The Secret to Lightning-Fast Feed Reading

By Skellie

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This guide contains seven steps to hone your feed reading skills to a fine art. The tips here will have you extracting vital information from more feeds in less time and with little fuss.

The best bloggers are keenly aware of what is going on inside and outside their niche. Without being aware of news, trends and great content others have created, the quality of our expertise declines.

At the same time, it can be difficult to strike a balance between absorbing information and creating it. Ultimately, we want to spend less time on the first while concentrating on the second. Cutting down the number of feeds we read would seem like the logical answer, but in doing so we’re cutting down on something else: potential sources of both innovation and information.

At the moment, I’m subscribed to over a hundred feeds and counting. The tips here are from my own experience, though other bloggers, including Robert Scoble, have identified similar principles.

The secret to lightning-fast feed reading is not to read less but to read more in different ways.

1. Start with folders

Categorize your subscriptions into broad topic folders (politics, blogging, sport, etc.) I’ve seen others advocate displaying all feeds but I think this requires too much mental leap-frogging. Much of how we initially interpret content is based on its context. A headline which reads ‘How to Hit Home Runs Every Time’ will be interpreted a certain way in a blogging context, and another way in a sport context. If you’re reading the content without a general idea of the context it requires much more work to interpret what the post is about.

I would recommend making categories as broad as possible to minimize the time you need to spend clicking between folders.

2. Be aware of hot keys — use them

Each reader has its own hot keys. In Google Reader, my personal choice, ‘J’ takes you one post forward, ‘K’ takes you one post back. Using one hand for hot keys and the other for mouse control allows you to move rapidly through posts when you wish and to slow down when you want to.

3. Start with headlines, pick out keywords

Rather than reading headlines left to right, try to look at them as a whole. As you do this, pick out keywords. This will help to instantly determine what the post is about. If there are keywords, make a quick decision about whether those keywords are of interest to you. If not, move on to the next post and start the process again. If they are (or if there are no apparent keywords) move on to the next step.

4. Take in visual cues

Images have the power to convey a lot of information almost instantly. Look at the post as a whole and take in images if they’re present. This will add another layer to your knowledge about the content.

To give you an idea of the time frame for these steps, the process so far should only have taken a second or so.

5. Focus on a paragraph or two, looking for keywords

I don’t mean reading quickly from left to right — that will take too long. Look at the center of the first line, the center of the second, the center of the third, and so on. Try to expand your field of view so you’re taking in more words. This will be tricky at first but will get easier with practice. You can go over the first few paragraphs of the piece and identify keywords quickly with this method.

By this point you should have a good idea of whether the post is worth your attention or not. If not, start from step one with the next post. If it still has your interest, go on to the next step.

6. Start scanning from left to right

Your eyes should be moving too fast to take in more than half the information. Scan as much as you need to in order to determine whether the post is really worth a deep read. Try not to read more than three paragraphs this way — force yourself to make the decision quickly.

7. Open link in a new window

The process up until now should have taken anywhere from between one and ten seconds. Scanning the headline will take around a second and visual cues half a second, and you won’t need to progress further than this with most posts. Scanning for keywords might take another three seconds, pushing the total to somewhere around five seconds. A smaller percentage of posts — the ones that will really leave an impression — will be scanned and then deep read.

The term deep reading has probably been defined by others in different ways but I use it to describe reading beyond the surface of a blog post by clicking links as you go. Of course, it’s a very different sort of mental process than the rapid-fire scanning we’ve been doing. My strategy is to switch between the two processes only once. I go through my feeds and when I decide to deep read an item I right-click on the title to open it in a new window. I do this until I’ve gone through all my feeds.

When I’m done, I can then switch mental processes and start deep reading the posts I’m truly interested in.

In essence

Effective feed-reading is best done by single-tasking mental processes.

Establish the context of content by broadly categorizing it, then switch to deep reading only when you’ve finished scanning. The less you have to switch between different ways of consuming information the quicker you’ll be able to do it.

Deep reading will take as long as you want it to, but I think it’s entirely feasible to sort through ten or twenty feed items a minute without losing items of possible use.

With these tips in mind, next time you read your feeds take note of the time you start and the time you finish scanning. How many items did you get through and how long did it take? How long did it take before? I’m confident these tips are effective — after all, I use them myself — but I’m curious to see just how far people can go in blazing through this task.



