How to Scan 1000s of Headlines & Read 100s of Articles (and still stay productive)

If you follow me on Twitter or Google+, you know that I like to read and share articles…Lots of them.

What you might not know is that, for every article I tweet, I probably read another 10-15. The digital world adapts to new technology and makes wholesale changes literally every day and it is critical that anyone in a strategy role keep on top of the latest developments for the benefit of their clients and team. Thus, on any given day, I scan thousands of articles and read hundreds of them during the course of a week.

Of course, I have a day job. The catch-22 is that I don’t have a great deal of time to read during the work day, but my effectiveness is very much dependent on reading a bunch of articles. So how do I do it?

Time efficiency is the key and luckily there are a bunch of tools to help out. Here is my method…

Google Reader

The hub of my entire web universe these days is Google Reader. Without it, I would pretty much be lost and uneducated. I can’t picture ever being able to stay on top of things without my Reader. I currently subscribe to the RSS feeds of about 30 or so of the top Digital Marketing, Advertising and Technology sites and a few topic-based aggregators like AllTop and Topix.

You may be wondering how I found the 30 sites to subscribe to. Its simple- I listened, searched and asked. I started with the 5-10 obvious ones like Mashable and Techcrunch and then I took to the streets to find other important sites to follow. There are a number of ways to do this:

      1. Identify the top Twitter super-users in your industry and visit the sites that they are tweeting links to;
      2. Search by topic within Reader and add the feeds that look promising;
      3. Use a social bookmarking site like StumbleUpon to ‘test out’ new sites by stumbling on them;
      4. You can simply ask others. Ask your coworkers, Twitter followers, Facebook friends, etc what they are reading. Every now and then, I will share a few sites I like publicly on Google+ and ask for suggestions. This is always a popular post and generates bunches of suggestions. I have found some real hidden gems this way.

Scan and Organize

Ok so you are now set up on Google Reader and have a boatload of new subscriptions, now how the heck do you read them all? Another simple answer- you don’t.

The beauty of RSS is that you can scan the headlines without having to navigate all over a site to find them. Expand each feed and just look at the headlines. I ‘star’ the articles that look interesting to me and, once I am through scanning the entire feed of new articles, I click on ‘mark all as read’ at the top. This ensures that the next time I go to that feed, I am only going to see new articles that I haven’t already scanned.

You will find after doing this for some time, that you will get really good at knowing what to look for and the whole scanning process will become much faster for you. You know (generally) who writes about what and when to gloss over an article that is old news.

The only feeds that I don’t scan this was (unless I have an enormous amount of free time) are the aggregator feeds. Trust me, you will most likely never have enough time to scan an entire AllTop feed. There are just too many articles. I have a more creative way to use these feeds which I will explain in a bit.

Read the Starred Articles

Once you’ve gone through all of your feeds and have the articles you want to read starred, you can now got to your ‘starred items’ feed and read just those articles at your own pace. I try to sneak in an article or two whenever I can, so I have Google Reader apps installed on my phone and tablet. You just never know when you are going to have an extra minute or two to blast through a quick article.

Much like the scanning process, the reading process gets quicker once you get the hang of it. You will figure out which site’s articles require more thought and concentration and which are usually easy, quick reads and be able to budget time for each type of article accordingly. Just make sure to unstar articles once you have read them to avoid a bloated, cluttered starred items feed.

What to do with Those Crazy Aggregators

Sites like AllTop include all the sites that authors submit to them and organize the news source by topic. You can pretty much think of them as a digital, user-generated Associated Press. My primary use of these feeds is to find good, new sites that I otherwise never would’ve known about.

I use the iPad app Flipboard, connected to my Reader account, to flip through aggregator feeds. The beauty of Flipboard is that it gives you a different view of an RSS feed. It displays all of the articles in a feed in a magazine format that you can flip through. Flipboard isn’t as feature-rich as Google Reader, but I like its format for new site discovery. It’s more comfortable. Try it out. You will see that AllTop and Flipboard are a pretty decent little combination.

Don’t get me wrong, reading this many articles is not a quick process. The key here is to be smart and efficient and utilize the tools and technology available to maximize the time you do have available to read. Doing so will keep you current enough to stay dangerous and productive enough to deliver something of value to your clients.

Oh, and it may help keep you somewhat sane!



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