Today I want to introduce a system that I created for myself to help me manage my reading of online articles, blog posts and other text-based content, and where necessary archive that content for future reference.
Something to keep in mind here is that this is a good example of the sort of simple system that you can construct for yourself to help handle any challenges or recurring situations in any part of your life.
Before this system
One of the cool things about Instapaper is that it has a folder-based organizational system, where you can drop articles into particular folders and keep them there. However, a major pitfall of this is what happened the more I used it – I would collect all these articles and occasionally go through Instapaper on my iPad… but for the most part, they just sat there, unread and never to be seen again. Now to be fair, this was more a reflection on the human part of the system – the part that is usually the weakest in any system.
It eventually reached the point where I had hundreds of articles filed away in meticulous categories in Instapaper and just couldn’t find what I was looking for. That’s when I decided to come up with a better solution to handle all of this.
A better solution for reading and archiving material
The first thing I did was work out what I wanted the system to do, namely:
- Very easily clip articles from the web for later reading, from all devices – desktop browser, RSS reader, tablet browser.
- Be able to keep archives outside of the reading application itself. I personally use DevonThink Pro Office for all my archival material and personal database needs, but it could have just as easily been Evernote.
- Why archive? Because websites go down, blog owners decide not to renew their hosting accounts, articles get edited over time, offline reading… a lot of reasons. If something is valuable and I want to refer to it down the line, I want to have a copy of it stored locally.
- Easy transference between reading application and database with minimum of fuss and hassle.
In flowchart form, here’s what the system looks like:
The next step was to pick out what applications to use to enable the workflow. I ended up with Readability and DevonThink Office Pro.
If you haven’t heard of it, Readability is a Instapaper-like service that lets you clip most web content as nicely formatted text, something like this:
It’s free and available here.
Devonthink Pro Office
We’ve mentioned DevonThink Pro Office before and it’s our go-to personal database of choice for the Mac. A sorta-equivalent would be the excellent Evernote.
One of the main ways that I consume (and am notified) of new content is through RSS. We have an upcoming article to explain RSS in detail, but essentially almost every website today has what is called an RSS feed – a way of notifying subscribers that a new post or article has been published. For example, the URL of Asian Efficiency’s RSS feed is http://www.asianefficiency.com/feed/.
You can take this feed and input it into what’s called an RSS reader – a program that specializes in reading feeds and displaying content.
My favorite application by far for that is Reeder for the iPad. It presents all articles cleanly and beautifully, and best of all, has a built in send-to-Readability function (and send-to-Evernote function too).
The Readability-Archival Material System
With these applications in mind, here is how the entire system works.
1. I see an article on the web and want to read it later, or potentially archive it, so I use the Readability bookmarklet to save it to Readability.
Alternatively, I read something on Reeder on my iPad and want to save that to Readability.
2. Once the article is in Readability, I usually read it in full and make a decision: do I want to archive this for future reference, or do I want to delete it (out of sight, out of mind)?
Note that this reading from Readability can be done on the desktop:
Or the iPad/tablet:
If I want to archive the material (and thus save it for future reference), I hit “Archive” within Readability. If not, I hit “Delete”.
3. Once a month, I have a task set up in OmniFocus that tells me to log into Readability on my desktop, and save any archived articles to PDF, then delete them from the Readability archive.
On the Mac with DevonThink Office Pro, you get a nice little clipping tool that does this:
I usually save directly to a multi-page PDF, straight into DevonThink Office Pro (note that the save process usually takes 10-20 seconds as it has to generate the PDF).
Evernote also has a web clipper plugin for most browsers.
If you aren’t using either of those applications for database purposes, then you can also open up the Readability-formatted article in Safari’s Reader view, then hit Print > Save to PDF and store it in a folder of your choosing.
Some clarifications and additional guidelines for the system:
- If I read something on my desktop in entirety and want to archive it, I’ll clip directly into DevonThink Pro Office/Evernote and not send it to Readability. Readability is only for articles that I see but don’t have time to read right now, usually because I’m in the middle of doing something else.
- I read 95% of all material on my tablet. Hence the need for Readability.
- You could just as easily use Instapaper for this, I just happen to like Readability’s interface more and wanted to avoid the temptation to just file things away in folders.
Sometimes the initial solutions that we engineer for our problems become broken and need to be changed.
I hope this article has given you ideas for how a simple system based on a couple of applications and a basic workflow can help manage the deluge of information that we receive nowadays on a daily basis.
If you also have archiving needs and give this a try, let us know how it goes in the comments!
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