How do you manage your "to read" pile?
July 18, 2010 11:08 AM   Subscribe

If, like me, you bookmark or clip huge numbers of interesting articles "to read later", what are your systems or processes for actually getting around to reading them? How do you manage your "to read" pile?

In Firefox, I have hundreds of bookmarked articles, Metafilter threads, etcetera, that I've kept because I don't have time to read them at the time. But then they just sit there, unread. There have been lots of recommendations on AskMe for software to capture, file and categorize this kind of stuff, but I want to know what you do to make sure you get a chance to read them.

This may be a hardware issue: I don't tend to have my laptop open and connected to the web at those times when I have spare moments for reading (on the subway, etc). Or it may be because when I'm relaxing on the sofa, in a mood to read, I don't really feel like switching on the computer and getting into work mode. Am I the perfect market for an iPad? Or have you made lower-tech solutions work in your own life? Please tell me how you stop your "to read" pile, physical or electronic, just becoming taller and taller and never getting read.

This recent question is related, but more focused on books.
posted by game warden to the events rhino to Grab Bag (30 answers total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
I'm currently using Read It Later. I used to use Instapaper. I'm auditioning springPad but, while the idea is nifty, it's slow.
posted by goblinbox at 11:11 AM on July 18, 2010

I've had a good experience with using Instapaper ( and Evernote (, especially in conjunction with my iPad and iPhone. Makes for easy reading either at the office, at home or on the road.
posted by tundro at 11:11 AM on July 18, 2010

Instead of making a browser bookmark, install Instapaper.

I haven't looked at a bookmarks menu in years. I have all of my go-to sites in the bookmarks bar, and I hit up my instapaper account once a week or so, on the weekends.
posted by Wild_Eep at 11:11 AM on July 18, 2010

Thanks for the Instapaper/Read It Later recommendations! To clarify and extend my question, which focused on software and hardware, I should add that I am equally interested in learning about people's habits and personal routines for getting through their to-read piles.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 11:18 AM on July 18, 2010

I have a habit of reading my to-read articles while eating, since it's a time where I can't do much typing but I can look at a screen. I leave those articles open in my browser (so I usually have 5-20 open tabs), so they're there when I have a sandwich in hand, and I bookmark them on Delicious after I'm done reading them. I also prune my to-read list down a lot and don't really worry if I never get to some of it. If those to-read browser tabs get out of hand, sometimes I just save them to my bookmarks bar and figure I might get to them later. If I haven't read them for weeks, sometimes it just means they aren't that important. Saving the good links to Delicious and tagging them there is very helpful for reinforcing reading comprehension and being able to find them again, and it's also fun because then my friends can see what I'm reading.
posted by dreamyshade at 11:31 AM on July 18, 2010

I'm not sure of the details of what Instapaper does - I don't want to open an account to find out - so this may be duplicated - but this is what I do. I'm on a Mac.

1. Open the page in Safari.
2. Look for 'print' links/icons.
3. Print to pdf and save in folder on desktop labeled 'articles.'
4. Give the file a useful name - for example author-title.pdf
5. When I have some spare time, go to the articles folder, sort by date, print out some of the recent ones and read them on the commute/in bed/in the bath etc.

I think the 'print to pdf' step acts as a good filter for deciding whether or not I really want to read something. Printing to paper gets me away from the laptop.
posted by carter at 11:33 AM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

I also use Instapaper, particularly in combination with my iPhone (there's an phone app for it). You don't have to use the mobile phone app, but its really good for using up those idle moments to read when you are queuing or waiting for a train or otherwise sitting around anywhere. With instapaper, I have greatly expanded my long form journalism reading through mobile phone reading. It's kind of a off-label use that you're not really supposed to do, but I also save emails and any old web page really that I want to look at later to it.

Re: Instapaper vs Read It Later, I'm sure many people prefer Read It Later, but I personally find that Instapaper's simplicity of interface refreshing and much easier to use
posted by Bwithh at 11:35 AM on July 18, 2010

I clip to Instapaper, sync to my Kindle, and read them on my Kindle when I'm feeling like something shorter instead of reading a book. One of my favorite sources for clippings is
posted by matildaben at 11:38 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is a bit embarassing given your other responses, but I had the same problem for ages and solved it for myself in a very low-tech way. I have a couple of rolling word documents, one my work computer and one on my home computer. I just copy and paste any interesting longform articles/longer blog posts/metafilter threads/sunday times articles etc I don't have the chance to read onto these word docs. When they get to a certain size - 70 pages or so? - I print them out and stick 'em in my bag. Then I read them over the next few days on the subway commute or sitting in my garden or whatever. I still much prefer reading long threads and articles on a page to on a screen, and doing so on a phone would be a nightmare to me.
posted by jamesonandwater at 11:46 AM on July 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

I bookmark to Instapaper, and then wait for it to appear automatically on my Kindle.

