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

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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • man OP must have either a million different hobbies or a million blogs about his few hobbies, i have just under 100 feeds in my reader covering my main hobbies and some work related stuff with a bunch of feeds about each thing and even i get enough doubles on news etc on different blogs but i have a few for each topic for the OC each produces, chances are OP has a large number of feeds on the same topic which may get him some extra OC but results in alot of duplicate articles, which probably has the knock on effect of him missing out on most of the OC anyway.

    my advice, hit the “trends” button there on the left and take a look at the exact numbers your reading from each feed and cull a whole bunch of the lower ones chances are your either not interested in there content anyway or you wont even miss them

    like i said i have about 100feeds and after a good nights sleep filled with american blog posts i wake to about 300 posts to scroll through, easily managed over a bit of toast

  • Speaking for myself I’m resigned to the fact that my unread count will forever be 1000+. In my case I’m trying to replicate the good article from left field I used to get from Recommended Items, before Reader’s share feature moved to Google+, by subscribing to a wider range of topics that I normally wouldn’t read.

  • Gotta mention Reeder on OSX and iOShere. It’s an aesthetic way of going through feeds and the shortcuts are similar to Google Reader’s. Also, what I like to do is skim a feed’s entries, open them (w/ the ‘b’ shortcut in Reeder) and read them all in one go (instead of browse feed, read article, browse feed, read article). Possible in Google Reader but nicer in Reeder.

    Also, speaking of Reeder, LH still appears broken (image overlapping text). That’s been raised in comments before. Can this be fixed please?

  • My personal rule is that if reading through a specific feed is becoming a chore rather than something I want to do, I remove it from the list. I usually leave my least-favourite feeds until last anyway, so the things with the most unread will probably get culled first. As a selection process it means that my RSS feeds gradually match what I enjoy reading better and better.

    The exception: I have one folder of feeds that I don’t like to read but genuinely need to keep up with for some reason. I usually just skim through the headlines about once a week.

  • Google Reader for Android is brilliant. Nothing beats it When the Mrs drags you shopping, or is going to take “just a minute” before leaving the house, or when in the bathroom.

    I use the All Items list and I set it to only display new items and always show oldest first. That way you can still have the fun of the bit by bit reveals at tech shows, and any double up news from different feeds is displayed more or less at the same time. I only subscribe to my favourite ten or so sites, and get between 300 and 500 items per day. Best part is I view a heap at breakfast from the USA overnight and get it down to 0 items, then as I have breaks through the day, or time to kill, I watch the new 20 or so that appear.

    I star items of interest and come back to them when I have the right amount of time to absorb the article properly. This allows me the ocd pleasure of an empty feed, and the time to view items in my own time.

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