Organization

The Way I Use Instapaper

In the 5 or so years that I've been an Instapaper customer, I've never made a secret out of my love for the service. It's something I use every single day, often multiple times a day, and yet...I've never gotten around to writing about how I use it.

In other words, I haven't yet made it easy for other Instapaper nerds to critique my usage and notify me explicitly about what it is I'm doing wrong. Let's change that, shall we?

The way I use Instapaper is completely dependent on the folder system. I've got several folders set up, each of which serves as a kind of category for stuff I want to read or check out later. Instapaper generates a unique bookmarklet for each folder, so I've got all of those saved in Google Chrome and Mobile Safari for easy access.

Depending on the type of content I'm saving, I'll just click/tap the appropriate bookmarklet and it'll be filed into the right place so I don't have to worry about it later. Here's a list of my current folders:

Read Later

This is the default, self-explanatory folder that drives the whole Instapaper experience. See an article or other thing online that you want to check out at a later date? Click the 'Read Later' bookmarklet, or email the link to your private Instapaper email address, or tap the Instapaper share button in your favorite RSS/Twitter/ADN client, and the Read Later folder is where that thing will end up.

Think of it as Instapaper's inbox. As things come in, I either leave them there (such is the case for long-form articles and the like) or process them into one of the other folders.

Watch Later

This folder is what I use as a central place for any video content I'd like to watch later, whether it's from YouTube, Vimeo, or elsewhere. With YouTube and Vimeo videos, I don't even have to use a bookmarklet; thanks to a couple of IFTTT recipes, I can simply click the 'Later' button on their respective video players and they'll end up in Instapaper, where they can be watched directly within the app.

The only downside to the IFTTT recipes is that I have no way of specifying which folder they end up in, so they just default to the Read Later inbox. Luckily, the Instapaper app makes it super easy to move them to the right folder all at once.

Listen Later

This is a repository for anything I'd like to — you guessed it — listen to later. This is ideal for single podcast episodes (since it allows me to listen without subscribing to the entire series and/or digging through back-catalogs), but it also works well for music I'd like to check out.

Post Ideas

A lot of my time on the web is spent reading news articles and blog posts. When something strikes me as interesting enough to write about, or gets me thinking deeply about a subject, or is simply something I'd like to link to later, I save it under Post Ideas. Many things I've written on Unretrofied have been inspired by things saved in this folder.

Tools & Toys Ideas

Same idea as Post Ideas, except this is reserved for cool items I come across and want to talk about on Tools and Toys. It's basically a list full of neat apps, gadgets, bags, and other paraphernalia that will likely end up on T&T someday.

Style

I'm in the process of losing weight, and when I get down to my goal weight, I would love to overhaul my personal style. Right now my daily outfit (almost year-round) is this:

  • Hoodie, zipped about 3/4 of the way up, sleeves rolled up if it's hot outside
  • T-shirt with some kind of graphic on the front
  • Loose-fitting jeans
  • Sneakers

Comfy for the most part, but not very stylish. So, as I'm browsing around the web, sometimes I might come across a photo of a cool jacket or hairstyle or pair of glasses or whatever. I save that stuff under Style for later reference.

Camera Research

As I discussed a while back, I'm interested in picking up a mirrorless camera someday. As I come across new cameras, or the reviews of popular picks, I save them here. It's a simple way to keep all my research in one place.

I know that I could use Evernote for something like this, but having a single-click Instapaper bookmarklet makes the process that much easier.

Bookmarks

I treat this as a bit of a dumping ground for anything that doesn't fit into the other folders or I haven't yet figured out what to do with. Some examples:

  • Stuff I'd like to buy for myself, much like an Amazon wishlist
  • Websites/services/apps/downloads I want to check out later
  • Interesting Quora threads
  • Informative forum posts
  • Recipes

I guess I could go through this list sometime and move a few of these things to more appropriate places, such as Evernote or Amazon, but I'm not too overly concerned. Nothing in this folder is critical to my life or anything. In fact, I might just delete it pretty soon.

Webcomics

There are lots of great webcomics out there, and I'm subscribed to some of them via RSS, but before I subscribe I put them into this folder so I can check them out later and subscribe to the best ones. I'm not talking about stuff like xkcd either, but webcomics with long story arcs. I'll probably do a writeup on my favorites someday.

