Read and review folders

I'm bombarded with things to read or watch. Friends and co-workers give tips on interesting, funny, or useful things to read. Bosses point me at other things to read. I'm further subscribed to a bunch of RSS/Atom feeds, and I follow a few news sites, which often have stuff I want to read. And so on. There's no end of things I could read. The army of monkeys trying to randomly re-create Shakespeare are filling the Internet with other stuff instead.

I cannot possibly read everything at once. I need a way to deal with things I want or need to read, so that when I have time to read, I can go through stuff that is waiting to be read.

It's important, at this point, to point out, pointedly, that there is often no need to read everything. The most important way of dealing with information overload is to be selective of what you spend brain cycles on. However, however selective you are, there's always things to read.

The read and review pile, or folder, or list, is an important tool. When you find, or are given, something to read, or watch, or listen to, or otherwise process, and you put it on the pile. In old times, our ancestors would print it on paper and put the paper on a pile. These days, purely digital things are practical.

  • Web pages can be bookmarked. You can keep a "read and review" bookmark folder. When you've read the page, remove the bookmark.
  • You can also save web pages on your local hard disk. This is useful for reading offline, and also for archiving the page in your filing system. The Firefox MAFF extension is excellent for this (see http://maf.mozdev.org/).
  • You can have a "read and review" folder for e-mail as well. Newsletters, and any other e-mail that's long and takes a while to read, can be put there.
  • I read e-books either on my Kindle device, or on my laptop, depending on the format. Unread e-books are on the home screen on my Kindle (or if the list grows very long, in a folder for unread books). PDFs and other big-page formats are in my laptop's "read and review" folder.
  • I keep paper books, magazines, etc., in random piles around my home and at the office. They're rare enough and few enough that I don't need a dedicated place to keep track of them. Likewise for DVDs to watch.

For web pages: I used to do the bookmark thing, but it turned out to be annoying, so I now use MAFF heavily.

I usually try to read things in a FIFO order. I've found that a document that's boring or unpleasant or otherwise easy to push later, always gets pushed later. Since there's always new material coming in, there's never a time when the boring document is the only one to be read. Sticking to FIFO, unless there's an urgent reason to avoid it, is a good way of avoiding a pile of documents that never get read.

My threshold for putting something into "read and review" is low. That means a lot of things go in there that I don't really need to read. That is actually OK: at the time when I encounter a link on IRC, for example, I may not have time to even evaluate the document enough to decide whether it is worth my while to read it. So I just stuff it into "r&r" and evaluate it when I have time for it.