During the last few weeks I was (successfully) studying for and writing exams. Unfortunately, this left little time for my daily RSS reading. After the completion of my final exam, I was greeted with an all items count of 1000+. In the past, I would get paralyzed thinking of the massive amount of energy and time needed to get the list back to zero. Today, I simply accept that I’m behind and am able to quickly process my feeds using the following workflow. I use Google Reader, but the steps can be modified to fit other feed readers.
Step 1: Go to all items (keyboard shortcut “GA”).
Step 2: Switch to list view (keyboard shortcut “2″).
Take a deep breath. I subscribe to the motto “no shame, no blame” from the great personal finance book, Your Money or Your Life. Don’t feel guilty for falling behind. Don’t blame yourself for falling behind. Often there are external factors which simply must take priority (my degree or RSS?).
Step 3: Scroll through the post titles (keyboard shortcut “N”). Star any items you want to read in the future (keyboard shortcut “S”).
Do not actually read the items. Similar to the Weekly Review, the goal here is to get you up-to-date not to actually do tasks. This may violate the 2-minute rule of GTD, but you can’t predict which items you can read in less than 2 minutes. This also avoids the black hole of a never-ending link trail.
Step 4: Once you’ve scanned everything, mark all items as read. You can use the keyboard shortcut “Shift+A”.
Indulge in an empty inbox. It’s important that you prioritize the reading of new items (instead of catching up) or your starred list will become your new all items list. The truth is, you probably didn’t miss anything life-changing. The most important items will probably be the content of upcoming weekly link posts or in a physical newspaper.
Step 5: Make catching up on your unread RSS a “Most Important Task (MIT)“.
You don’t have to slay the dragon all at once. Make a MIT to read a small number of your starred items (keyboard shortcut “GS”). I’ve found 3-5 an effective amount that doesn’t require stealing time from other tasks. As you read the items, unstar them. Repeat until you no longer have any starred items.
Before, I would star items that I might want to re-read in the future. However, I’ve found social bookmarking to be much more efficient and I never actually referred to any Google Reader content. I had to unstar a couple thousand items, but I find this RSS workflow is much less stressful.
Remember: “no shame, no blame”.