* * *

And there you have it! As you can see, Instapaper is more than just a 'read later' service to me, but also a great bookmarking utility. I used Instapaper this way long before I ever heard of Pinboard, and simply haven't had the desire or need to switch over to such a service.

So what are your thoughts here? Am I doing it wrong? Did I inspire you to use Instapaper in a different way than you have been? Is your use-case the exact same as mine? Either way, let me know! I'm interested to see how others use the service.

It's Time to Simplify

[Editor's warning: this post is going to be 'first-world problems' as hell. I acknowledge this and will understand if you lose interest after the first paragra- hey, where'd everyone go?]

I like keeping things simple in my personal life. I wouldn't necessarily call myself a minimalist, but I don't like complications, either. So why is my digital life so cluttered?

Let me explain, service by service:

Evernote

In Evernote, I've got nearly 2,500 notes, all of which have been tagged and sorted into folders. Most of them have been assigned 3 or more tags because I'm apparently OCD about keeping this stuff organized, despite the fact that Evernote has an amazing search feature that could probably bypass the need for tags. Besides that, I've got nearly 250 different tags that I'm using, which is utterly ridiculous.

Some of this stuff is important for me to keep, or at least fits the ideal use-case for Evernote (such as receipts, recipes, medical records, product instructions, travel ideas/notes, etc), but I would say that the majority of these notes instead fit this description: "a cool thing I saw on the internet once and decided to use Evernote to bookmark it, even though I may never read it again."

Google Reader

I'm subscribed to over 50 RSS feeds, mostly tech and design blogs. To some of my fellow internet geeks, I bet this isn't even a figure worth batting an eye over, but I'm sure it's still more than anyone really needs to keep up with on a daily basis. And this is after I've already cut out a bunch of feeds, too. 

Twitter

Currently following 96 people. I can refresh my feed once every 15min and have several new tweets to read, some of which link out to other content on the internet. It feels like I have to constantly be checking Twitter to keep up with everything. I plan on doing a purge soon, but I hate dropping people who actually do post good content now and then. It's just all the boring stuff in between that adds up too fast (which I'm certainly guilty of, myself).

Instapaper

This is a problem shared by many, I'm sure. I've simply got way too much stuff backlogged in my Instapaper account. Enough that I've different folders set up for different types of things saved there. Ideally, I would have few enough things to catch up on that I would never even need the folder system. The even dumber thing is, I still read other articles out there on the internet, and books out here in the real world, while stuff sits in my Instapaper account months after I've saved it. What is wrong with me?

Youtube

Didn't expect this one, did you? Well, my organizational OCD doesn't stop at Evernote, people. Any video saved to my Favorites on Youtube also gets filed into a playlist based on what type of video it is. Why do I need to do this? I don't know. What I do know is that I've spent far too much time sorting videos after watching them. It's just sad, really. Don't get me started on my 'Watch Later' list either.

Spotify

You can probably guess on this one. I have way too many playlists (and playlist folders) that I spend too much time on organizing.

Dropbox

This one is at least a little bit understandable, I hope. I use my Dropbox as a replacement for the 'My Documents' folder on every computer I use. I keep files, photos, videos, backups, and other stuff arranged into folders as needed. Since I actually access the stuff in Dropbox all the time, it makes more sense to keep this stuff in order so I can actually find something when I need it without having to run a search or do guesswork.

Gmail

Actually, I'm pretty lucky on this one. I don't receive all that much email from real people; it's mostly notifications from different places (like Facebook, Twitter, etc), receipt verifications from purchases I've made, or newsletters I'm subscribed to. But I have a feeling that if people started emailing me more, I would want to start using Gmail's label system a lot.

Amazon

I've got different Wish Lists for different types of crap I want to buy later. Surely this isn't healthy.

Instacast

At any given time, there are probably 5-10 podcasts that I'm "behind" on, each of which being about an hour long. New episodes are released about as fast I can listen to them, unless I wanted to set aside an entire day to catch up on everything.

I'm sure I could keep going, but you get the idea. I obviously have a serious problem with wanting to keep every little thing in my life organized. I don't follow any sort of "Getting Things Done" methodology, but I've apparently decided to make up a dozen different workflows in unnecessary places. Entirely too much time in my life has been eaten up by doing all of this. It's got to stop or I will go crazy (har-har, you're already crazy (wait, now you're talking to yourself (oh god please stop))).

What I probably need is a big red button that I can push that resets everything back to "Inbox Zero" so I can rebuild a better, simpler digital life this time around.