Instapaper Zero

So Much Internet, So Little Time

I do a ton of reading on the web.

Most of what I read comes through RSS and Twitter. I subscribe to about a hundred RSS feeds from various sites, blogs, and writers. Not as many as some, but enough to make staying on top of them necessary. I use Reeder on all of my devices to manage RSS.

A hundred feeds is modest enough for me to be able to zero out my unread count each day, but there are still plenty of instances where I come across something I don’t have time to read.

The Instapaper Conundrum

The solution for this issue is, of course, Instapaper. As I’ve written before, Instapaper is a service for saving articles you want to read later. The web service is free, and it’s also available as a universal iPhone and iPad app for $4.99 on the App Store. This isn’t intended to be another praise-Instapaper article, so I’ll just say shame on you if you’re still not using it.

I’ve been using Instapaper for several years, and it’s always been a critical — and abused — part of my online workflow. You see, Instapaper is a double-edged sword when it comes to keeping my mind clear and calm. On the one hand, Instapaper’s very nature frees you from having to worry about missing out on things to read. Find a great article right before heading off to work? No problem; just send it to Instapaper.

But on the other hand, it’s easy to get carried away and end up throwing anything and everything into Instapaper, at which point the dreaded “Instapaper guilt” begins to creep in. Having hundreds of articles to read later is the same as having a stack of books on your nightstand, all of which you’ll get to “someday”. No fun.

Eventually, my Instapaper queue was overflowing to the point where I knew anything that got sent there would probably never be seen again. I thought about just deleting everything and starting over, but I couldn’t help thinking there was some deeply buried article that contained the secret to wealth, power, blogging success, and/or happiness itself. There were valuable things in my Instapaper account. That much was fact. But finding them would be like panning for gold.

I needed a solution.

What I found was…

A Holy Trinity of Web-Reading Management

I’ve already discussed Instapaper at length, so I’ll detail the remaining two apps and how they combine to form a cohesive system.

My first task was to find a way to process my Instapaper account quickly and efficiently. The web view isn’t ideal for this, and there was no way I was going to go through hundreds of articles on my iPhone or iPad. I needed keyboard-driven Instapaper processing.

Read Later: Instapaper Processing for OS X

For this, I turned to Read Later, formerly known as Read Now. As I wrote in my review, Read Later is essentially Instapaper for Mac. Its keyboard shortcuts and swipe gestures make it perfect for taming Instapaper overflow.

I fired up Read Later and downloaded all of my saved Instapaper articles (500 at a time anyway). Anything deemed unessential after a quick skim was archived with a swipe. Progress, but it wasn’t long before I found an article that I did, in fact, want to read — or at least be able to consult — later. I could have kept them in Instapaper, but that would have been counterproductive. To get down to Instapaper Zero, I needed someplace to store these articles as reference files.

Enter Yojimbo

Yojimbo is an “effortless, reliable information organizer for Mac OS X”, and it lives up to its tagline. Yojimbo is what Shawn Blanc refers to as an Anything Bucket; you can save bookmarks, notes, images, PDFs, and more, tagging and organizing to your heart’s content. You can also set keyboard shortcuts for quick input; I chose ⌘+Y. Side note: Yojimbo is $39, but sometimes great software costs money.

With the combined power of Read Later and Yojimbo, I was equipped to tackle the Instapaper beast.

The Great Instapaper Purge

In Read Later, I quickly swiped from article to article, archiving the unessential. When I came across an article I wanted to save, ⌥+C copied the permalink, and ⌘+Y brought up Yojimbo’s quick input field. Yojimbo automatically uses your clipboard when creating a new bookmark, so all I had to do was name the bookmark, enter any tags, and hit Enter. CMD+Tab back to Read Later, and repeat.

Using this system, it only took me a couple of hours to process several years worth of saved Instapaper articles. I saved about 120 articles in Yojimbo for reference and eliminated the rest.

I had done the impossible: my Instapaper account was back to zero.

Better Instapaper Habits

Now, the last thing I wanted to do was fall back into my old habits and have to repeat this process every few months. To prevent that from happening, I needed to change the way I collect and manage articles on the web.

Using Instapaper as a bookmarking service filled with hundreds of old items doesn’t work — at least not for me. Before cleaning it out, I couldn’t remember the last time I actually used Instapaper to read something. The fear of seeing all those unread articles was simply too strong.

Moving forward, I’m going to be far more judicious with what gets sent to Instapaper. By now, I’ve learned how to distinguish what’s worth reading from what seems worth reading, but isn’t. Only things I intend to actually read later that day will be sent to Instapaper, and I’ll review them each night to keep my Instapaper queue at zero and prevent overflow.

Items that I do not intend to read later, but would like to be able to reference if needed, will be sent directly to Yojimbo, where they will be tagged and readily available via search.

The Instapaper-Read Later-Yojimbo system will allow me to better consume, process, and manage articles that I can’t read in the moment. With diligent implementation, this system will help me read the web more effectively and prevent me from being inundated with read-it-later overload.

I’m feeling good about it.

Sign up for Instapaper free, and buy it on the App Store.

Buy Read Later on the Mac App Store.

Buy Yojimbo on the Mac App Store.

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