time.

Step 6: Mark all as read

Once time is up, mark everything in “The River” group as read.

If you didn’t make it through all of your “Important” articles, skim through them, put the interesting ones in the read later queue, and mark the rest as read.

I’m usually marking 100s of articles as read at this point.

Step 7: Remove feeds that are no longer relevant

If you find yourself skipping a lot of articles in an “Important” feed, move that feed to “The River”.

Then, go through “The River” once a month and delete any feeds that no longer interest you.

I subscribe to and unsubscribe from about 50 feeds a month. Stale feeds get booted, fresh feeds make their way in. Don’t be afraid to unsubscribe.

What are your tips for staying productive?

Using these simple steps have helped me follow over 1000 blogs and not get overwhelmed when I open my feed reader. I hope you give them a try.

I’d love to hear what your tips are for staying productive. Tweet to @mnmlrdr.

Happy reading!