Whether you want to practice the trombone or play with your children, using an RSS reader is usually the starting point for any strategy to collect and unplug so that you can get on with living your life. Many of you probably already use RSS feeds in this way and, if so, this post might be a little basic for you and you’ll probably think I’m way behind the times.

But that’s the point. Our times are frenetic. We’re scattered and stretched and wasting time and energy on stuff that doesn’t matter or that can be done more easily using simple technologies like RSS. And many people either don’t know there are tools available to help take control back or are intimidated by them.

playing music by wolfgango on flickr


A little about RSS

First, the acronym “RSS” stands for Really Simple Syndication. It’s a way that websites and blogs can let you know there’s something new available and (often) allow you to read it at your leisure. The best analogy or schema I’ve heard is that it’s a lot like the Associated Press‘s news wire.

Two notes:

  • First, nearly half of my readers use some form of RSS reader to keep up with my blog.
  • Second, maybe you have an analogy for what it is and how it works; your analogy might even be better. If so, why not share it in the comments?

Not Getting Too Technical

I’m not actually all that interested in the technical side of how an RSS feed works (if you are, you can read more about that here). Rather, I’m interested in using an RSS feed to automate and collect. So, let’s look at the five steps of RSS that actually matter.

  1. The site you’re interested in has to publish an RSS feed. (Most do, more about that here and here)
  2. You’ll need select and use an RSS feed reader. It’s the same idea as having a mail reader for your email but it reads the RSS feeds you subscribe to rather than waiting email to arrive. (I use Google Reader in combination with Feedly, and Flipboard)
  3. You’ll have to subscribe to the website’s RSS feed. It’s really easy – most sites want you to subscribe. (Instructions for Google Reader)
  4. Decide when you want to check your feeds. (Don’t check them all the time. That defeats the purpose of subscribing)
  5. Stop by your RSS reader to find out what your it has collected for you. Read what you want and leave the rest for later.

There are the basics. It’s really easy and if you’re going back to the same websites several times a week to find new content, I recommend that you start using an RSS reader right now. It can save you a lot of time and it can be a killer way to collect and process what you want to know and learn.

Caution: Don’t use RSS to Spam Yourself

Before we stop, though, I think this warning is valuable: Don’t Spam Yourself

Technology well-used allows us to do more of what really matters. Technology misused simply allows us waste our time doing more things that don’t matter while what’s important still gets ignored.

Subscribing to RSS feeds can be a lot like signing up for newsletters. It’s super-easy and it seems like it’s free. But it’s not – it can cost you time if you don’t use it wisely. So only subscribe to RSS feeds you actually want to read. Don’t sign up for RSS feeds you might want to read. And, if you find that some websites are no longer relevant, drop them.

The value in collecting to unplug is only to collect what’s actually valuable. Otherwise you’ll find that you’re wasting time on stuff that doesn’t matter. And that’s not the point, is it?

There it is

So, there you have it. A quick summary on how an RSS reader might make your life easier. If you’re not using one, I recommend you start. And if you like what’s in my blog, you can subscribe here.

 Photo credit: Wolfango on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

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