Productivity Three, Part 3: RSS

This is part 3 of 3. Read Part 1: Email, and Part 2: Instant Messaging.

Who loves RSS? Raise your hand. Who wishes they had a more time efficient system for reading RSS feeds? If you’re like me, you love RSS too, but you also don’t want to spend too much time in your RSS reader following links and getting distracted. Even when your RSS reader only contains 15 - 30 feeds, it’s easy to blow 30 minutes to an hour reading news, tech blogs and looking at all those photos your friend posted to Flickr from the party last weekend. So how can you slim down on RSS and not spend your entire morning reading blogs?

The easy answer is to reduce the number of blogs and news feeds you’re subscribed to. The harder answer is what to do with the blogs you’re left with after you’ve skimmed off the fat.

Reducing the number of feeds you’re subscribed to is far easier said than done, and unless you’re simply dumping everything and starting fresh, there’s really no easy way to do it. What I can suggest is that you ask the following three questions for every feed that you’re subscribed to:

  1. What does this feed give me? Does it provide you with tech news, design links or just enjoyable reading? Before you can evaluate a feed’s value, it’s important to identify exactly what it gives you.
  2. How much do I value what it gives me? This is the core question and very personal. Tread carefully here or else this exercise will quickly lose its purpose.
  3. If I didn’t read it for a month, would I miss it? (Would I even remember it?) This is difficult to answer unless you actually don’t read the blog for a month, and sometimes it doesn’t even matter (many people read blogs because they have to stay current not because they actually want to).

If you can answer the first question in a few seconds, the second question with “A lot!” and the third with “Absolutely!”, then the feed is probably a keeper. If you stumble over the first question and answer “I’m not sure” and “Maybe” to the second and third questions then you should strongly consider unsubscribing from the feed. Just remember that it’s almost as easy to resubscribe to a feed as it is to unsubscribe, so you should be liberal when deleting feeds at this point.

Now, divide the remaining feeds into three groups according to their importance and time sensitivity. My three groups are called Must Read, Watching and Everything Else, but you should choose labels that make the most sense to you. Here’s how they work:

Must Read is for feeds that I check (and read if there are new items) at least once a day because I get a lot of value from them or because it’s important that I read them to stay current in my work or industry. Some of my favorite tech and design blogs are in this group along with work project updates. Watching is for stuff that’s related to me, but not necessarily a daily must read. Photos from my Flickr friends, coComments related to me, a Google blog search for unraveled and other feeds that I check every day or two are here. Finally, Everything Else contains exactly what you would expect: all the blogs that I enjoy, but could go several days without and wouldn’t mind.

Here are some examples that might help you make more sense of this simple system:

  • Techmeme is a fantastic tech news feed that’s frequently updated with important tech/web news so I try to read it at least once a day. I’ve put Techmeme into my Must Read group.
  • Boxes and Arrows is a less frequently updated design magazine with articles that tend to be longer than most blog entries. It’s also in my Must Read group because if I don’t read articles soon after they’re published, they’ll quickly pile and I won’t be as likely to read them carefully.
  • Information Aesthetics is a sweet blog about data visualization and visual communication. While I really enjoy it, I don’t consider it important enough to read every day, so it’s in Everything Else.
  • Urban Experience is a Flickr group that I admin, so I like to keep tabs on new submissions to the group, but I don’t need to check it everyday. Most feeds that I don’t try check everyday go into Everything Else, but because it’s more related to me I keep it in Watching.

Thanks for following along with this short series on productivity. It’s is a new topic at unraveled, but I’m keen to write the occasional productivity article when I find something useful to share with others.

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