Well, in theory anyway. Instapaper seems to go through weird dry spells where they stop mailing updates to email addresses, for weeks at a time (I'm in one now). Marco is unresponsive to email when this happens, and it really puts a cramp in my asynchronous reading.
posted by migurski at 11:49 AM on July 18, 2010

Nthing Instapaper and Kindle. The application Calibre can grab articles from Instapaper and automatically sync them to the Kindle when it's plugged into your computer.

This method has completely eliminated my backlog of interesting-but-long-articles-to-read.
posted by alphasunhat at 11:53 AM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

A few months ago, as an experiment, I created folder in the bookmarks bar called "toberead". I put things there that I think I should read but don't need to carefully archive in delicious. In truth I don't follow up and read very many of them - new links that I find seem to demand my attention, so the older ones pile up. I guess the lesson is that if something isn't worth reading right away or worth archiving to delicious then I should just forget it.
posted by conrad53 at 12:08 PM on July 18, 2010

This is sort of tangential to the topic, but I would highly recommend Readability if you find yourself reading on your laptop a lot.
posted by aheckler at 12:37 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is not an issue that can be solved by technology.

You already have the tools at your disposal to manage and bookmark articles. What you're suffering from is information overload. Sooner or later you have to sit down and say:

1) My time and attention are the most valuable things I posses..
2) There is too much stuff on the internet for me ever to read it all.
3) Therefore, I'm going to be super-choosy about what I read and what I do.

Unsubscribe from the feeds that aren't top-notch. Make a conscious effort to stop reading articles that only half-interest you. Stop bookmarking things that you know you'll never get back to. Learn to skim articles and discard them without remorse.

Save your time and attention for those things that really matter to you. That's how you solve this problem.
posted by chrisamiller at 1:03 PM on July 18, 2010 [13 favorites]

Similar to conrad53, except I use delicious and tag links with "unread". Then when I have a bit of time I run down that list reading, archiving (ie properly tagging), or just deleting items depending on how I feel about them.
posted by crocomancer at 1:04 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I "print to file" using free PDFill PDF writer ... and save all articles in a three tier system (i.e. Web Articles > general subject > specific subject).

This way, everything I want to read is already on my computer for offline reading ... I take my computer (netbook) with me everywhere, and read these saved-to-PDF articles whenever I have 10-15 minutes of time such as in a waiting room, riding public transportation, sitting on the patio, at night in bed before sleep ... etc.

I am soon getting an e-reader, and will convert as needed to use on it as well, which will be even more portable.

I am thinking that portability is the key ... having them available offline and on laptop/netbook/etc where ever you are and have time that would otherwise be wasted.
posted by batikrose at 1:21 PM on July 18, 2010

Thank you very much for all of these, please keep them coming! I am drawn to jamesonandwater's low-tech solution, but the Kindle/Instapaper options do look very appealing. I take chrisamiller's point, though I do think technology can ameliorate the issue. My problem is not that I have no time to read things, but that I don't have the things I want to read near to hand when I do have the time.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 1:26 PM on July 18, 2010

I agree with chrisamiller. This is a knowledge management problem which is primarily concerns social process, not technological.

First step for me is to realize I will only be able to read a very small fraction of what I want to read.

Then I have to have an idea of what reading will be a truly nutritious part of my information diet. Which means knowing myself, my core skills and interests, and where I want to be/go over the next few years.

Everything that passes my eyes falls into these categories in ascending priority:
1. Useless to me now and in the forseeable future
2. Interesting
3. Could make me look smart in coversation
4. Enriches my soul/strengthens my character
5. Keeps my core knowledge and skills up to date
6. Will hurt me somehow if I ignore it
Then I filter mercilessly. I skim the headlines and figures of all but the first category. Then I skim the contents of the ones in the last three categories and keep notes about key ideas on something like a wikidpad page or my blog if I feel the need. Then I save/print the ones in the last three categories that I need to read in depth. It can be important, but for many articles the useful stuff can be skimmed out. A very few articles need to be chewed slowly. Those I print out and save for treadmill time.

