Since I haven’t written a blog post in a while, I thought it was time to dust off the cobwebs. I wanted to answer one of the questions I get asked the most. In this post, I’ll share a bit about my curation process and how I choose the things I share in my weekly newsletter.
You may know that I publish a newsletter called “Friday Finds” every Friday morning. Each week, I scan nearly 800 sources to pick the 5 most noteworthy items along with 3 podcasts and 5 tech tips or tools.
While that may sound like a lot and something that consumes massive amounts of time – it really isn’t. Not if you know some of the tools and strategies I’m about to share with you. The good news is that even if you’re not looking to publish a newsletter, these concepts can help anyone who would like to improve their own personal process for consuming content from the web more efficiently.
I’ve organized this into three sections modeled on Harold Jarche’s Seek-Sense-Share framework.
- Seeking is finding things out and keeping up to date.
- Sensing is how we personalize information and use it. (Including managing & organizing)
- Sharing includes exchanging our resources, ideas, and experiences with others.
The most effective thing you can do to keep up with whatever you’re interested in is to make the process as efficient as possible. Obviously, most of us have jobs and other responsibilities that limit the amount of time we have to spend on keeping up. We never have as much time to spend on it as we’d like. Fortunately, with a good process you can do very well in whatever small windows of time you’re able to manage a few times a week.
There are 3 key steps you can take to significantly reduce the amount of time you need to spend on keeping up:
- Don’t go looking for information–let it come to you.
- Filter out as much noise as possible.
- Consolidate the number of “inboxes” you use.
Information Delivery & Filtering
The first step is to change the way you consume information. Instead of going out and looking for stuff, having the stuff you want come to you is WAAAAYY better. The most efficient way to make that happen is to use an app like Feedly. (Inoreader is another good option.) This step alone is a big step in the right direction towards efficiency.
Note: I’m on a free account but it is a grandfathered version that is no longer available. The current free version will give you up to 100 sources and 3 boards. Which is plenty for most people just starting out. If you need more than that, it is absolutely worth the few dollars a month to upgrade to a paid plan.
Consolidate Your Inboxes
Think about how many different places you look for information. Most of us visit a fairly large number of places daily including: our email inboxes (work & personal), social media sites, Amazon, news sites, weather sites, financial information sites and I could go on. You get the idea.
Most of these sites have a feed you can subscribe to which eliminates the need for you to go visit all these sites individually. Instead, by subscribing to their feeds, you can create a personalized information consumption system and organize it any way you like.
RSS is the magic that enables us to consolidate so many information sources into a single “inbox” (Feedly). Whether the information you want comes from a blog, a news site, Twitter, YouTube, newsletters, Reddit, podcasts or just about anything else, you can follow them in Feedly. (You can learn more here: 11 types of sources you can add on Feedly)
Here is how it works with Feedly. (Other feed reading tools work similarly.)
Following a new source
Here is a short video showing how you can find and follow new sources. You can discover feeds right from within Feedly which is great when you’re first starting out. Or more commonly for me, just add a site that you already know.
Here is a short video showing how you can find and follow new sources. You can discover feeds right from within Feedly which is convenient when you’re first starting out. Or more commonly for me, just add a site that you already know.
For starters, I highly recommend using the Feedly browser extension. It makes following sources quick & easy.
(If you’re curious, there are a variety of options for adding a new source to follow in Feedly.)
For the majority of sites the Feedly mini browser extension is all you need. Feedly Mini is a Chrome and Firefox extension. It automatically detects the RSS feed of the site/blog you are browsing and gives you the option to open it in Feedly, and add it to your feeds.
*Note that you can also save things to your Boards from anywhere with Feedly Mini. We’ll talk about those shortly.
Imagine that you are browsing the Web and you find a new source you want to follow in Feedly. When you click on the Feedly Mini icon, Feedly Mini will automatically discover the RSS feed for the page you are reading. It will show you a popup with information about that source. You can click on Follow in Feedly to preview the RSS in Feedly and add it to one of your feeds.
Dealing with “hidden” feeds
Sometimes you’ll run into a site that isn’t quite so “friendly” and the feed is hidden from the Feedly extension. This is where the RSS Subscription Extension comes in handy.
