I recently posted a shortlist of my favorite blogs for marketers. And I mentioned a couple of things. First, this was a shortlist – there are actually more than 80 business blogs/sites I follow on a regular basis. Second, there are other pieces of content that I read outside my “usual suspects” list – stuff forwarded by friends, seen on social or shared in news aggregators.
This totals to about 180 articles. Every. Single. Week.
And I don’t feel overwhelmed in the slightest bit.
That’s mainly because I’ve developed a system to deal with information overload – and today I’ll share it with you.
Why today’s professionals need to read so much?
The first question I usually get asked when I share this kind of details about my reading habits is “Why?”
I think reading on a daily basis is the most important habit you can develop – especially if you’re in a fast-paced field like marketing. The same applies to most digital professionals today.
Our jobs are changing on a daily basis. Most of the tactics I use with my clients today didn’t exist 3 years ago. So I need to be on my toes. And you need to do the same.
Additionally, marketing is a very big place. It’s data analysis and creative and SEO and ad bidding and so much more. You obviously can’t be an expert in everything – but you need to understand enough to know where the opportunities lie. So reading about different facets of marketing lets me know how a project can develop in the future.
And finally, knowledge doesn’t work as simple accumulation. 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 together ideas from different fields. Think the paradox of the heap – there’s no single point when adding single grains of sand creates a heap. And yet, it happens. So learning new stuff daily lets you accumulate knowledge and in time this knowledge reverberates and evolves.
But why blogs?
As a veteran blog writer, I understand I may be partial. But for fast-paced professions like mine, blogs are the logical solution.
Content is meaty enough, detailed enough to present a full concept. Yet, blog posts are published much more immediately after a “marketing discovery” is made – and timing is everything when it comes to an effective tactic.
As Andrew Chen famously wrote, every efficient strategy works – and then it doesn’t. Marketers find the tactic, they exploit it to death, customers turn away.
The time it takes for this cycle to happen is much shorter than the time it takes to conceptualize, write, and publish a book. That’s why most good marketing books don’t deal with tactics – the ones that do are hopelessly outdated the moment they get off the printing presses.
Blog posts, on the other hand, go out while the tactic is fresh and working – ready for you to try. How can I resist that?
My system for reading more
My system has several steps that I’ll quickly outline here. This will read like a love poem to the content reader Inoreader. I must confess – I’m partial, as I’ve worked for the company developing it some time back. But it has some unique features that make it hard to replicate the same process in other RSS readers. You’re welcome to try.
Limit the number of go-to places for your content
The first step is to collect all the posts you may want to read in one place. I obviously don’t check each one of the 80-ish blogs I follow – that’d be madness. Additionally, I need to factor in the interesting articles coming from other sources.
I do the following:
- I get all RSS-enabled blogs into Inoreader. That way, I just load the platform and see all new posts in one place. No content filters or pesky algorithms get in the way.
- The sites that don’t have an RSS feed usually offer an email subscription for new posts. That also works. I add these to Inoreader, too, through a feature called Mail2Tag. It lets you get a system email address, you grab it and subscribe to the newsletter of choice. That way my “real” inbox stays pristine and I get all new blog posts in the same place.
- Say I find something interesting during the day. A friend’s recommendation, a post on a content aggregation platform like Growth Hackers or Zest. I’d either skim through it right away or file it for later reading. For these “one-off” pieces, I’d use Inoreader’s Bookmarklet and add the piece as a saved web page in a dedicated tag. This frees up my browser from getting crazy with open tabs and also saves me mental energy. I can focus on work now and read later.
You can have a similar setup with Feedly or another RSS reader to manage point 1, a dedicated email inbox or a service like this for point 2 and Pocket for point 3. But the
Triage during downtime
Now that all things I might want to read are filed neatly in one place, I’ll need to see which posts are actually worth my time. I usually do this during downtime – like when my focus or mental energy
This involves simply scanning pieces and starring the ones I really want to dedicate more time to. This can easily be done during rush hour in the bus with one free hand or in the evening during cuddle time with my cat while I’m watching a rerun of Community.
Again: this doesn’t equal actually reading the article. It means checking if there’s value to be had from it or not. Here’s a glimpse into my Starred (shortlisted) articles (yeah, there’s a 140, I’ve been slacking over the past few weeks):
Dedicate time to reading and go through the shortlist
The final step is actually reading the pieces I’m in
- In the morning with a cup of coffee and a nice breakfast. Focus is high and it helps me ease my way into thinking on work-related topics.
- In the afternoon when my energy drops. Reading is the perfect way to push through the slog and still do something worthwhile.
Looking at my Inoreader stats, the first one is wildly more productive. It also seems that I read in the evenings, but I’m trying to quit using my phone in bed, so this will stop soon:
This is the time that I dedicate to actually going through the pieces that matter and thinking about the topics they cover. To keep things actionable, I try to ask myself several questions after reading each piece:
- How can I summarize what I read in one sentence?
- What is something I learned that I didn’t know before or something I got reminded that I had forgotten?
- How can I put this new learning to practice? Preferably, today?
I won’t always come up with some earth-shattering takeaway. It can be something small. But remember the paradox of the heap – if you put together enough grains of knowledge, you’ll eventually have a mountain of wisdom.
Thought leadership bonus: share what you learn
Out of all the articles I read, I pick the ones that have the most actionable insights and I share them with my audience. As I do batch reading, I also do batch post planning. Inoreader has quick access to Buffer. With a free account there I can connect up to three social accounts and plan up to 10 posts in each one. In less than an hour I have a week’s worth of content.
When planning this curated content, I try to write a key takeaway or summary within the post so that it’s not just “Hey, check out this cool thing someone wrote!”
If you want to develop your personal brand and position yourself as a thought leader, don’t miss this last step of your reading process – share the interesting things you come up with and your community will thank you for it.
Here’s some data to illustrate this – July was the first month when I revived this process and posted consistently on my Facebook page. In May and June, I was sharing about 15 pieces a month – in July, I ramped this up to 30. And you can see the increase in the reach I get and the engagement rate, too.
Start reading today
All tactics for optimizing stuff will fall flat unless you start working on it. Start collecting knowledge. See what sticks, what resonates, how you learn. And make sure you think about your process and try to make it better.
I’ve been a blog addict for more than a decade. This system took me a lot of time to hone and make my own. But I hope it will save you some trial and error, so you can be an even more productive reader.
And if you’re ready to give Inoreader a try, you can subscribe to my bundle with the top marketing blogs I follow.