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Media Martial Law

I’ve been on top of my newsreader for about 4 years now, despite the rapid increases in content, and the decreases in my free time.  Sure, every once in a while, work or life would interrupt and I’d fall behind, but with some judicious resetting, I was always able to catch up.  Until this year where I just stopped.  I just didn’t have enough time or energy, and the onslaught of thousands upon thousands of new articles day by day made it impossible to keep up.

So I let go.  I accepted that my Google reader unread count was at 1000+ (the most unread it’ll admit to) and that most of my feeds were close to or well past that mark as well.  I took my fingers off the pulse of the world.

And not all that much changed.  I didn’t get left behind.  Between Twitter and social contacts and occasional glances at the newspaper, I was still aware of real world events.  I was missing out on technology releases and concepts, sure, so I was occasionally caught by news I just hadn’t heard as my friends and I talked.

Still, I didn’t get the kind of bliss that some folks seem to associate with being disconnected.  Sure I didn’t feel the need to check my news reader every 10 minutes, but I felt disconnected from the world.  Which bothered me though there were personally interesting blogs I wanted to keep up with, and keeping up with technology is kind of a professional necessity even aside from personal interest.  And it bothered me because I feel a little like letting go of the pace of news let go of my own sense of pace.

In response to that feeling, I’ve been rejigging my Google Reader configuration.  I exported all of my feeds and opened up the list in a spreadsheet.  And then each feed got a single tag, a single priority, and a noise level.


Tags are easy, that’s just a grouping.  This blog is about food, that one is about information secuity.  Priority is easy.  If I could only read some of my news on a given day, is this one important, High, Medium or Low.  Noise is easy too, but not necessarily obvious.  You could also call it Volume, or Traffic.  How busy is the feed?  Because if I get two news feeds and one generates 2 articles a day, and another generates 100, I want to handle those differently.

Anyway, I scored them all, and then I combined the priority and the noise level into a single scale using magic and math.  And now all of my feeds are classed by tag and high/medium/low value to me.

And it’s working.  (Well, it’s working sort of.  Unfortunately, an alphabetical sort means that “News_High” is followed by “News_Low” and then “News_Med” and that means I will probably rename those so they sort better in Google Reader.)  But suddenly I can actually target “The ones I really want to read” and shed the ones that just aren’t as critical.

The new system has been running for two days.  I’ve gone from tens of thousands of unread to 516 with about 20 minutes of effort.  And with the return to the world, I feel a little bit energized.  And definitely more in control.  Obviously it remains to be seen jsut how well my organization system works in the long run, I mean it took 4 years to really overwhelm my two-tier system.

I could probably manage better if I used a different client, but Google Reader is convenient for being in the cloud.  I do wish that I could set “maximum unread” for some feeds.  By number of days and by number of articles.  Because my weather and deal-of-the-day feeds are just noise after the day.  And there are other feeds where my attention span really doesn’t last more than a 10-20 articles.

Oh well.

Posted in productivity.

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