Incremental Reading – Dealing with Information Overflow

You want to read your favorite blogs, you get e-mail newsletters every day, you have websites you check regularly, newsgroups, mailing lists, forums, interesting Wikipedia articles – a lot of digital input you want to keep up with. But unless you make reading on the computer your full time job – you can’t. So how to select the really important stuff out of it? Emotions from reading a particular good article often let you loose the big picture.

RSS made some aspects of dealing with a lot of information easier. At lest you can get nearly all information into one place through RSS feeds without opening hundreds of websites every day to check if something has changed. You can usually select special channels of interest to get more specific news. On the other side you probably have to deal with an even larger amount of information.

But the biggest problem is: when and how to read/process all the information?

This is where the concept of Incremental Reading comes into place. Sometimes you only want to read about a specific topic, sometimes you just want to read a bit of a complicated article or just read about anything randomly to build new connections / enhance creativity. You can all do that with incremental reading and do not have to worry to miss something. Sooner or later (you can influence that) it will appear in your incremental reading process.

So how does it work?

You collect all the information you want to process and store them in one place. Then you review all the articles (or any other kind of information) randomly or by category. You can highlight important parts, set a reading point (bookmark), extract fragments and generate Question-Answer items for later repetitions.

I am currently using Supermemo for Incremental Reading and recommend it very much. I am not aware of any other software on the market that supports something similar. Most applications like knowledge base software or read-it-later apps only let your organize and collect information but do not help you on deciding when to read something and in what order of importance.

The basic work flow for incremental reading:

  1. Try to get most of the input from one application (e.g. an RSS reader), so you do not have to check many different places/websites
  2. Go through all you RSS feeds
  3. Make a quick decision (title, tags) for every article if it is worth reading
  4. Import the articles in you incremental reading software (you can copy & paste to Supermemo)
  5. Use Supermemo to review articles when ever you have some time for reading

If you have a tight schedule, you can limit your reading for 30min / one hour per day, or just do a bit of incremental reading when you have some time. But you do not have to read each interesting article completely due to fear to forget about it if you do not read it immediately.

You can get a good in-depth article about incremental reading by the author of Supermemo here.

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