Want to Read More? Do it Efficiently With These Three Apps

Want to Read More? Do it Efficiently With These Three Apps

I am a writer. I am a writer. I am a writer.

Okay, this isn’t Beetlejuice, and 3,000 words aren’t suddenly going to pop out of my head after repeating that mantra three times.

What will it do? Remind me — as I’m furiously attempting to read every single blog post that’s new today from every single blogger — that writers gotta write.

A case of overconsumption

Let me back up. One of my best pieces of advice for any writer, anywhere, is that if they want to be a better writer, they need to read. (It’s actually three of my top five suggestions — it’s that important.)

Yet somewhere along the line, especially as a solopreneur in this freelancing economy, it gets all too easy to be a professional content consumer who is rarely the one creating.

And it’s hard to find a good case for overconsumption. Even in the name of learning. At some point, the pendulum will swing and that third fourth re-read of Stephen King’s On Writing just won’t push you any further, even if he is a genius.

Instead, we need to call all of this content consumption what it is: a fancy form of procrastination. You’re wasting time that could be spent putting your butt in the chair and pounding out your own words.

Conscious consumption

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of great content in this world that deserves to be consumed, and I wholeheartedly believe in supporting what other people put out — especially when we can stand to learn from it.

The goal isn’t to avoid reading altogether.

The goal, friends, is conscious consumption. That is, strategically taking in the content that can best serve you, and not letting it distract from your own writing goals.

The easy alternatives to million-tab syndrome

Let’s start with how you “acquire” and store content, in the first place.

If your Chrome window looks anything like mine, it could stand to use a little cleanup. But you certainly don’t want to lose all those fantastic articles and resources you’ve opened. F

Fear not: Here are a few ways to relieve your browser and create a distraction-free environment that makes room for content consumption after the work is done.

1. Pocket

There’s nothing worse than a dress without pockets. That’s perhaps why I’ve taken an extreme liking to this platform.

Also, it’s just plain awesome. Here’s why: With the free version of Pocket and its super-nifty Chrome extension, you can open a blog post, video, podcast page, you name it, and “pocket it” to read later — while easily adding tags for organization.

Reading on your phone? All you have to do is copy the link in your browser, and Pocket will automagically pick it up when you open the app. Easy, peasy.

I’ve set my Pocket to download articles only when I’m on WiFi, which is nearly all the time, making offline reading possible for those times I don’t want to use data or can’t get network access.

Build up your list and organize it by tags, and archive items you might want to go back to later but don’t need in your queue now.

2. Evernote

If you’re already using Evernote as your to-do list keeper, this is yet another way to put it to use. Grab the handy web clipper, and all it takes is one click to add whatever page you’re on to Evernote — easily putting it in a notebook and tagging it right from the extension. (OK, it might be two clicks.)

The free version of Evernote will give you the crucial functionality with 60MB of storage and syncing across up to two devices.

Bonus: It’s a great way to take notes on the go when you can’t type and need solid voice recognition.

3. Feedly

RIP, Google Reader — we still miss you, but Feedly eases that pain a little more each and every day.

Feedly is an RSS reader that is crucial to keeping your inbox clear and being able to access all your favorite blogs in one place.

Set up categories, and filter your favorite blogs through them. Then, all it takes is an at-a-glance check-in to see what’s new — and it’s easy to save stuff for later.

Pro tip: As a copywriter, I often curate sources for different projects I’m working on within Feedly under categories with the client or project name.

Out of sight, out of mind?

Putting these tools to work is great for eliminating distractions, but hiding these articles and resources away in storage makes it all too easy to simply forget about them.

Again, we come back to the goal: conscious consumption.

If you’re consciously sourcing the content you want to go back to and making a routine of storing it in Pocket, Evernote, Feedly, or another of your favorite apps, the next step is to intentionally make the time to go back and put it to use.

Here’s what I recommend for that:

1. Build a system

Everyone’s system will work differently. Here’s mine: As I’m interacting in different groups and communities throughout the day and encounter new-to-me content, I throw anything interesting into Pocket to read later.

When I’m actually reading through those articles in Pocket or my curated feeds in Feedly (see step #2 below), I’ll clip content to Evernote, categorizing it as either “add to social queue” or “include in coffee + content” (my bi-weekly roundup).

Once per week on Friday, I batch upload new content to my Edgar account to get it into the social rotation, and every other Friday, I write my roundup post.

2. Set aside time each day to go through the content you’ve saved

Once you have a process for collecting content and know what you’re going to do with it, set aside time each day to make it happen.

