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📬 Kill Instapaper

Read-later apps let us save articles for the future. The problem is, we never get to them. Thousands of articles build up in our inbox, and they rot there forever. Here’s a better way to re-route your unread articles.

Michael Dean
Michael Dean
2 min read

Writers are exposed to a flurry of information. There's value in capturing things you come across so you can build off them later. But I think all of us are familiar with the feeling of having an Inbox with 999+ things to process.

Instead of having an Inbox of all things unread, it could be more useful to have essay-specific Inboxes. Only when you commit to working on an essay with an urgency to publish is it worth dipping into your backlog to read, re-read, highlight, or summarize notes. In other words:

Kill Instapaper.

There are few ways you can approach filtering. You can choose to be more selective about what you capture (5%) and filter everything (100%). But you could also do the opposite: capture everything that's potentially valuable (100%), but only filter things related to essays you are working on (5%).

I've tried several approaches where I had a series of gates that filtered and refined EVERY note that I captured. The goal was to have clean and compressed information to work with. But it always ended up being a lot to upkeep, and it didn't lead to me publish more or write better.

My recent approach has been to capture anything that would be:

potentially useful to my future self, and

hard for my future self to find

I've embraced a chaotic notes database. Instead of focusing on clean notes, I'm focusing on having access to notes while I'm writing. Instead of sifting through an "Inbox" of everything I've captured (200+ notes), I've found it more useful to have an Inbox per each future essay (5-10 notes).

Here's how it works:

It helps to not have the intention to push every note through a standardized pipeline. Instead, I quickly associate a note to either a Tag or Essay database in Notion. Tags and Essay are the same thing as David Perell's "Cold and Hot Notebooks."

A tag is a non-actionable group of notes, like "Bitcoin." There are probably 70+ notes in this Tag, and there is a wide range of essays that could come from here.

An essay is an actionable and specific scope that I want to work on in the future, like "Algorithmic Money Supply." There might only be 5-10 notes in here, but they all revolve around a very specific idea.

My system has no intrinsic way to differentiate between:

  • Status: If something is read, unread, or half-read
  • Length: If something is a highlight or an entire book
  • Originality: If something is a quote or a shower thought

I've found it useful to abandon the urge to classify. Instead, I've found  this one question to be extremely powerful in guiding how I capture information.

"In what context would this information be useful to my future self?"

This means that when I show up to write, I have a list of different source types, in different states, but all related to my essay.

Instead of one massive "to process" inbox, I have dozens of essay-specific inboxes. Instead of pushing articles from the beginning through a common pipeline, I use the end-product (the essay), as a way to decide which material is worth highlighting, summarizing, and developing further.

Think of the essay as a magnet. Without an output centric north-star, it's easy to get lost in the sea of information abundance. Use "active" and "on-deck" essays to prioritize which information is worth revisiting and refining.

By focusing on quick associations instead of a generalized sequence, you can capture double the information, and have all of your ambient research available at your fingertips.


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