How do you handle readling lists?

How do you handle readling lists?

I find this to be the most challenging task of using OmniFocus (or any other tool). I’m curently trying a mix of Bullet Journal + OmniFocus, but storing and remembering to read articles I want to read is difficult. It simply doesn’t happen.

I’ve tried creating lists in OmniFocus, and OmniOutliner, and Instapaper (Pocket, etc.) but they seem to pile up and I never go back to them.

How do you do it? Where do you store the stuff you want to read and how do you remember to read them?

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I’ll preface this with the fact that I don’t do much queued up reading right now. The way I handle it is save articles to Instapaper and have a recurring weekly task in OmniFocus to clear it.

It’s been working decently for me, but I’m not saving anything critical or urgent to read there at all.

Where do you feel you’re getting hung up?

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I just add articles to the reading list, but never visit them again.

Even if I do open Instapaper (or any other list of bookmarks) I am overwhelmed by the number of things I have saved there. They are all things I would like to read so I don’t feel like deleting them.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I find myself in a few cycles of interest. So for example, there might be a cycle of say 1-2 months when I am interested in marketing, then another when I am into coding, and so on.

But when I do want to learn, I never go back to those articles. I just look for new books to read.

— Cezar

I have a system that’s similar what @justindirose described. I had to declare article bankruptcy at the beginning so that I could start up with a clean slate.

After that, I had to recognize that not everything that seemed interesting at first glance would continue to be attractive after a week. I’ve been mildly rigorous with my “saving for future reading,” avoiding the pile-up that creates an overwhelming feeling. I’m also extra harsh as I go over the saved articles on a weekly basis, recognizing that I don’t have the time for that issue at that point. I might make it a maybe/someday project to come back to it at a later date, but that’s very rare.


It sounds like your lists are working fine :slight_smile:
Maybe scheduling (more) time to visit the list would help. Allow time for transitioning into and out of reading mode (ala @Kourosh’s Being Productive). Perhaps take some notes to make good use of your time and help with recall.

I recently switched to Todoist, and one of the first Zapier tasks I set up was if a new Pocket item is added then create a task with a link to it. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, I wake up and read through the list from the last week.

When I was on OmniFocus, I had a task “Read Unread Articles” with a link to Pocket. It’s tough to start a habit, but that was what I ended up doing. Every Saturday and Sunday morning I wake up around 5:30, I make coffee then sit down and read for a couple of hours until everyone else is awake. I’ve found with myself and talking to others it wasn’t really that you couldn’t remember to read the articles, it was finding the time to do so. Blocking some time for yourself allows you to do so, plus a routine and personal time helps to lower stress, which was a big reason for why I started this routine.

So I would suggest to block out some time to read. Once you find a routine, stick to it, it helps build muscle memory. In the beginning, you might need OmniFocus to remind you to read at that time, but eventually, you will know that it is time to read. At this point, I use the Todoist tasks only as a history of read articles, and it gives me a starting place to look if I am trying to share an article with someone, I start there then expand to other reference areas.

A/N: I recently switched to Pocket from Pinboard, mainly because since November Pinboard stopped showing cached versions of pages if you subscribe to archiving. At the same time, Full-text searching articles saved after February 2018 stopped working. So I cannot currently recommend Pinboard which since 2013 was my recommended reading list and bookmarking service. I’ve been contacting Maciej twice a week since November via multiple email addresses but have heard nothing back, and he left Twitter after the US elections, so there isn’t a public way to get his attention. I hope everything is okay, but at this time I cannot recommend others start using Pinboard.

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I’m a heavy Pocket user as well. A few things that helped me:

  1. Block out time to work on your list. I found that setting up an action in the Streaks app kept me going. Specify a short minimum time period (e.g., “read for 10 minutes”) so you get credit/reinforcement even if life is nuts, but you can go longer if things are calm. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

  2. Just as with your Someday/Maybe projects, ruthlessly kill off articles that are no longer relevant. Archive them (rather than delete) if you have doubts whether you’ll need them after all. Sometimes I tag an article and archive it because it’s come recommended from a trusted source but is about a topic I’m not yet fully invested in, and this is how I send it to Future Me who lives in that timeline where I ended up pursuing this budding interest (and being wildly successful and good-looking).

