Ask LH: How Do I Get Through All The Unread Items In Google Reader?

Dear Lifehacker, I read a lot of blogs. We’re talking 1000+ unread items. It seems like I can never get through everything I want to read, and I just have bookmarks loading up in my toolbar that never get read. How can I actually get through all this stuff? Sincerely, Buried Under Blogs

Picture: urfin/Shutterstock

Dear Buried,

As someone who flips through hundreds of blogs a day, I definitely feel your pain. There are a lot of different ways to tackle this, and ultimately it will depend on what suits you best. Here are some tips we’ve learned over the past few years (and hopefully our readers will share all their tips in the comments below too).

Use RSS Feeds, and Cut Out the Cruft

RSS Feeds are still the most efficient way to get through a large number of blogs. Fancy news readers like Pulse or Flipboard are nice, but a straightforward app like Google Reader is going to be much faster — instead of casually browsing, you’re speeding through all your feeds, picking out the stuff that looks interesting to you. We will get to the details on that in a moment.

First, gather up your favourite sites and add them to Google Reader if you haven’t already. If you have any blogs you don’t read a lot, just skip them. If you read a blog that posts too much, see if they have a more limited feed that, say, only contains the stuff you’re actually interested in — like our Australian stories feed. Then, once they are in Google Reader, organise them for optimal efficiency — tag the blogs you absolutely have to read every day, followed by the blogs that don’t necessarily require your constant attention and so on.

Read the Short Stuff Now, Save the Long Stuff for Later

When you want to start going through your blogs, you can breeze through Google Reader with just a few strokes of the “j” key. You will eventually get good at scanning headlines and knowing what you want to read. I generally will read the shorter posts right away and then move on. When I come across longer articles that look interesting, I send them to my read-it-later app of choice, Readability (though you can use Instapaper or Pocket too). This IFTTT recipe will make it especially easy to do so: it will send any article you “star” straight to your reading app of choice. So as you flip through with “j”, you can just tap the “s” key for any long-form article that looks interesting and it will show up on your read-later list.

You can then read those longer articles at your leisure, whether you are on your computer or not. I have Readability on my phone and my iPad, so no matter where I am, I can read some of my stored articles when I have free moments. Most of the read-later services have offline access, which means you can access articles even when you don’t have internet access. Heck, you can even have Pocket read articles to you out loud while you’re driving.

Accept That You Won’t Get Through Everything

You just aren’t going to get Google reader to read “0 unread”. It’s OK to declare RSS bankruptcy and just mark all as read — you’ve got more important things to do than get through every single blog post on the internet anyway. In fact, you can actually hide unread counts in Google Reader by clicking the arrow next to “All Items”. This will help put your mind at ease and keep that large number from staring you in the face and making you feel like you’re “behind” on something.

Similarly, prune your “read later” list if it gets too unwieldy. If you’ve had an article sitting in your read later list for a month, just delete it — you probably weren’t as interested in it as you thought. Or save it for your next long plane ride. Or just learn to read faster.

In the end, remember that having unread items isn’t a bad thing. It means you have something to read when you are bored. Having nothing to read when you need it — now that’s a problem.


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