Content Consumption

I remember content consumption being quite a simple process before I owned a smartphone. I had some preferred RSS feeds that I subscribed to with a reader of my choice, which I would go through on my laptop whenever I had time and save articles that I was interested in reading later.

In the years since I first started using smartphones I’ve gone through a few different mobile-first apps such as Flipboard and Pocket, trying to augment/improve my content consumption workflow, but as of last week it seems I’ve come back around largely to my pre-smartphone habits.

At the start of 2017, long overdue an upgrade and increasingly disillusioned with Apple’s latest offerings, I switched from using an iPhone to using a OnePlus 3T. On the whole the transition has been okay, but the overall quality of Android apps is far below that of iOS apps, and this is doubly true for apps that deal with content consumption. In particular, I have yet to find a truly viable alternative to Reeder, and the Android version of Instapaper is pretty much unusable.

I’ve recently started working on a project out of town which means I now spend the weekdays in a serviced apartment located about 10 minutes away from the client site. This has been a great opportunity for me to set in motion some solid morning habits and consolidate a good routine between 05:30 when I wake up and around 09:00 when I head to the office.

Frustrated with the experience of trying to sift through my RSS feeds and read saved articles with Instapaper on my OP3T, I have decided to check my RSS feeds once a day in the morning until I reach the RSS equivalent of inbox zero, and follow that up by spending 10 minutes making a dent in some of the articles, particularly long-reads, that have been stuck in my Instapaper queue for some time.

RSS feeds aren’t quite what they used to be. The signal to noise ratio seems to have shifted dramatically in favour of noise since I first started using them over a decade ago. I’ve found that only checking my RSS feeds once a day (with one or two hundred articles waiting for my attention) has been helping me to be more discerning with what I save to read later.

I’m currently reading through Cal Newport’s excellent book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, and a big, if slightly vague, takeaway from what I have read so far is that having everything available to you all the time is usually not going to be a good thing for your overall productivity.

Applying that takeaway to my content consumption workflow, I’ve found that checking my RSS feeds in little chunks throughout the day on my smartphone invariably leads to more junk getting through the net and saved in my Instapaper queue, which in turn makes my Instapaper queue feel more and more insurmountable, which ultimately leads to me reading less both qualitatively and quantitatively.

In short, if you feel like your content consumption habits are getting the better of you, limit the time in which and the mediums you use to expose yourself to your feeds or curation apps and be more discerning in what you decide to save for later. My experience has been that the latter naturally comes a result of the former.