The RSS Subscription Extension auto-detects RSS feeds on the page you are reading and upon finding one will display an RSS icon in the Omnibox, allowing you to click on it to preview the feed content and subscribe. The extension comes with a few feed readers predefined (including Feedly) and it also allows you to add any web-based feed reader of your choice to the list.
Sites Without a Feed
If you ever find a site that neither of the extensions above can identify a feed or the site simply doesn’t have one, there are tools like Fetch RSS and others that let you generate a feed yourself that you can use to follow updates for that site.
The ability to subscribe to email newsletters and keep them out of my inbox is one of my favorite things to do with Feedly. This allows me to control when I want to read a newsletter and find it much easier than if it is in my inbox. Who doesn’t want to declutter their inbox, right?!?!
For paid subscribers, Feedly makes it easy by giving you a unique email address you can use to subscribe to newsletters. This routes them to your Feedly account instead of your email inbox.
Converting Emails into a Feed
If you’re on the free version, don’t worry, you can still read your email newsletters in Feedly by using Kill the Newsletter. This site converts any email newsletter subscription into an RSS feed you can subscribe to in Feedly.
Instead of using your personal email address to subscribe to email newsletters, go to the Kill the Newsletter site and enter the name of the newsletter. This will generate a custom email to subscribe with along with the feed where all the newsletters will be sent.
Efficiency + Serendipity
This type of setup is very efficient. 90-something percent of the things I consume come through Feedly. But I also want to retain an element of serendipity. That is why I’ll occasionally dip into some of the “randomness” from places like Twitter and LinkedIn. Not everyone publishes to a blog or website and there are some super smart people who only share their knowledge via social media.
SIDE NOTE: Using Twitter Lists allows you to customize, organize and prioritize the Tweets you see in your timeline similar to how Feedly does that for everything else.
Discovering new stuff
I try to intentionally find content and avoid getting stuck in a ‘filter bubble’ by using some sites and tools to help me discover new things including:
- Refind is a cool service that serves up 7 new links to you every day based on your interests.
- The Sample will pick a newsletter to deliver to you every day—sometimes related to your current interests, sometimes completely different. If you find one you like, it only takes one-click to subscribe.
- Deep Culture is a great weekly newsletter that gives you 20 interesting things in each issue.
Organizing & Prioritizing Your Feeds
Another great thing about Feedly is how it enables me to organize and prioritize all of my feeds. In essence I have organized all of my subscriptions in a way that prioritizes them into three categories:
A small number of feeds that I want to see every day. These are my favorites and the best of the best.
A larger number of feeds that I read if I have a bit of extra time. I probably get to these 2-3 times a week.
- Everything Else
These are the “nice to have” feeds. Maybe they are just for fun, or maybe there are a few random things to add that sense of serendipity I mentioned earlier. I read these whenever I get to them. Maybe on a weekend or sometimes never and that’s ok.
Feedly folders are an easy way to organize your feeds any way you want. https://blog.feedly.com/feeds-and-folders/
So now that you know how I keep up with things, the next step is keeping track of the good stuff so I can find it later. For the newsletter, I use a Feedly board to save the collection of things I’m considering each week.
Boards are like libraries of high-value content. When you find something that’s valuable, save it to a Board for future reference. You can create multiple boards to collect related items you want to save. Sort of like your browser bookmarks.
I also save things for other purposes like projects, workshops, research, conference sessions, etc using Bublup and Walling.App. There are tons of options for saving links, notes, etc. Way too many to cover here. I feel like I’ve tried almost all of them, so if you have any questions feel free to send them my way.
An important part of curating things for a newsletter or any other purpose is to provide some context about why it is important and how it relates to the people in your audience. For my newsletter, that happens as part of writing the content in a Google Doc that I’ll touch on in more in the section below.
For some people, this last step is the one that may be the hardest – myself included. Once upon a time, I had a thought in my head that went something like this: “I don’t know anything special…why would anyone want to see what I say/share?” And that is exactly NOT the point. The thing that changed the game for me was when I realized that the things I find valuable may also be valuable to others. So if you find something that helps you, share it so it might help others.
