A Workflow For The Deluge of Online Reading

Something that I’ve been recognizing lately is that I have several workflows that I’ve built that help me in my day-to-day life that are used by others, but not as widely used as I would have guessed. I also have experienced shifting my own workflows over time and wish I had a better record of the processes I’ve used in the past. Since this particular one is something that’s come up several times in the past few weeks, I thought I’d document it here:

The Workflow for The Deluge of Online Reading

For the process I use, I require three tools: a smartphone, Instapaper, and Pinboard. There are lots of ways to do this. Some people only use Pinboard because it offers some of Instapaper’s functionality. Some people use Pocket or Readability or another “read later” app (Safari even has it built into the browser). Some people like Delicious or other ways of saving their links. I’m just outlining my process, which I arrived at over time, due to changes in the information environment due to ownership shifts in Delicious and other social/technological reasons.

Step 1: Gathering Reading

All day long we come across interesting things. We see it on Facebook, we come across it in Twitter, people send us emails with interesting links. Maybe you even subscribe to a collection in Medium or use a site like Longreads to find content. There was a point in time when I read as much as I could when I came across it. A “quick” check in on Twitter could grow to half an hour. I’d spend lots of time looking at screens but not recalling very much of it. My solution was to save all internet reading for later, and do the actual reading in batches.

Luckily, Instapaper helps with that! I added a little plugin to my browser which you can see here:

browser plugin

That letter “I” with a circle around it is the Instapaper plugin. When you come across anything that looks interesting to read on the computer, you just click the “I” and it saves. You can also do this on the phone.

iphone interface

I do this all day long. I don’t stop to read the links in the Chronicle emails I get throughout the day. I don’t follow links from Facebook other than to add them to my list. I just keep sending things to Instapaper.

Step 2: Reading

I save my reading for when I am putting my child to sleep. That’s the time I have for internet reading at this point in my life. So once my child is sleepy and won’t be too distracted by my phone, I open up Instapaper, set my phone to the darkest setting, and look through the day’s links. (FYI you can see that the story at the top of the list is the one I just saved in the previous screenshot.)

dark reading view

The trick is: you can’t read it all. If I was going to read everything in my list on any given day, I would not get back out of bed, and I’d be up until the early hours of the morning. My rules are:

  1. Read what still looks interesting
  2. Read what looks like it will be helpful for work
  3. Delete delete delete

Obviously this process only makes sense for inspectional reading. I don’t add things like Ithaka S+R documents. I save that type of reading for daylight hours where I can really think about what I’m reading and incorporate it into my understanding of things in a deeper way.

And it’s so easy to push aside step three, but it’s really the most important one. It’s overwhelming to have hundreds of articles in your reading list, and it makes it easy to lose the “important” things. Clearing the list means if I added something important that day, I will certainly see it and take the time to read it.

The reading process is quick and minimizes cognitive load. Formatting is simplified, ads are removed, only the main media associated with the article is presented. You can see one of the above stories here:

sample storyOther neat things to know: if you do save hundreds of things you can filter on aspects like length of article. You can read saved articles even when you don’t have access to the internet. If you have a premium membership, you can listen to a robot reading your content to you. It’s a great service.

Step 3: Saving

With the additions of extensions in the iOS platform, the step is even easier than it was a few weeks ago. Many of the articles I read, I just delete once I finish them. However, if there’s any chance at all that I think I might want to reference it again, I want to save it. My solution to that is to use Pinboard. Pinboard is a web-based bookmarking site that makes use of tags and descriptions to make your content findable. I add a lot of content to Pinboard: things I read on Instapaper, links to intranets that have logins so that I can find them later, links in tweets that I favorite, and so on. When I add something from Instapaper it’s as easy as clicking on the Pinner extension and filling in the relevant fields:

Pinner Extension  Pinner interface
Once I click Pinner and add the relevant information, I delete the article from my reading list. And here is what it looks like over on Pinboard:

Pinboard interface

You can see from this example how links are shown, how descriptions can be useful, where tags show up, the tag cloud, the source of the post (Twitter, etc). Even with all of that, I use search to find the things I shared later. It’s a really useful tool and has my bookmarks dating back to 2006. I highly recommend it (even though it has a one-time fee).


Take all of this for what it’s worth to you. Do you have a process that works even better for your reading preferences? Have you written about it anywhere? If so, please share in the comments. I’d be very interested in your approach.

My name is Lauren Pressley. This is where I think out loud, document what I'm doing, and share the things that I like. I'm the Director for Learning Environments at Virginia Tech University Libraries and author of a few books. This blog focuses on libraries, education, information, & the internet. When not at work or blogging, I spend most of my time with John and our son, Leif.

2 thoughts on “A Workflow For The Deluge of Online Reading

  1. Hey Lauren!

    I’ve been using Evernote’s web clipper but it’s – and man, I rarely say this about Evernote – not quite what I want. Not quite. And I forget to delete stuff. I’ll try Instapaper as I like the clean look of it – or rather, I’ll get Evernote to remind me to try Instapaper.

  2. Lauren,

    Great post; it’s always interesting to hear about others’ workflows for things like this. I’ve actually been thinking of writing a post similar this for my habits, and I think you’ve inspired me to get going on it.

    Like Scott I have been using Evernote, but so far I’ve liked how I’ve been using it. But I think I will look into Instapaper as well, as I haven’t really looked into it.

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