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How do you organise your reading?

by brook1 min read6th Aug 202014 comments

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Scholarship & LearningPractical
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Maybe this is just a personal problem, but I frequently find myself with just an absolute mess of things to read. Blog posts over several different sites, PDFs, paper books, podcasts and other content I intend to consume. I suspect a significant proportion of it falls through the cracks, not least when I have three separate browser windows open just so I can see the tabs. The LW standard of each post referencing at least 10 other posts in-text doesn't help, because each of them seem useful, but I don't want to disrupt the flow of the current article, so I open it in another tab, and so on and so on.

So, my question is: Do you have any useful tools, tips, or techniques for organising things you intend to consume?

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Learnt this from my twitter/email exchanges with some productive people I know and it has been serving me quite well so far:

  1. Don’t read the referenced articles before you’re done with the original/current one. (Maintain a document of references if needed)

  2. If you already have more than 5 tabs opened on a same topic, switch to a new window instead of a new tab with just the current article. Helps with the distraction.

  3. Read in multiple-passes instead of a focused single-pass.

3.1. Pass 1: Skim through the structure of the post and the comment section for some context.

3.2. Pass 2: If you find it worthwhile, read through the post carefully and collate all the references and links in a document once you are through the post.

3.3. Pass 3: Skim through the references and embedded links to see if there is anything of value beyond what the original article had to provide. Look for the themes that inspired the original post.

3.4. Pass 4: Read through the ones that you found to be valuable i.e., the ones that had more(different) to offer than the original post.

3.5. Pass 5: Repeat 1 through 4.

(Note: If you are reading a paper or a book, during the 1st pass read through the Table of Contents, Bold faces, Headings, Abstract as part of skimming; Note all the jargons and key concepts in the second pass; and map these concepts and jargons to the known concepts during the 3rd pass; Now go through bibliography like in pass 4 and 5).

  1. Be well rested before any cognitively demanding task, it doesn’t matter if it is a blogpost or a paper. And I seriously can’t emphasise the endurance benefits of being well rested when it comes to cognitive challenges even as trivial as cursory reading.

  2. When reading try to read from the perspective of a specialist as opposed to a generalist, it helps with pruning the articles and tabs that you think are important but don’t serve beyond the session. You can still be a generalist, but the idea is to not be all over the place. This helps with the cognitive exhaustion and the feeling of being overwhelmed. A related idea would be to ask if I would still read it if I were to never talk about it ever to anyone. (Note: Also helps discern between curiosity and the laziness involved with evading responsibility in the name of curiosity).

  3. You can use tools like Zotero, Evernote, etc for quickly jotting down interesting points in case of a single pass read, but I would say instead of doing that go for multipass and when you are done may be try to write a small commentary post debating the key ideas to solidify your understanding and post it here. Or conversely engage right away by commenting in the comment section.

  4. Always timebox. Mine is usually 6pm-7pm everyday. If you are an infovore, you can make it everyday 7-9 or something like that. I do that because I have a pretty low capacity for consumption, but I can adhere to my own schedule. If you cannot try to time it with your office commute time etc.

This all seems like really helpful advice, so thanks! Multiple-pass reading is something I've made previous attempts at but need to find a way to properly remember to implement, especially for longer things (like, say, books).

I generally timebox specialist reading that has a near-term goal-- reading for university or for a specific paper. The big problem for me personally is that, as a jobless university student, there is definitely a temptation (worsened by lockdown and summer holidays) to let more generic reading expand until it fills my the spare time in my day with little structure. I think your comment has really helped me highlight that as an issue, so thanks.

I use Pocket to manage my reading. Google Keep, Evernote, and sending yourself emails with links seem like reasonable alternatives. There are some more specialized tools for academic reading, but that doesn't sound like what would be useful to you here.

What kind of "specialized tools" do you use?

Funny you're asking this, I have the same problem and had an idea about a solution.

Even though recent events forced me to delay the coding, I am hopeful that this can help me do a dynamic semi-selfsorted list where I can dump all the things I want to read (be it articles, books, studies etc) and help me get to the bottom of it. I will of course make the code available somewhere.

Here's the link to my previous comment that explained this

Here's the text directly :

The idea is to have an sql database that contains everything you want to do. The python script picks 2 entries and ask "If you die in a year from now, wich activity minimized regret the most?". The answer will probably be a cursor from activity1 <-> neutral <-> activity2. The scores are then calculated using the ELO scoring. This pair comparison algorithm allows to quickly rank your lifegoals by importance.

But that's only half of it. It will also ask "which activity takes the most time to complete?/If you had one hour, which would be a better investment?" to rank activities by time to complete (also using ELO).