But that's me.
posted by cross_impact at 1:53 PM on July 18, 2010 [7 favorites]

Uh...just sit yourself down for an hour or whatever time you've got and force yourself to plow through the pile. What else can I say? A lunch hour is good for that.

I have the same problem with online videos: don't want to sit there watching them at work, but when I get home I'm watching Hulu or something longer and never get to them either.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:57 PM on July 18, 2010

Here's my system for Google Reader.

I tend to skim my main feed and star things to read later if they warrant more attention. Once I've been through everything under the "All Items" heading, I click over to my starred items and work on those till I've got at least 25 new things back in "All Items".

I also periodically go through my starred items and get rid of anything that's been sitting longer than 6 months or is no longer relevant. If I starred a recap of Betty White's appearance on SNL back in May and I still haven't read it by now, I'm never going to read it (and it's not going to be culturally relevant, anyway). I like having things in there, though, because sometimes I'm bored and can go there to find interesting gems I've stashed away.

I find that I have to be honest with myself, too, about what I'm really going to read, and what I think I ought to read. I have to give myself permission to de-star long New Yorker articles about things I'm only tangentially interested in, for instance. Or articles about SEO, which I know I need to learn more about for my work, but which honestly bores the shit out of me.
posted by Sara C. at 2:22 PM on July 18, 2010

Instapaper for me. I've got it set up so that I can hit a command-key in either Safari or NetNewsWire to add a URL to it, and I've got the Instapaper iPhone app as well, which is great for reading saved articles.

Of course, I tend to add articles faster than I read them…
posted by adamrice at 3:06 PM on July 18, 2010

I used bookmarks in Delicious. toread for articles / essays I want to read. towatch for videos / documentaries. tobuy for stuff I want to buy. todo for stuff I may want to do one day.

When I am in a highly organized period of my life ( I have ups and downs ), I will take 15 minutes at work and go through all of my toread articles and print them out in hard-copy. I will then take them home with me and read them instead of whatever is on my night stand.
posted by jasondigitized at 4:47 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Instapaper for me too. I just started using it recently, after noticing a lot of friends were posting Instapaper links on Twitter.

Here's my workflow. I added the Instapaper Read Later bookmarklet to my browser. So now when I'm reading an article that's too long to read instantly, I'll find the "Print" link on the page and add it to Instapaper.

I then use Calibre to download my Instapaper articles and convert them to Kindle format. Periodically (once a day or so), I sync them to my kindle via USB. This saves on the Kindle over-the-air charges that emailing them to my Kindle address would create.

I'll disagree with others and say that this is an issue that can be partially solved using technology. The Kindle (or another portable e-reader) is great for reading on the bus or in bed at night. Using those technologies we can expand the amount of time we have available for reading. Like others have said, we ultimately have a finite amount of time/attention. But we can augment these limited cognitive/social systems with technology.
posted by formless at 12:40 AM on July 19, 2010

Nthing instapaper. But if I don't set up various times to go through the articles, they'll just pile up. So I schedule blocks of time during the week to read what I've saved. I often find that I'm no longer interested in something I thought I was, so that helps.

I think in any system the 'saving' the articles is the easy part; reading the hard.

(although I'm amazed people go through the trouble to print to pdf ---> paper copy. Like living in the 90s :) But whatever works.)
posted by Dennis Murphy at 10:16 AM on July 19, 2010

I go through a 2 step process :
1. I star potentially interesting stuff on google reader / tag it toread in delicious
2. Once a week, I go through the list and scrub - anything I'm still interested in, I put on instapaper, then sync to my iPad

Every 3 months or so, I scrub my Instapaper list and remove stuff that I'm not interested in.

I'll echo others: the hard part isn't the saving part, it's the reading part (and to some extent, the discoverability of it : If I have 20 mn to read while waiting somewhere, which article should I pick that will entertain/interest me enough given my current mood?)
posted by motdiem2 at 1:15 PM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Instapaper has been mentioned dozens of times already but that's my solution too. I used to use INeedToReadThis but Instapaper's ability to dump to EPUB in conjunction with my eBook Reader wins out. I always have 600-700 pages of articles loaded on my nook and rip through one any time I'm standing in line for coffee.

