If your boss can squeeze more performance out of you, then so can you, out of yourself… and while at work. Here is how I reclaimed 20 wasted minutes out of my work day for intellectual edification.
I spent six years on Wall Street supporting a trading desk and witnessed my fair share of interesting habits. Being an active trader is like being an air traffic controller before thanksgiving, it takes all you got. It’s not only a hard job but your paycheck is on the line every day.
One trader, a top performer on our floor, had a particular habit of taking small detours via the laser printer on his way to the bathroom. It didn’t take me long to figure out that he was using his precious breaks to catch up on fantasy football reading. I pieced this together due to his corollary habit of abandoning the printouts in the stall - courtesy reading for the next guy?
Fast forward a few years, I have integrated his system into my own office routine. It came together when a friend introduced me to Instapaper, a simple but great tool that saves web articles for later reading. On the surface it looks like another online, centralized bookmark manager, and it is that but also a lot more. First, it makes saving articles over to your Instapaper account a cinch: simply click on your ‘Read Later’ link in your favorites and it will save the URL and extract the content without navigating away:
One click and it’s all saved into your ‘Read Later’ folder
But the best part is the ‘Text’ reading option. This keeps the main content and pictures but removes everything else like drop down menus, ads, table of contents, skyscrapers, etc.
Hit the ‘Text’ button when you’re ready to read in peace
It then presents the content using a crisp font against a calm, unified beige background. The display is customizable allowing for great printouts; more on that later. The basic account is free and allows you to read your saved stories from any browser, from any location and in a readable format:
Won’t please webmasters or advertisers, but your eyes will thank you
Now about my routine, whenever I notice an intriguing online article or somebody sends me a link but I don't have time to consume immediately, I’ll hit the 'Read Later' bookmark. It gets stored in the main folder, aptly called ‘Read Later’, and then I can safely close my browser and not have to worry about missing out on anything.
When it’s time to head to the bathroom, I'll open Instapaper and print an article or two from my ‘Read Later’ folder. The next step needs little description until the part where I get back to my desk. I open Instapaper and, if I liked the article, I’ll move the link into one of my categorized folders otherwise I trash it. It’s key to maintain the ‘Read Later’ folder with only articles that you actually want to read later. Prune it accordingly; it’s your ‘stand by’ list so keep it up-to-date to minimize surprises and delays when you can least afford it.
For those who hate wasting paper, consuming on your tablet or smart phone is just as easy. Instapaper has mobile apps (not free) along with a mobile web version (free) providing the same easy-on-the-eyes format. Personally, paper works best for me, it’s light and easy to handle. I also tackle my reading armed with a highlighter to mark ideas, gems, quotes, etc. If it’s really good stuff, I’ll store it in a folder for future reference.
On a slight tangent, IFTTT has enabled me to send my RSS links to my Instapaper (source of more than half of my reading material). IFTTT is a plumbing layer that can connect popular online tools together with a concept called ‘channels’. It supports over 60 applications including Instapaper, Facebook, LinkedIn, Evernote... I use it to send any starred items from Google Reader over to Instapaper. Though Google Reader will soon be history (slated to go dark in July), IFFTTT is kicking strong and may be the right tool to automate your repetitious tasks - a great tool!
And while on the subject of RSS readers, I’ve been slowly looking at Google Reader’s competition. Feedly is at the top of my list as it offers built-in support for Instapaper. Give Feedly your Instapaper account and password and a little ‘I’ icon will appear at the top of the application for easy transfer.
Today, I can happily say that I have reclaimed 20 minutes of my business day for personal productivity. So, unless your office has a workstation setup in the bathroom stall, stop wasting that precious personal time! Have Instapaper at the top level of your browser’s favorites and when nature calls, send an article to the printer closest to the bathroom. Happy reading!