  3. Using the text-to-speech function (plus the speed controller) can help you through some types of articles while you’re walking somewhere. IMHO the quality isn’t good enough to use while driving, but if you take a walk to/after lunch it can be quite nice.

  4. Turn off the “number of items” badge. It’s academic at best and a source of stress and shame at worst. I still subscribe to Inbox Zero but, again, like your projects list, your reading list isn’t ever going to be empty because there are always going to be articles you don’t have the time or energy to read right now but still consider important.


Thanks everyone for these wonderful replies.

It looks like I need to block out time for reading. I’ll try that and see how it goes but I get a feeling you’re all right.

Something that tends to improve my actually getting to an article is if I can add it to a project that I am actively working on. I do have a reading list, but the chances of me getting to something diminish greatly if it just stays on that list without another way of accessing it. Another thing I might do is add it to a Considered list, so long as that considered list remains relatively short (usually less than 7-9 items).


There came a time when I realized that my social media feeds and RSS feeds were a great source of information. I would spend hours readying articles to find blog posts that resonated with me. But that was many hours wasted trying to find disparate pieces to weave together to make a complete workflow.

Nowadays, I’ll limit my feeds to 30 minutes a day. But I’ll spend more time reading a book which the author(s) lovingly compiled together through their own research. One book is worth 1,000 news articles.

I still go through my RSS feeds, podcast feeds, and social media but I’ve learned to clamp down on the overflowing hose. I’m learning to reach for a Kindle book more times than looking at my RSS feeds.


I will echo wilsonng’s general sentiment of “clamping down on the hose”. I used to especially use Feedly in conjunction with Instapaper to save articles to read later. I found myself with an ever growing list of articles to read that I every so often just had to hit the reset button on and completely start over.

In recently trying to move towards a produce rather than consume mindset, I still use tools like Twitter and Feedly to search for content of interest, but I do so usually just briefly in the morning and evening and am much more selective about what I actually end up consuming. The majority of this content I just try to quickly read or skim on the spot. When I find research materials that I really want to read but do not have the time at that moment, I send it to DEVONthink to read later.

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Books are evergreen. Their impact will last a lot longer than a bunch of RSS feed articles. I do get picky and quickly scan and delete a lot of articles. But I’d rather be looking at my books list than my Instapaper list.


This post inspired me to swap Instapaper and Unread for a couple of reading apps on my homescreen. :+1::+1::+1:

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Drop everything and go watch Sparky’s OF field guide. Like, now. Really

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I save links in Pocket and then I have a recurring task in Things to ‘Read some Pocket links’ which repeats after 6 weeks (but can be completed earlier as it repeats on completion, for those who use Things 3 and know about issues with completing repeating tasks early). I don’t have to clear it, just to read some if I want to.

The concept of an absolute global “reading list”, which is what most people have in mind when discussing “reading lists” is counter-productive. It also saps cognitive energy and morale. If one were to try to live by it, one would (typically) not do great work. Lists need to be relative to criteria. Criteria change.

Academics are some of the best role models, because they consume copious amounts of information, are super pressed for time, and tend to be rigorously driven by cognitive needs (building new knowledge, teaching and solving problems). They read the highest quality information produced by humanity. They spend their lives assessing students and assessing colleagues.

Academics are not necessarily very skilled at using technology, but there’s no evidence that those kills correlate with academic performance, which doesn’t mean there’s no link between the two. But it does suggest that they find simple ways of dealing with something very complex (readings).

In my two Cognitive Productivity books, I described several concepts and other tools that are helpful for discovering, selecting, delving and mastering information.

The biggest challenge people seem to have is evaluating knowledge resources (for each stage of processing).

Four major evaluative concepts are caliber, utility, potency and appeal (CUP’A). Each of these criteria is surprisingly complex.

Utility is relative to projects. “Readings” normally need to be organized by projects. Bookmarking tools unfortunately lack integration with project/task management software (like things), but there are hacks. Caliber is the objective quality of the information.

One principle is that if a web page is worth delving it’s worth converting to PDF. Academics read mostly PDFs. Bibliography managers (like Papers) enable you to store the same PDF in multiple topics, some of which can be project oriented. You can also create multiple reading lists in them.