As long as you’re learning, you’ll always have valuable things to share no matter who you are.
Depending on what you want to share and who you want to share it with, sharing can literally happen with the click of a button. so time should not be an issue. With tools like Buffer and others, you can click a button to quickly queue up a post that includes the url and title from the site you want to share. It will often serve up an image you can include along with an opportunity for you to add a note on why you think it is valuable. Quick, easy – done! It doesn’t need to be anything more than that.
Some forms of sharing may require long-form options such as creating blog posts, videos, etc. This obviously takes more time and commitment than simply sharing links but it is also an opportunity to add more value and infuse more of your personal thoughts and knowledge.
There are too many options for sharing to list and new ones cropping up every day. I can tell you from experience that sharing what you learn is a valuable thing to do. It has given me opportunities that I could never have imagined were even possible.
Not only are you helping others when you share. You’re also helping yourself by building your visibility and the credibility of being a professional. Simply sharing one thing per week on LInkedIn can raise your visibility and potential opportunities. For example, people who share content on LinkedIn at least once a week are nearly 10 times more likely to be contacted for new opportunities than people who don’t share. (1)
Putting the Newsletter Together
Usually sometime on Wednesday or Thursday I’ll start pulling together the contents of the newsletter using the items I’ve saved to my Newsletter board in Feedly. There are almost always more than enough items so it is just a matter of selecting the best ones. The newsletter recipe I use is five articles, 3 podcasts and 5 new tools with a playlist of the music I’m listening to while I work.
Some people may wonder how the heck music got into a newsletter about learning, design and technology and it is an interesting story. As a reader of many newsletters, I’m always on the lookout for good ideas for mine and the “What I’m Listening To” idea comes from Tim Ferris’ “5-Bullet Friday” newsletter. I thought it was neat and tried it out…then not long after that I thought it was a bit silly and was going to take it out. Before I did, I took a peek at the statistics and was surprised to learn that the music list is consistently among the most clicked links in the newsletter. So the music lives on!
Anyway, I have a Google Doc template that I use to create posts for my website which runs on WordPress. For a long time, I used a plugin that would publish this Google Doc directly to WordPress as a new post. But that has stopped working and until I find a replacement, I just do a simple Copy/Paste into a new post.
During the week prior, I save the best things I find to my newsletter board in Feedly. Then when it is time to assemble the newsletter, all I have to do is browse the small number of candidates from the current week and pick the best. It usually takes me about 30 minutes to pull everything together into a post.
When I started sending out my newsletter back in 2015, I simply posted it to my WordPress website. Shortly after that I connected it up via RSS with a free Mailchimp account. This is easy to set up and automated once it is up and running. Mailchimp looks at my website every morning at 8am and if it finds any new posts, sends them out to my email subscribers.
Tips to Help You Get Started
If this sounds like something you’d like to try (I think everyone should!) here are a few helpful tips to give you a head start:
- Signup for Feedly and follow your ‘must see’ sources.
This could be your favorite authors, top experts in your field, a professional/industry organization, or anything else that always want to see. You don’t need a lot. Think quality over quantity. Even just five really good ones is a nice start.
- Curate the curators
If you want a bigger bang for the buck, follow really good curators. They’re already covering a lot of ground, which means you’re also covering a lot.
- Strive for 25
If you can smartly select 25 good sources on any topic, you’ll be far ahead of most people with similar interests.
- Use browser extensions and mobile apps
Looking for ways to be ruthlessly efficient and tapping into your windows of opportunity (like waiting in line, riding the bus, etc.) can have a big impact.
- Block time on your calendar
Make it a habit. Trust me. Even if you can only spare 10 minutes a day, it is an investment that you’ll reap great returns on.
- Share what you learn
When you find something helpful, pass it along to your network with a note about how it helped. You’ll be surprise how valuable this can be.
Whether you’re just starting to think about your own process or looking to improve what you’re already doing, I’m happy to help in any way I can. Please feel free to send me any questions or comments you have.
Whew! That was a lot more than I thought it would be when I started it. Thanks for sticking with me all the way to the end.
What do you think? Do you do any of this? Do you have any better ideas or things that work better for you? What tips can you share? What questions do you have?