162 articles, 38 newsletters, 16 podcasts, a few videos from an online course, and the occasional YouTube video. This is what my professional reading diet looked like. Last week alone.
I’m not counting here a few in-depth New Yorker articles and Brandon Sanderson’s latest I’ve been devouring in bed lately. It may seem a bit ridiculous. It may actually be a bit ridiculous. But it’s a very typical week — and it’s just part of being a digital professional.
As marketers, we’re constantly assaulted with updates, changes, new features coming up, and completely new technologies. I wouldn’t compare it to a fire hose; it’s more of a water cannon. Forget about drinking from it; make sure you affix yourself to something securely bolted to the pavement and hold on for dear life, honey!
But I’m past the overwhelm, and the reason is that I have a system. It involves a simple tool and some smart time and energy management. Still, it’s helping me stay on top of marketing news, discover helpful content, develop my skills, and evolve my personal brand through content curation.
I’ll tell you all about it in detail, but here are the key principles:
- Make content come to you through the power of RSS and newsletters.
- Collect everything in one place by saving all content in a single app.
- Triage incoming content to decide what’s worth reading at all – and use low-energy downtime to do it.
- Dedicate focus reading time to the pieces you really want to dive into.
- Collect key takeaways and share them with the world.
My go-to tool for reading
A lot of my process relies on two key elements: using RSS to get content from my favorite sites and collecting the odd bits and pieces I find online in some sort of a read-it-later list. Up until recently, I used separate tools to do these two things – Inoreader for RSS and Pocket as my read-it-later app. Now I have one single destination for all my reading needs and that’s Readwise Reader. It collects new content through RSS, saves social threads, and receives newsletters I subscribe to. It keeps content offline, so I can read it when traveling. It lets me organize share-worthy content with tags and add notes with key takeaways. In a few words: it works great.
Disclosure: When I decided to move to Readwise, I’ve been in touch with the team and discussed the tool’s capabilities and the most efficient workflows. They’ve since invited me to their affiliate program, which means you can sign up through my affiliate link with an extended trial period of 60 days, and I’ll get a small commission if you decide to go for the paid plan. But as I wrote to their Community Manager, Erin, I would’ve recommended the product no matter any additional incentive because it’s simply excellent.
Step 1: Content discovery and collection
The first step in the process is to actually find the content that deserves your attention. I use a few tactics to do that, depending on where that content comes from:
- blogs I follow regularly,
- articles I stumble upon during research,
- newsletters I subscribe to,
- videos or social content.
Keep your go-to sources close
There are a bunch of sites and blogs I read regularly. Actually, I just checked, and they are exactly 77 as of the time of this writing. It’d be silly to go check them one by one, and that’s where the magic of RSS comes in.
For the Zoomers in the crowd: RSS is a technology that lets you subscribe to a site and get any piece it publishes in a content reader of your choice.
So, I have all the 77 blogs I follow neatly packed inside Readwise Reader. Every morning, some 40-ish new pieces from them are waiting for me to check out.
Collect everything in one place
Obviously, only some of the content worth reading out there comes from my fave blogs. I occasionally see links on LinkedIn or Twitter that point to interesting pieces. Or I’ll get personal recommendations from friends. I’ll stumble upon useful content here and there.
If you’re like me, the default reaction would be to open the piece and keep the tab open “to read later.” Of course, ‘later’ might come in three weeks, and the article would be cluttering my browser in the meantime. So it’s better to stash it away in the same place all your other reading is stored. I add it to Readwise Reader, too – they have a handy browser extension for that, and it just takes a second. This also works for YouTube videos I want to watch.
Newsletters are content, not emails
The other big category of sources I use is newsletters. I absolutely love newsletters because they give you pre-filtered information. I don’t need to read everything an expert like Matt Navarra reads to stay on top of the latest social media changes – I just need to read his newsletter.
Readwise Reader helps with that, too. You can use your dedicated account email to subscribe to newsletters. That way, everything goes in your feed. This means newsletters will be readily available when you’re in a reading mood, and they won’t pop up in the middle of you writing a client email. It keeps your inbox clean, organizes information, and doesn’t impose someone else’s priorities over yours. You see the newsletters when you’re ready to read more.
So at the end of the day, I have 97% of all content I’m consuming neatly tucked away in Readwise Reader for later review.
Make the algorithms work for you
I wanted to quickly mention social media. There are a ton of issues with social, but if you do it right, it can be an excellent source for content discovery.
I’ve successfully trained LinkedIn to know what I want it to show me. The process requires a few weeks of 10 minutes per day. The process is simple: fire up your LinkedIn feed and go through it. For each post, either interact with it if you like it (like, comment, or share) or hide it. Once you hide a post, LinkedIn asks you to explain why – answer as truthfully as possible, but even if you don’t, the platform quickly understands your preferences. It took just a week of this process for my feed to get categorically better. And now, this is one of the go-to social platforms that drive real value for me.