Once you settle on a system, might I recommend LongForm as a nicely curated collection of interesting long form articles? It integrates with Instapaper and lets you add stories to your Instapaper queue with a single click (similar to the front page of Instapaper).

Finally, slightly offtopic but I use GoodReads to maintain my list of books that I'd like to read. Anytime I run across a book I'm interested in, I add it to my "To Read" shelf. When I'm ready for a new book, I just dig through the list and pick out something that piques my interest.
posted by devnall at 7:11 AM on July 20, 2010

Instapaper and the iPod make it possible for me to fill the many tiny boring moments of the day. I read in the elevator to my office, on the subway, any time I need to wait for someone, and when I'm on hold.

If I wasn't paralyzed with terror that my iPod doesn't know how to swim, I'd read in the bath.
posted by Sallyfur at 7:11 PM on July 20, 2010

I'm surprised there hasn't been any mention of text-to-speech. I use a program called TextAloud. After some experimenting with different voices, I found that I'm able to understand the free Microsoft Mary voice at pretty high speeds. As a result, I'm able to listen to things faster than I'm able to read them.

I have TextAloud configured in multi article mode with a hotkey set up to paste new articles in, as I run across them. I then periodically convert the articles to MP3 and sync them to my iPod.

Sometimes I'm in the mood to listen to short articles and sometimes longer ones, so I have different smart playlists configured for each. I have an auxiliary input jack in my car, so I listen when driving and when working out. I'm also able to assign star ratings to articles on my iPod. For a while, I was going back and bookmarking the ones I liked in, but I'm falling behind on that.

Lately, I've been using the Readability bookmarklet, to make selecting the article text a bit easier, though you have to keep an eye on it, to make sure you're getting the complete text, since it doesn't work perfectly with all sites.
posted by xulu at 11:46 AM on July 21, 2010

I don't have a Web 'to read' pile. When I'm in surf mode, I read it right away, that forces me to decide whether it's interesting or important right away. No backlog.
posted by storybored at 8:30 AM on July 24, 2010

I used to bookmark a lot of pages and have more than 30 folders for each category. To this day they still sit in my backup drive, untouched for more than five years now.

How I have been dealing with my to-reads as of late:

1. I find that I have basically transferred my serial bookmarking attitude to Google Reader. Instead of just getting feeds of blogs and sites I really follow, I also add any site that catches my fancy. I figured if I like one or two things from it I will probably like everything on there, on average. This isn't always so. But. The good thing with Google Reader is that I can also arrange my feeds the way I arranged bookmarks - in different categories. I used to have FeedDemon on my desktop, and it has a nifty panic button that you can click once everything gets too overwhelming. The philosophy is, you don't have to read everything.

2. I also use Microsoft OneNote. It's perfect for clipping articles, images, and even copying everything. You can also create different notebooks for different interests, and different tabs within notebooks to distinguish information. It's like Evernote and Clipmarks. It allows for screen clipping and copying of whole webpages, and automatically indicates the url where you have copied the info from. When I find something really interesting, I clip them, so it's like having your own personal scrapbook. It's also completely searchable, even text within the image. And it saves automatically.

3. When I like a phrase, a word, a sentence - basically, a short, short piece of text, I tweet about it or post it in my Tumblr. It's something for me to collect and remember later, and not really share with other people, although I guess you can't escape that if you're using social media. I use Backupify to backup my tweets - it produces your tweets in a PDF form that's searchable as well, from your own tweets, to replies, to favourites, so it's a nice way of archiving my thoughts.

4. Other articles I find interesting for work, I print and file into their respective folders that I have in my file cabinet.

5. Even with just spotting for things I like, or for online shopping, I find that the best thing to do is have a wishlist. I fully take advantage of Etsy's favourite option, eBay's Watch list, as well as Amazon's Universal Wish List button to save items from other sites.

I don't have a Kindle nor an iPhone, so I can't say much about those, although honestly I really do not like having to read from something so small. Whenever I'm out I always have a book with me, so that's what's on my hand.

Ultimately, I know that the only solution I ever have for myself, for this kind of problem, is to read it right then and there. I have to stop skimming and start relearning reading in earnest. Whenever I get to opening the stuff I have saved for later, I hate the feeling of having so many things to read and always keep wondering what it was I did at the time I saved this that I couldn't stop.
posted by pleasebekind at 11:33 AM on July 25, 2010

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