While I don’t suggest explicitly assessing each potential document in terms of CUP’A, one needs to get to the point of being able to do this automatically/tacitly. This basically addresses the major problem: zero-ing on the what to process.

Bookmarking a document doesn’t mean one should read it.

Being able to return to high caliber potential readings that are potent and pertinent to a project is important. But projects change and close.

Beware of the “appeal” criterion.

Keep in mind when assessing recommendations about how to manage readings whether the author is making distinctions such as the ones described above, and whether their advice is just based on their personal experience and opinion or whether it stacks well against cognitive science. Also, research funding agencies need to spend way more money on research on personal information management (which is the technical name of the research area we are talking about here)—because there is a lack of it, and it’s very important to society. Here’s a grant proposal for example


Great read, @LucCogZest ! Thanks for the example.

I am personally trying to make my reading more deliberate instead of just consuming everything available. There’s a great podcast episode that talked about reading books.

Try to see what actions (at least one) that you can take from the book that you can put into your life. I usually try to look at the table of contents and look for any interesting chapters and go to those parts first.

The podcast host also talks about getting that "a-ha"high when you read an awesome book. But then you’re on to the next “a-ha” high. Jumping from book to book without implementing anything will make our book reading more as an entertainment/passing-the-time hobby.

Reading a book, pull out one to three actions that we want to put into our to-do list is a lot more helpful than just trying to read as many books as possible.

I’ve also taken the advice to just eliminate a book or shelve it for the time being if it doesn’t resonate with me.

Reading books is easy. Creating a project/action plan and actually using what we learned is the hard part.

In my personal reading list, I have everything in a backlog. Then I make one book my current book. If I decide to put it away, early I might either delete it from my reading list or put it back into the backlog. Then I append the last page number read to the task title. After a while, I might just delete a book if it’s been in the backlog too long and i’ll never get around to it.

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A concept that’s been missing from a lot of these kinds of discussions is what I call a “slushpile”, from the name publishers used to give to the stacks of unsolicited manuscripts they would receive in the mail. The stuff in the slushpile was mostly worthless, but every now and then a diamond in the rough would turn up. Editors had no obligation to actually read every manuscript, or to finish reading the ones they did choose to pick up.

Conversely, a concept that’s all too familiar is the inbox. Whether it’s the physical tray on our desks or the e-mail inboxes on our computers and phones, there’s an expectation that we “should” process everything in them — not necessarily read every message, but at least shunt them to their proper resting places as we shovel our way down to the nirvana of “inbox zero”.

Distinct from inboxes are streams — our Twitter feeds, Facebook timelines, RSS feeds, or just random web browsing. It’s understood that these are essentially endless and bottomless, and there’s no expectation that we’ll ever even try to finish them. No one strives for “Twitter zero”.

What I call a slushpile is like a stream that’s located downstream of our inboxes. Think of it as an inbox overflow basin. It’s separate from the material that we are actually committed to reading because we need it to accomplish some specific objective. Instead, it’s a place to put things that we may not be ready to delete, but we’ve given ourselves permission not to read or process unless and until there’s some utility to be had from it (which may just be entertainment, at the appropriate time and place).

The thing to remember about this kind of slushpile is that any given piece of content in it is more likely to be valuable than the unfiltered content from our outside streams. Unlike the firehose jets crashing in on us from the infosphere, slushpile content is material that we’ve pre-selected, pre-curated for ourselves. So while there’s explicitly no expectation that we’ll ever finish it, when the other option is browsing new material, dipping into the slushpile may be a better use of our time.

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This is an incredible idea. I can envision having a service like Pinboard as your slush pile then selecting articles to read from there.

@Eurobubba do you have a way you are doing this right now?

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My system’s still evolving, but I mostly use Instapaper (which I can also forward e-mail to, unlike Pinboard if I’m not mistaken), along with a dedicated Gmail account for mail that’s not quite junk since I did subscribe to it at some point, and I send a lot of PDFs to my Kindle account.

I have to be honest here, though — my intention has been to use the Safari Reading List feature for HTML content that I am committed to actually reading, but in practice that’s turned into exactly the sort of guilt-inducing pile that the OP was talking about. I suppose I should declare bankruptcy, send all those items to Instapaper, and start treating that list as an inbox to be cleared.