I schedule 15 to 45 minutes per day to read. Your process will help you go in with a plan, so you’re not just sifting through handfuls of saved pieces while venturing down a rabbit hole of overwhelm. You could take the Tony Hsieh “Yesterbox” approach, only “processing” yesterday’s additions, or you could go in with a specific need — find an article regarding email marketing, for example — and get out when you’re done.

Put your content consumption to use

I’ll say it again: The best way to become a better writer is to read. Also worth repeating: Writers gotta write.

Build a process so you can strike that healthy balance between consuming and creating — because overwhelm and procrastination are two of the greatest barriers to writing, and I want your content in my pocket. (Feel free to use that as your new pick up line.)

How do you manage the many articles and blog posts you want to read?

Filed Under: Craft

18 comments

  • William Laws says:

    Sara – it’s like you wrote this piece specifically and personally for me! My desktop is littered with articles and blog posts that I know I’ll get back to one day – if I can ever remember what and where they are. Thank you so much for the tips on managing this mass of material. Very helpful for a Singapore-based British veteran solopreneur. 🙂

  • John Soares says:

    Good advice, Sara!

    I still use Chrome bookmarks to organize articles to read later, but I like the Pocket concept and will check it out.

    And many people think feeds are no longer relevant, but it’s how I organize the numerous sites I follow. I certainly wouldn’t want to get emails about new posts from all of them.

  • Nice advice. It seems like we’re all stuck with an endless expanding to-read list on every device we own. Stuff like this can help.

    • Jason:

      So true. That’s why it’s so important to come up with a system and stick with it — even better if it works across your devices. (One reason to love Apple.)

      Thanks for reading!

  • ChaChanna says:

    I am totally the person who saves articles and then never gets back to them. It makes amazing sense and sounds so simple to make time to go through it. I like the idea of looking at the articles I saved from yesterday before I go on to today’s. As I am planning to start sharing/curating content on creative writing, this is really helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  • Marc Zeale says:

    Sara, this is the type of helpful advice I need. Procrastination is an ugly thing, and I’ve had reading and writing on my to-do list for weeks. Using pocket and Evernote, I’ll be able to save important docs to consume later, and stay on track with a promise to start writing (something) again every day.

  • Lynne says:

    Great advice and tips!

    Also consider using One Tab, which frees up 95% of your memory and converts all your open tabs to a convenient, extremely easy to use list. You can scan all your content in seconds, delete, open, move, share, etc. Great Chrome extension!

  • Mike Picray says:

    Sorry. If I followed all the advice from people telling me how to be a writer I’d starve to death because I wouldn’t have time to eat… much less write.

    Almost all of the “good advice” is just that – good advice. But if you spend your time reading it all, you’ll have NO time for writing.

    I submit – the best way to become a writer is to WRITE!!! Period.

    When you they start out to be writers most people will be a bad writers. Some will improve, some will not. Some will NEVER be good writers!!! EVER!!! (No matter how much they write. Some will not have the necessary mindset to be a good writer. Some will not have the vocabulary to write anything anyone will want to read. Maybe they had bad teachers, maybe they watched too many bad cartoons as children, maybe a grain of sand sized meteor hit them in the head and removed their ability to think logically. Whatever.

    The principle fact I’m trying to get across is that just because someone WANTS to be a writer does NOT mean they ever will be. And I can pretty much guarantee that spending all of your time reading about writing – will NOT make you a writer.

    • Mike Picray says:

      And careful editing is also important! ;-/
      😀

    • Codissimo says:

      A good writer eases the reading for the readers. I had to read some parts of your comment three times to understand what you wanted to write. Coherence and punctuation is important. No matter what!

  • wellll…. old school I guess, I save the link, and save the article in a file on my laptop. Depending on how pertinent it is at the moment, I print it out. (I’m a paper preferred reader)

  • Wendy says:

    Sounds like even more work than what I do. I’d say over 70% of my hard disk is full of webpages I’ve found interesting enough to “save for future reference.” Some of them, I’ve found easy ways to put into RTF files. Sometimes the relevant content can be snipped with a screen capture. That still leaves an awful lot of content that can’t be saved as anything other than full webpages with out taking 20-60 minutes to snip the content piecemeal and reformat it into something I can read, particularly pages with interesting comments on them. (Doesn’t help that all the MIME-saving plug=ins I’ve tried for Firefox haven’t worked, and I found out the hard way than my “save as PDF” plug-in doesn’t always work on the exact page I’m looking at.)

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