Timing the Hand that Feeds Me

XML BadgeOne thing that I’ve learned is that if I open up NetNewsWire when I get to the office in the morning, my day is shot. I mean, I’ll get my work done, but rather than working for long stretches of uninterrupted productivity, my time is fragmented by countless little diversions to other people’s weblogs. An RSS aggregator is like a Pandora’s box of distractions, and it’s difficult to resist when facing those not-so-fun tasks that populate a work day. Very often though, I have little choice but to hunker down if I want to get out of the office before midnight, so I make a conscious effort to avoid firing up NetNewsWire at all.

Which leaves me feeling perpetually behind on my weblog reading. Not only am I missing out on the latest postings and developments with the many good friends I’ve made online — prompting feelings of guilt over not being a sufficiently faithful reader of their weblogs whenever I chat with them — but I’m missing out on lots of genuinely great content that’s constantly being generated in the blogosphere. Two or three times a week, I’ll find an evening hour to try and catch up with all of my RSS feeds; it’s exhausting and it always leaves me with a nagging feeling that I might have better spent that time doing some actual design work.

Making It Easier to Read Weblogs Is Hard Work

RSS, while a wonderful development, takes a lot of energy, at least in my view; the consumption of feeds is work. The format’s convenience puts an even greater pressure on readers to keep up with ever more weblogs, and it creates, at least in me, a personal expectation to maintain an awareness that’s commensurate with the energy invested in reading feeds. That is, the more I read, the more I expect to be aware of what’s going on, what new technological developments are taking place, what new online tools are being developed, and what memes are gaining currency. And every time I realize that I’ve been blithely unaware of a particular turn of events until long past its freshness date, it fuels a compulsion to be even more vigilant in my reading, to spend even more time with my aggregator. It’s a vicious cycle.

Between my duties at Behavior, this weblog and my personal life, time is a luxury, as it is for many people — but not everyone. It always amazes me how much time people can spend generally being aware of everything that’s going on in the blogosphere, how much time they can spend reading and replying to long comment threads. Which boils all of this rambling down to a few simple questions, really: how the heck do people find time to keep up with this stuff? When, exactly, are people reading their feeds? Are they reading and commenting progressively, during the course of a day, as their aggregators alert them to new posts? Once each in the morning, noon and night? In marathon sessions every few days or once a week? Really, somebody please school me.

  1. Hehe – I’m breaking off from designing to read this. Personally, I’m the same as you. I’m interrupted left, right and centre by NewsFire throughout the day. I find it a welcome break though!

  2. Personally, I hit Bloglines every time I hit a snag or problem with a design. Instead of staring at it for a few minutes and failing to find a solution, I switch gears, go read what everyone else is thinking about today, then come back refreshed.

    I probably spend an hour or two a day reading/commenting on other blogs, but it’s spread out throughout the working/non-working day.

  3. I find that increasing the ‘check’ interval helps – mine’s at 2 hours now; after a long intermediate period of half hourly checks, I’ve been able to wean myself off gradually… how often do you check yours?

    This article also contains an interesting idea:

    “Peter S. Hecker, a corporate lawyer in San Francisco, said that when he hears the chiming alert of new e-mail, he forces himself to continue working for 30 seconds before looking at it.”

  4. I’ve tried to deal with NetNewsWire like I deal with email. I set the refresh rate for all subscriptions to be something really high, and then for stuff I’m subscribed to that is important (e.g. Basecamp news feeds, validation tools, etc.) I tweak the subscription by hand to update more frequently.

    I then have two main folders: “Important” and “Bumpf”. The important folder has subfolders inside of it with my important feeds. Bumpf gets everything else. Important is always expanded, and Bumpf is closed, and I only read items in the “Bumpf” folder if I have free time.

    I do this for email, too. I have Mail.app set up with a bunch of different folders, and then I use Mail.appetizer to only notify me when email arrives in my client folders, or in my server messages folders. I then hide Mail.app’s window and use mail.appetizer to open the message window if I need to read the full message.

    For me, the main goal is to avoid distraction. I only sit down to plow through NetNewsWire and Mail.app either at the end of the day, or when I have some free time. Otherwise I never bring the application forward if I can help it.

    I’m hoping that Growl will be supported in NNW at some point, so I can do the same for NNW – hide it completely, and then only have visual notification for important stuff arriving.

  5. I usually spend the first hour after arriving at work catching up on whats new in the world, new technology and going into a blog-reading frenzy; lately yours included. During my lunch break or when I have hit a stopping point in a design, I peruse the net, following up on what I didn’t finish reading that morning.

    I usually have to email myself links that I can’t get to and read them that evening before passing out. I too get distracted by all the filthy bloggers out there and have just had to rely on self-discipline- and hearing my wife complain that I stay at work too long!

  6. I organized my NNW subscriptions into folders that go from useful sites (design tips, popular del.icious feed), to news sites (scan headlines, and only reading something that jumps out), useful blogs (like this one, Signal Vs Noise etc), frivolous blogs (gawker et al.) and so on.

    It helps me stay up-to-date without feeling like I am wasting time – unless I want to dig deeper.

  7. One thing that helps me, on my laptop: I try to read through my NNW feeds when I’m offline, at home. I leave the ones I want to read later marked or unread.

    Of course, once I get DSL back, I won’t be able to hide… but at least I can do it after I put the kids to bed.

    I still get sucked in all day long. Subscribing to “description only” feeds instead of “full text” helps sometimes.

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