“Email inbox? Check.”

“OmniFocus inbox? Check.”

“Physical inbox which is usually empty? Check.”

Nothing like a clean inbox where thoughts, ideas, bills, and other crap have been processed and converted into actions. But all is not well in my self-deluded world. There’s one more inbox that continues to be ignored despite having it available at my fingertips every waking moment that I have.

That inbox is called Instapaper.

Instapaper, the popular “read later” app created by super-developer Marco Arment, has taken reading to new heights. Simply put, Instapaper stores the content of an article sans stylings, ads, and other elements that are irrelevent to the  piece of writing. The basic intent of this app was to have distraction-free reading materials available offline and in one place so you can read at will with the luxury of typographical and minimalistic bliss. 

However, I take full blame for my neglection. What had occured was a simple case of “out of sight, out of mind”. Instead of tossing things in there knowing that I’ll get to it eventually — they ended up going unnoticed. 

For example, I’m sure we all have something like this stored in our Instapaper queue.

Alt text

Or maybe its just me.

Either way, lately I’ve been noticing that I’ve been tossing more and more stuff into Instapaper — stuff that I do intend to read. But with the going rate of processing, the Instapaper-stored content — which were full of hopes and dreams of being read — now end up rotting away into irrelevent and outdated junk. 

So, I decided to do something about it. If there was one thing that I was successful with in keeping my scatter-brain organized was by learning the dark art of Getting Things Done. So instinctively, I decided that I must start processing the stored information in a methodical and disciplined manner.         

My 2nd Everything Bucket

While OmniFocus is my everything bucket for actions and stuff that I need to do, Instapaper has become my everything bucket for reading. While this idea wasn’t too much of a problem when I first started using Instapaper during its launch, the evolution of the app has brought upon the evolution of my usage.

When Marco released the API for the Instapaper service, more and more apps have added the obligatory “Send to Instapaper” feature. With that being said, the main agents for Instapaper becoming a repository for my reading-material triage sessions are Tweetbot, Reeder, the Javascript bookmarklet, and the private email address that Instapaper associates with each account.

Instead of just sending an article about what iOS 4.1 and its new Game Center feature will include, I now Instapaper1:  - Articles about web development and technology news concerning my day job - Pittsburgh Steelers news - Comic book articles  - Emails that I want to read later which I know aren’t time senstive (family photos from events) - Coffee Recipes and techniques - Articles and posts that I plan to link on Gridwriter and - Research materials for projects that I am working on

Note: I will refer to all of the above as “content” from here on out

With the amount of doorways and the amount of content that I keep tabs on, the more it accumulates. Adversly, the more content that I cannot get to will lead to more information rotting.

Processing the Read Later Inbox 

As I mentioned above, to solve this information overload issue, I decided to take a GTD-type approach to it. As for the gathering of content, that could be considered the “dump”. Just straight out dumping information into one place for safe keeping — the inbox. So if Instapaper’s root folder “Read Later” is the inbox, “clearly” what comes next is processing of said inbox.

I like to do most of my processing in a web browser2 due its speed and the capabilities. Of course I am not limited to just the browser as the Instapaper iOS apps provide a lot of sharing options as well. 

So with my web browser open I can go in one of three routes.

Priority = Open To Read On The Spot

When it is a time-sensitive piece for a project or a link that I plan on linking to my site, I tend to read it on the spot by opening in another tab. With the link open in another tab, I can take a couple of approaches to it which is determined by its purpose. More on that in the next section.

Non-Priority = Send to Folder

If the article that I’ve come across isn’t time sensitive, I’ll toss them into a folder. As of now, there are two folders that I’ve created. 

The first is labeled Reads which has the role of housing anything that I would want to read at my leisure. 

The second folder is labeled Research which houses content that I intend to apply towards another project but don’t need to read immediately.                  

Post-Processing and Curation   

         After everything has been processed and sorted out of the inbox, that is when the most satisfying of phases can resume — reading.

With the priority links that I opened up in the browser, I can either post them on this site using MarsEdit (Writing Kit if using an iOS device), or clip it with the OmniFocus Clip-o-tron 3000 (or copy and paste link into OmniFocus for iOS) if I need to take action on it later. 

When I have some down time, that is when I read the content in my “Reads” folder — which I do exclusively on the iPad. Reading on the iPad gives me the overall feeling of luxury — as if I’m lounging around in my manchair in a plush robe while sipping on something expensive — even if I’m reading something lowbrow like What if Superheroes were Hipsters3.

After reading, then comes the post-processing/curation phase. What do I want to do with the item I just read? Is it something worthwhile that I want to recall?

Pinboard.in

Using the Superhero Hipster article I mentioned above, that would be something that I want to store away for future “Hey check this out, haha!” moments. That is when I would send it to Pinboard. Fortunately in the iOS app, you can link your Pinboard account to Instapaper and send items either by liking it and having Instapaper automatically send it to Pinboard, or by using the Pinboard sharing button — my preferred way. 

This doesn’t just apply to articles that have cheap laughs. Project research, inspiration, techniques, nerd posts about what apps people use — they all get sent to Pinboard if deemed worthy. Simply tagging the bookmarks gives me enough metadata to sort out those bookmarks later.

The greatest feature of Pinboard is its Archiving premium feature. I used to use Evernote to clip the content of a webpage. However unlike the browser extension for Google Chrome, It annoyed me how the browser bookmarklet doesn’t have the capability to maintain the appearance of the page’s CSS. With Pinboard’s Archiving feature, it does a spot-on job.

Evernote

As I mentioned before, I sometimes forward emails to Instapaper. Unless I come to find out that the email item is completely worthless in terms of content, I usually file those emails away to Evernote using the Evernote sharing feature. Evernote will keep both the content and the attachments4 of the email5 so I can recall them as needed. 

OmniFocus

Same concept as the Processing phase. If the article has prompted me to take action upon it such as in the case of project research, I’ll send it to OmniFocus using the Send To OmniFocus sharing button within the Instapaper app.

Tweetbot

Pretty self-explanatory. If I want to share the link via Twitter, then I can go ahead and use the Post with Tweetbot button within the app.

Everything else

While I am a stout believer in not deleting anything, I delete the articles that do not get shared to another service. The main reason I do this because I just want to do my part in helping the service as Marco has pointed out that: 

“Instapaper is designed to store links you’d like to read once and then discard” 

and that 

“…Instapper isn’t optimized for keeping track of thousands of pages. This isn’t the right tool to collect, categorize, tag, filter, and search the contents of every web page you’ve ever found…”

Despite having a subscription service which does allow Instapaper to function more like a bookmark site by implementing search in all folders, I see my subscription as my contribution to the service.

Conclusion

Part of me feels like I’m taking the soul away of Instapaper. As Marco pointed out, he created Instapaper in response to the fact that “…we don’t have time to read long articles right when we find them”. What I personally take from the statement is that Instapaper should be a home for quality (subjective) writing. However I am reminded of Shawn Blanc’s post on tttask — the bucket he wishes he had for everything else. He mentioned how Instapaper seemed like a viable solution, yet knew that its original intent were not of that purpose. Instapaper is such a versatile service, that for me, it has become the closest thing to the tttask service that Shawn had wished for. Now I just have to make sure I treat it as such.


  1. Using a pro-noun as a verb (ie Google) 

  2. Used to use Read Later, but not as much lately. 

  3. Another gem from my Instapaper list 

  4. “In my case, usually family photos.” 

  5. “I’m a premium member — not sure about the limitations of free users.”