Google Reader can be a very powerful tool, but it can quickly become your worst enemy. I’m not going to tell you why you should be using it, or what an RSS feed is, etc., but rather how to get google reader working for you instead of the other way around.
The problem is this. There are tons of different feeds available for pretty much whatever you are interested in. When I first started using Reader, I subscribed to almost anything that had an RSS icon in firefox. Things quickly got out of control and it wasn’t until recntly that I found a system that works for me. So here was my typical pattern. I’d have well over 100 items in Reader, and I would despearately try to get a handle on it by trying to knock off as many as I could. I’d wind up spending a lot of time “reading”. As you may know, Reader has a little checkbox for each post “marked as unread’. I would do this for the stuff I was planning on reading later. So, later in the day I’d check it again and would come across the items that I already had marked as unread. Maybe I’d read them, maybe not. Before I knew it I had 1000+ items in google reader.
I’m sure there is someone else out there with this problem. The predicament with this situation is that posts are getting reprocessed. As David Allen would suggest this is a big no-no. I used to love reading things from my RSS feeds, but it quickly became a huge chore for me. Rather than reading for pleasure I started to read to see if I could get Reader back to 0 again. You may be thinking that I’m just going to tell you to start unsubscribing from feeds. That wouldn’t really make for a great blog post, would it.
What I do is go through and assign a block of time once a day or so for reading my posts in Reader. No more casual “oh, I’ll just check to see what’s been update”. If I find something that is very interesting, but I don’t have the time to read it right away, I tag it in a nifty little service called read it later. Their explanation of the service is excellent:
Eliminate cluttering of bookmarks with sites that are merely of a one-time interest.
Think of it as a ’staging area’ for bookmarks.
With this awesome little firefox extension, there is a little checkbox that gets integrated with google reader. You can check it or hit the i key (more Reader shortcuts here) to read it later. Also, make sure to have the integrate into google reader check box checked within Tool -> Addons -> Read it Later Preferences -> Google Reader. This may seem like procrastinating, but it’s not. When you have time later, you can read the checked articles without having to worry about zeroing out google reader. I have found that when I do this I actually process the posts much better and definitely enjoy the reading I do more. I also get a lot more read in a shorter time period. No more reprocessing. If you would like to learn more about read it later, a good post on it is here.
I have also found the Better Google Reader firefox plugin extremely helpful. There is a skin called minimalistic that is great. You can hit the w key to hide the top search bar. I also use the u key to hide the left navigation. What you have left is simply a list of the posts. Then j and k to navigate through them.
So that’s it. If you have any tips or tricks on conquering google reader, please let the world know in the comments section below. A big thanks to whomever runs this blog for the sweet Google Reader icon.