I also use Twitter (which may not be the case in a few months’ time), and I’ve organized my content there in Twitter lists. The pros I follow share valuable links I can read later. There’s also the occasional Twitter thread worth reading. Readwise Reader works for threads, too – I simply mention their account and the word ‘save.’
The only social platform I still use purely for fun is Instagram, and my time there is limited. But even with the minor transgressions there, transforming social media from an epic time sink to a meaningful information source is totally doable.
Step 2: Triaging new content pieces
OK, so everything is in one place. Sorting through all this content to determine what deserves attention is a hefty task. I triage incoming content during downtime when my energy is low and I don’t have much focus. It’s a simple question of deciding what should be kept rather than reading the content on the spot.
All the new incoming information is stored in the Feed tab of Readwise Reader under Unseen. So I go through the list of articles and take one of two actions:
- if the piece isn’t of interest (based on the title or a quick skim of the outline), I’ll mark it as Seen and take it off my processing list;
- if the piece seems interesting and I want to read it in full, I’ll move it to the Library. This is the place for articles I’ll actually dedicate more time to.
This is a quick process, especially with the customizable swipe configuration on mobile and the keyboard shortcuts Readwise has.
Newsletters present an edge case – most of them aren’t ‘content’ in the true sense of the word, but they point you to a bunch of links. Based on the description of the linked content, I will save the link to the Library. Then I’ll mark the newsletter as Seen. (A quick aside: the option to save a link rather than open it was really confusing to me when I started using Reader, but now I see it’s a true time-saver).
By the end of this process, 80% of incoming content is marked as seen, and a small minority is waiting in the Library for me to actually read. Out of the 200-ish pieces that come across my ‘reading desk’ every week, about 30-40 make it here. (In a sense, I lied to you at the start – but saying, “I skim through 200 pieces per week,” doesn’t roll off the tongue so nicely.)
Step 3: Dedicated focus time to reading
The articles that passed the skim test deserve my attention and focus. So I dedicate uninterrupted sessions to reading them. The two best time slots for this are:
- mornings – 6 AM starts with coffee, breakfast, and reading;
- early afternoons when my energy drops, and a stimulating activity like learning fits nicely.
Having all content in one place also means I can sneak in some reading to take advantage of ‘lost time’ while commuting, queueing up, or whatever.
Active reading to develop skills
There’s this misconception that reading is a passive activity. Nothing is further from the truth, at least when it comes to professional content. Three questions linger in my mind whenever I’m reading a marketing piece:
- How can I summarize what I read in one sentence?
- What was something I learned that I didn’t know before or was reminded of that I had forgotten?
- How can I put this new learning to practice? Preferably today?
This doesn’t mean every piece I read leads to some earth-shattering revelation. It’s more of a slow build. When it comes to pieces of knowledge, the total is greater than the sum of its parts, and at some point, you reach a new level of understanding by bridging ideas from different fields.
There’s a handy concept called the paradox of the heap. According to the paradox, there’s no single point when adding single grains of sand creates a heap. And yet, it happens. Learning new stuff daily lets you accumulate knowledge; in time, this knowledge reverberates and evolves.
A quick aside: if you’re looking for sources to develop marketing skills, you can download my ever-growing database of learning resources:
Bonus: Personal branding through content curation
This one step is a bonus. But by now, it’s so ingrained in my reading process that it’s hard to separate it from the rest.
Some of the pieces I read are so impactful that I want to share them with others. There are two ways I do that: through my newsletter and social media (LinkedIn and Twitter specifically). I’ve worked hard to incorporate curation and sharing into my standard reading process. It’s now optimized to the point where creating my weekly newsletter takes about an hour, and setting up content to share on social takes about two hours per month.
The secret is to touch a single piece of content only once.
As soon as I read an article from my list and I want to share it with my audience, I’d tag it under ‘newsletter’ and add a note in Readwise Reader with a recap or a key takeaway I want to share. This is the same short description you’ll see accompanying the link in my newsletter or in social posts.
To make curation a value-added activity, you can’t just share a link and tell people, “Hey, read this.” They need to either hear why the piece is worth their time or what’s your unique take on the topic.
Of course, personal branding requires a lot more than content curation – but this could be a relatively low-effort start to it all. The math is there if you look at the social stats. Here’s a graph of my LinkedIn content impressions. You can clearly see where I dropped off the sharing bandwagon in the spring of 2022 based on the impression and engagement count:
And sharing what you learn with others is also a matter of good karma and networking opportunities. I’d often strike up a conversation with someone about the resources I share, and that can lead to something even more interesting.
Reading glasses on!
If you made it through this article, you don’t need to be further convinced about the benefits of consuming new content. I just hope I gave you some ideas on taming the information flow and making it work for you.
So on to the next piece! And happy reading!
P.S. If you want to use Readwise Reader with an extended free trial of 60 days, sign-up through my invite link.
The site is very rich in important and valuable information.