How to manage your digital read-it-later list—before it’s too late
Don't let it grow out of control.
Most of us have some kind of system for saving online articles we want to read…eventually. Maybe you favorite tweets, employ a dedicated app like Instapaper, add links to a bookmarks folder, or leave a few gazillion tabs open in your web browser.
There’s just one problem with this habit: You add stories to your list faster than you can check them off, increasing your roundup with each passing week. Eventually, read-it-later lists can become as clogged as email inboxes.
It’s time to finally finish your pile of saved stories—or at least whittle it down to a manageable size. Here are some strategies to help you work through your self-assigned reading.
Consolidate your list
Before you can start chipping away at your read-it-later pile, you need to know where everything is. Take some time to audit your collection so you’ll know where to turn when you want a diverting, educational, or entertaining read.
For example, say you’ve saved stories with Twitter, Facebook, web browser bookmarks, and emails. You want to make sure you don’t forget any of these sources. To keep track, you could bookmark all these places in one folder, or group together the relevant apps on your phone. Or start transferring all of those links to a dedicated read-it-later app.
Apps such as Instapaper or Pocket will help you collect everything in one place. These read-it-later services can gather stories from multiple sources and keep them together. Saving the articles themselves is easy—use your chosen app’s web browser extension, add a link from your phone, or send articles to the app through email.
If you’d prefer to just save links, you might consolidate all your reading through a general note-taking app. We recommend Evernote or OneNote. Or you could save a draft email with a list of links. Apps or emails will let you access your list from multiple devices whenever you need it.
You could even hack together your own solution using IFTTT (If This Then That), a free service that connects together a variety of apps. In this case, you can set up a process, called an “applet,” where sending an email to an IFTTT address will automatically trigger an update to your reading list. Start by signing up for a free account. Then access the main menu by clicking your avatar in the top right corner, select New Applet, and set Email as the trigger. For the action, choose the app where you plan to store your reading list: You can have these emails trigger a change in Google Drive, Dropbox, or the iOS Reminders app.
Any of these approaches will make your reading list easy to access at any time. Simply choose the option that works best for you.
Plan in advance
When you need to work your way through a pile of articles, advance planning will really help. For example, if you have a long plane or train trip coming up—really any journey where you’re not actually driving—make sure you line up a few articles so they’re ready to go when you are.
This might require that you make your articles accessible offline—before your trip starts. The apps we’ve mentioned so far (Instapaper, Pocket, Evernote, and OneNote) can all cache text and pictures for offline reading. Or you could hit “Print” on a few articles and then save them as PDFs.
In addition to ensuring you can access your stories, you might want a device that makes reading on the go more pleasant. If you own a Kindle, you can send articles directly to your device. For example, the Send to Kindle browser extension will beam articles to your e-reader with a click. Amazon also let you email stories to your Kindle from other apps. To do this, you first sign into your Amazon account. Then click Your Devices, and hit the Actions button (three dots) by your Kindle. This will give you a unique email address where you can send articles.
Another way to plan ahead is to sort your articles into categories by topic or the amount of reading time they’ll require. For example, if you maintain a “five-minute reads” folder—which you can do with browser bookmarks, Instapaper, or Pocket—you can chip away at these particular articles while you’re waiting for a bus. Or you could split your collection up into light reads versus more serious content, so that no matter what mood you’re in, you can find a story that you’ll want to read.
If you’re serious about catching up on your read-it-later list, then you might want to set aside specific times in the day just for working your way through articles. You might choose to whittle down your list right when you wake up or just before you go to sleep, when other distractions are at a minimum. Even 10 minutes a day can make a big difference.
Take advantage of app features
Many read-it-later apps offer features to help you get through your long list of pending articles. For example, they could make the font easier to view, translate text to speech, or turn you into a speed reader.
Let’s start with some abilities that Pocket provides. To change the look of articles, access this app through its web portal, open an article, and click the Display Options button (the “AA” icon) in the top right-hand corner. From here, you can adjust the font, background color, and size, making stories easy on the eye so you can move through them as quickly as possible.
When you simply don’t have time to read, but you do have to walk somewhere or do chores, Pocket can read out your articles to you. Open the Pocket app on your phone, start reading an article, tap the Menu button (three dots), and choose Listen (TTS) from the list. As you listen, you can adjust the speed of the reading or jump backward and forward in the audio.
Instapaper offers similar abilities. To adjust a story’s appearance, head to the app’s web interface and click the Font Settings button (the “AA” icon).
This app also provides text-to-speech, but only to premium subscribers. That means you’ll have to pay $3 per month or $30 per year to access it. Once you upgrade, you can listen by opening a story, heading to the Share menu, and selecting Speak.
One Instapaper feature you don’t have to pay for is called Speed Read, and it works on both the web and the apps. When you click or tap the Speed Read button (the speedometer icon) the current article will appear in front of your eyes one word at a time. You can adjust the speed with a slider underneath the word.
Even if you’re not using Pocket or Instapaper, other apps offer useful options, such as simplifying the interface or organizing articles more intuitively. As for text-to-speech, you don’t need an app for that—you can find browser extensions that do the same job.
Let it go
If you have a particularly long list, you might need to pare it down before you even begin reading. You might be surprised at how much content no longer interests you. Don’t waste your time reading previews of season finales you’ve long since watched, hot takes on news stories that have been old for months, or clippings for research that you’ve since completed.
The next time you have five minutes to spare, don’t start a lengthy article that you know you won’t finish in one sitting. Instead, spend that time deleting articles from the oldest end of your read-it-later list. Or simply try trashing everything older than, say, a year—you’re unlikely to miss any life-changing information.
That said, you shouldn’t aim to completely clear your read-it-later list—you never know when you’ll be stuck somewhere in need of entertainment. As you check off old articles, add new ones, so you’ll have a story lined up every time you need reading material.