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33 Responses to “The Secret to Lightning-Fast Feed Reading”

  • R&B Instrumentals

    I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. Unlike additional blogs I have read which are really not good. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he enjoyed it as well!

    I am quite sure they will learn lots of new stuff here than anybody else!….There is also a lot of visual symbolism that is sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle..

  • mark readal

    Since I created folders for all my streams I don’t get too overwhelmed by the amount of new information coming in every day. It’s good to know you can ignore some folders. Folders also work well for browser bookmarks, but not in the common way. In Firefox I use horizontal folders to bookmark all links and I do access them much faster than using the vertical way. Thanks for the post; hot keys are the one I need to improve on…

  • Eryaman hali yikama

    Good info thanks for sharing with us.Nice information, valuable and excellent, as share good stuff with good ideas and concepts, lots of great information and inspiration, both of which we all need, thanks for all the enthusiasm to offer such helpful information here…

  • Besky

    I like this keep it up! am having a problem right now am reading and is always very difficult for me cram what am reading, what should i do

  • medyum

    I really do need those tips! Thanks.

  • Jim Nilzon

    I like your suggestions. What I would add to the mix is speed reading – a powerful way to staying updated with information.

    In my research I have found that you can read any type of text faster without compromising on quality. How you approach the material is, of course, important. But with practice even a law student can increase their physical reading rate by at least three times.

    Combine this with your strategies and feed reading should be a cinch.

    -Jim
    http://www.SpeedReadingSecrets.com

  • Andriy D.

    All those tips are good, they really can help, but you just can’t cure it at all. It would be great if feeds readers, like Google Reader could build in some interactivity. For example, a post rating system, which would allow users to rate a post, so that a summary of post rates will be available for others subscribers of that blog. Isn’t it would be useful? It’s just one of possible approaches, simply our utilities must be smarter.

  • syahid ali

    read with google reader and list view to scan for posts. unsubscribe to those that you normally skipped reading.

  • Technobuzz.net

    Nice article about reading RSS feeds

    http://www.technobuzz.net

  • AL

    When you’re first starting the RSS feeds addiction, you’re all happy and glad you saved time by not checking those websites regularly.

    But as the number of your subscriptions draws closer to the 100th mark, the ugly side of RSS feeds shows up and it becomes more of a chore than a simple pleasure to keep up with the massive amount of info coming your way.

    It’s at this point that you have to read articles like these in order to totally change your feed reading strategy from simply reading like a book to scanning as fast as you could without missing the good stuff.

    Thanks Daniel. I’m starting with these tips tomorrow! Let’s see if I can do this in less than 1.5 hours! (yeah i know, I’m miserable right now!)

  • GermWorks

    Yeah I agree with those points, I think with a lot of feeds and working and blogging you do need to get into a system of some kind to use, otherwise you will blow a gasket. Feeds should be enjoyable and not a drag..

  • Skellie

    @ Max: That video certainly made me rethink my own feed reading habits.

  • Max Pool

    Here is the video of Robert Scoble’s feed reading habits that Glen spoke of. A must watch!

  • Shankar Ganesh

    err… I meant ‘Google Reader’, not Gmail.

  • Shankar Ganesh

    Great post, Daniel. Folder view and shortcuts on Gmail have saved a lot of time for me.

  • Mike Panic

    I haven’t moved to a full fledge RSS reader yet, I use iGoogle and utilize the tabs. If I notice that some of the sites are stale and don’t update for a month or more, or I just find myself not reading them, they get deleted. This has stopped the total pile up of feeds that aren’t needed.

  • Danielle B. Blogging For Balance

    My subscriptions were starting to overwhelm me just at first glance. Thanks for the idea of folders…..one of those “I coulda had a V* moment” Thanks again!

  • OknooRap

    Nice Article Mr. D (Dailyblogtips Team) 😀

  • Michael from Pro Blog Design

    This is something I’m working on doing, so I really do need those tips! Thanks.

    I think I’ll take a look at that video of Robert’s. Can’t hurt. 😀

  • Daniel

    km, that is why I do not subscribe to a single partial feed. Well, actually just 1, SEO Book :).

  • km

    Nice article about reading RSS feeds. However, Some of the feeds is partial only and very hard to capture what the article write about….

  • Glen Allsopp

    This is something Im getting pretty good at with over 200 feeds. I seen a video with robert scoble showing how he read over 666 a day 😉

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