My Instapaper Strategy

May 27, 2012 life 3 min read

tl;dr: I have found a strategy that leads to Instapaper bliss: sort articles by oldest-first.

Screenshot of Instapaper article

Instapaper is wonderful. Besides Tweetbot, it is the most used app on my iPad. It is a gorgous app that makes reading so enjoyable. Anytime someone sends me a link that I can’t read in 2 minutes, I save it to Instapaper to save for that glorious Saturday when I just lay in the hammock and read all afternoon. It’s my very own personal New York Times, Wired, and Sherlock Holmes, all rolled into one.

But Instapaper also causes me quite a bit of strife, because that glorious Saturday afternoon rarely comes. I can’t keep up with the backlog. Over the last 2 years, I’ve collected hundreds of long form articles that taunt me every time I open the app. So I typically open it up, read the latest article or two, and then get disgusted by all the amazing things that I don’t have time to read. A better man might be able to simply ignore that backlog, but it drives me insane.

A few months ago, while exploring Instapaper’s settings to find the ideal font (let’s be honest, I was overwhelmed by how many unread articles there were, so I was procrastinating), I switched the default sorting from “newest-first” to “oldest-first”. I don’t think I expected much to change because of it, but it had an interesting side effect.

There are now only about 20 unread articles in my instapaper queue. I haven’t been reading more lately. I’ve actually been reading less. But I’ve been reading smarter. Here are my theories as to why this simple change had such an impact:

  • We’re all addicted to new. Our brains secret some good endorphines when we’re riding the wave. But new does not always equal better. By showing oldest articles first, the farther I get behind on Instapaper, the less timely the content is. I now spend more time reading “timeless” articles, and I simply delete the ones that are no longer relevant.
  • The disire for new still exists, and acts as an incentive to keep up to date.
  • Sometimes I read things I don’t care about simply because I like the person that recommended it to me. But when I’m looking at articles on Instapaper that are 6 months old, I don’t remember who recommended. So I’m more likely to skip stuff that I don’t care about.

Screenshot of Instapaper settings

It’s a small thing, but I love small life hacks that streamline my life.

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avatar of Brandon Keepers I am Brandon Keepers, and I work at GitHub on making Open Source more approachable, effective, and ubiquitous. I tend to think like an engineer, work like an artist, dream like an astronaut, love like a human, and sleep like a baby.