Processing Email and RSS Similarly

One of the problems that RSS newbies often encounter is treating RSS items like email and expecting that each item needs to be read. A recent Ars Technica article explores the notion that keeping up with RSS is a bad idea.  I’m not going to suggest exactly how much information you should take in, but I find that I process email and RSS in a similar fashion which seems loosely based on David Allen’s two-minute rule for email processing.

One-Minute Email & RSS

As I scan my inbox or incoming RSS feeds (with RSS feeds being scanned in a priority-based order), I quickly deal with any that I can take care of in a minute or two.  This includes reading short email messages or crafting quick (one paragraph) responses.  On the RSS side, it means skimming headlines and reading short articles that won’t take more than a minute of my time.  For anything that requires more than a minute (either reading or replying), I send it elsewhere and move on.

More-Than-Minute Email

My method for email that requires a longer read or response is to star the item in Gmail for later processing.  After an item is starred, it moves to its own section in Gmail’s priority inbox so it’s easy to find and work through these items.  I have a task in OmniFocus that reminds me to process these messages at least once a day.

Reading Longer RSS Items

For longer articles, I send the article to Instapaper (as noted in my recent “how I read” article).  The iPad is the perfect device for consuming longer text and I’ll read these articles as I have time on my device of choice.  I use Reeder on my iPhone and iPad; sending articles to Instapaper is a simple gesture.


How you process email and RSS isn’t important but you’ll need to find a system that works for you. I’ve found that my system (process the quick things, defer the longer things) works for me.

How I Work: Reading and Consumption of Text

I consume a lot of information, much of it in a textual format. News of all sorts, various industry articles, magazine-like content, personal blog posts, and heck even a book now and then.

Here’s how I consume text information.

RSS: Reeder

I’m a heavy user of RSS1 to have news, blog posts, articles, and other content delivered to me. Google Reader serves as my reading hub and main subscription management location (although it’s not how I usually read… more below on that). As of this writing I’m subscribed to 625 RSS feeds.

What’s in my feeds? These sorts of things:

  • News
  • Industry-related articles
  • Personal blogs of interesting people
  • Feeds for interesting Flickr groups
  • Feeds for interesting discussion forums
  • Funny stuff

How do I read RSS? Mainly through the Reeder app. It’s a beautifully-designed feed reader that works great for basic users as well as those who want integration with services such as Instapaper, Pinboard, Delicious, Twitter, Facebook, and more. That’s how I read… I suppose the other question is when I read. The answer is throughout the day whenever I have time. I’ll generally do a big chunk of reading from a computer early in the day, around lunchtime, and in the evening. In between I’ll check headlines on my iPhone or iPad as I have time.

One other RSS tip is to store feeds in folders or collections based on how important they are. I don’t read every feed every day. Heck, there are feeds that I rarely read (but I can if I want to). By storing feeds in a folder structure based on importance I can ensure that I keep up with news, key industry happenings, and the lives of important contacts while allowing other less important things to sometimes go unread for days.

Here are links to get it from iTunes or the Mac app store:

RSS is my method of choice for getting frequent updates, and I will read short articles in Reeder. For longer pieces that will require more reading time (either from Reeder or things that I come across on the web), see the next section, which is aptly titled…

Longer Online Articles: Instapaper

Instapaper is a lovely online service which stores text articles that one wishes to read at a later point in time. A (free) Instapaper account allows one to use the web interface to store articles (either manually or with a bookmarklet) and browse them on the Instapaper website.

While the website is nice (and the web services provide the glue/plumbing), the Instapaper iPad app is lovely and is my preferred method of reading. The app allows for reading in either portrait or landscape orientation and presents the articles in a choice of color schemes. The app also works in offline mode, allow for content to be loaded and then read when disconnected (such as on an airplane or a camping trip). There’s also an iPhone app available which is nice but doesn’t provide quite as great of a reading experience due to the small screen size.

One big feature of Instapaper (regardless of how you read the items) is that text is reformatted for better reading, with extraneous advertising and other distractions removed from the page. Save an article and that’s just what you get: the article without any sidebars or such. It’s awesome.

Download the Instapaper iPad app from iTunes.

Books: Kindle App on iPad or (gasp) Paper

I don’t read a ton of books… maybe one a month on average and they’re almost always nonfiction of some sort. Photography books (where a nice visual image is part of the experience) still get ordered on paper (thank you Amazon Prime) but for everything else I’ll purchase the Kindle version of the book and read it on my iPad.

After Reading Online: Bookmarking with Pinboard

If I read something interesting online and feel that it might be useful reference information for a later date, I’ll save it with Pinboard, my bookmarking service of choice. Pinboard alows for saved bookmarks which can be tagged, described, searched, sorted, and shared easily. I use Pinboard along with the Postalicious WordPress plugin to create the “Other People Say” posts here.

Up Next: Writing Tools

The next in my series of “How I Work” articles will look at the tools and techniques I use to write and publish.

Instapaper – Marco Arment


  1. Not sure what RSS is? View this video by the folks at Common Craft. 

Enabling Instapaper to Pinboard Integration

I love Instapaper - it’s pretty much how I read everything that’s more than a couple paragraphs long. And I loved Delicious for saving links… with the impending demise of Delicious, like many others I’ve switched over to Pinboard.in as a bookmarkeing service.

Here’s a neat Instapaper-to-Pinboard trick: sign into Instapaper and go to the Account Settings page. About halfway down, you’ll see the Pinboard integration option. Once you authenticate with Pinboard, whenever you “Star” an item in Instapaper, that link will be saved to your Pinboard account.

Bam.