If you do a few comparison a day and don't add too many entries you can then display a rank by "importance score minus by time score" to see what is the most important thing to you that also takes the less time. Or something like that. I expect some fine tuning for this.

The idea is to have an optimized and dynamic todolist that can help you to juggle between short time goals and life goals.

I'm thinking of managing my "toread" list the same way, but automatically deriving the time score from the length of the article.

What do you guys think? Any idea how to make this better? I just started and plan to learn quite a bit by trying to make this work. Any opinion is much appreciated. I will put this on github at the end. Should I publish it here also?

Btw, the idea came to me after reading through this : https://www.gwern.net/Resorter

Thanks gwern!

What do you think? Any ideas are appreciated.

ps : I intend to use this to sort my reading queue but also a general TODO of pretty much everything as well as a watch list of my movies.

Interesting idea, the only thing I can think of adding is maybe add tagging to the system. In the case of your media: eg, if you feel like watching Sci-Fi you can run a search to retrieve some of the highest recommendations from your backlog. Of those you may have results that come back with anime, Western, and foreign live-action results. If there's a specific type of show you want you could then add that tag to your results (anime+sci-fi) to get a more precise list of recommendations.

Tagging could be both top-level (as above, picking Sci-Fi doesn... (read more)

1bvbvbvbvbvbvbvbvbvbvbv5moThank you very much for taking the time, I can't answer for the time being as much as I'd like so I won't. But I'm linking your comment to my todo of the project so I can get back to you when I'll have more time for coding. But most of what you suggested is already planned, which is reassuring to me, even though your first draft is as advanced as my long reflections on it I must say. Have a nice day!

LessWrong now has bookmarks (triple-dot or on hover-preview), albeit without any lists currently. I find a bit nicer than using Pocket or Chrome bookmarks.

If you have many tabs open, bookmark the ones you aren't using, then close them. Open the bookmark when it's time to read it.

Currently-open tabs corresponding to active resources is helpful for maintaining clarity, and you get a nice list of things that you previously expressed interest in reading.

I have just like you a lot of .pdf and articles saved in Pocket. Once a month I go through all of them and add those I really want to read to "Next Actions" (GTD style). I try to keep the number within what I know that I am able to do every month, like 10-15, and if the next month I have not finished I know I need to put less


This kinda works

I have books organized by lists, with at least some semblance of weekly goals in terms of getting through them (unfortunately I put stuff like Kant right at the beginning, so I've been failing a lot).

then I have Feed.ly feeding me the updates on my favourite blogs. I read everything with up to two pages of text on the spot. everything else goes to a list which I keep in my self-inbox on Telegram. I read at least one of them a day, in chronological order.

I am currently reading the whole of Unqualified Reservations as well, and I usually read whole blogs. these I keep in my mobile chrome app, and save the links to the telegram list.

Are all those things about the same concepts, or wildly different? If they are wildly different, I would advise consuming less, spending more time processing and sticking with one inquiry at a time.

At least in my experience, whenever I had too much to read, I actually was procrastinating. I wasn't really reading that stuff, I was only avoiding something else. So I would go ahead and close all those tabs and forget all those PDFs. Some you will remember, and then only do those, and process them a bit before going further (i.e. think about them in the shower).

Well around half of them are sources I'm currently using to write a paper, and some of the rest I'm reading in preparation for next year of university. But I think I probably could benefit from a little of what you outlined.

1JayMon5moI spent a couple weeks a few years ago looking into different PIMs (Personal Information Management) solutions. For writing, if you don't mind spending a bit of cash, Scrivener looked like a very nice solution. The only issue is no browser extension compared with some systems like Evernote. Evernote was listed before and is probably the easiest solution to use out-of-the-box. If you're doing more scientific work, you may want to consider something like BeakerX or Jupyter. Much more setup, but allows for running code from within the notebook and supports LaTeX notation, backup to GitHub etc. For bibliography, there's JabRef. If you plan on keeping all reference documents on your local system, using something like TagSpaces might be worth it. TagSpaces is essentially a file organizer that allows you to add searchable tags to different files. This allows it to act as an outliner, and it also allows for flat-file markdown documents similar to Wiki pages. Copy/paste are basically pictures, though, and I'm not certain if you can reference other files. I believe there are browser extensions. Currently, my information is stored in Evernote with project notes and code in Notepad++ using Workspace links. I have other generalized notes and project ideas/tasks held in a Kanban solution. I've been thinking of moving to a Wiki-based solution for reference/notes with some features like automated scraping via emailing links. If I start coding more I'd probably look at setting up a Git repo and use BeakerX. But I've got other things to do and haven't done this yet.