1 October, 2019
I’ve been trying to read more this year, but not just more. I’ve been trying to read more and better.
Specifically, I want to spend more time on longer, more thoughtful and insightful pieces, and less time on breaking news and the latest outrage.
My approach has been twofold: lean more heavily on Instapaper (for transient opinion and idea columns, or longer form articles), and carve out more time for reading actual books in either Apple Books or Amazon Kindle. This week, I’m going to focus on the Instapaper part of the equation.
Instapaper provides me with a single place I can go when I want to read something.
Articles get into Instapaper mainly through the unread view of my RSS feeds in Reeder. I triage this whenever I get that urge to “snack” on those high-calorie, low-nutrition news updates. My triage rule is that I spend no more than ten seconds on each article before deciding to push to Instapaper or ditch it.
I’ll occasionally find things I want to read on a handful of additional sites I check infrequently, but which are too noisy to push into RSS (I’m looking at you, Jason). Those, too, follow the same ten-second rule. The same goes for the few email newsletters I subscribe to: most of them have a “web version” somewhere. That’s what gets shovelled into Instapaper.
In all cases, Instapaper's drop-dead simple "add to Instapaper" sharing widgets make this process frictionless.
The net result is that whenever I get that urge to read something, I have a nice list in Instapaper that I already know I’m going to want to read. Enabling Instapaper’s “unread” badge on the iOS app provides a nice prompt for the inbox zero obsessive in me too.
When I open Instapaper, I’ll either order by reading time (which allows me to pick something that fits the time I have available), or by “oldest saved” (which lets me see which articles I’m just not getting round to for some reason). I do my best to cull these regularly (either by admitting I’ll just not read that two-hour article on polar bears, or deciding to read it now).
Once I’ve selected an article to read, the real work of “reading more and better” kicks in: active reading. I’ve taken to ensuring I highlight and comment on anything in an article that grabs my attention. Often, these comments reflect how a particular phrase or insight made me feel, whether I agree or disagree, and sometimes they’re direct comments or questions I should follow up on. In this way, I engage not only the consumption but processing parts of my brain, and it helps me formulate more coherent thoughts about the topic at hand.
Or at least gives me a fighting chance.
The most satisfying thing about Instapaper’s highlights and notes is that they’re exposed via its API, meaning you can connect it to some final destination and have all your notes collected in a modern Commonplace Book for future reference. My automation here is to have an IFTTT trigger to find new Instapaper comments, and pull them into a journal called Commonplace in Day One.
Some day, I’ll build a process for actually reviewing that as well, but it’s a start.