Get More Out of Google Reader

By | July 20, 2007
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If you’ve already gotten started with Google Reader, you’re probably ready for some advanced tips and tricks to make better use of this rather full-featured RSS client. Here’s what you need to do to become a real Google Reader power user.

Get Organized

Google Reader offers two effective ways to wrangle your feeds into order: folders and tags. (Google is inconsistent in its use of “folders” and “tags”, often treating them as the same thing, but since foldering and tagging appeal to distinct mindsets, it’s effective to talk about them as two separate things.)

Foldering

To create a folder, click on any feed and select “New folder” from the “Feed settings…” drop-down at the top right. A pop-up will prompt you to enter a name for your new folder; once you click ok, the new folder will be created and the feed will be moved into it.

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To add more feeds into a folder, simply select the folder’s name from the “Feed settings…” drop-down while reading the feed; again, it will be moved into the folder. (A neat little fading alert at the top tells you it’s working.)

Tagging

You might have already noticed that Google Reader calls the folders you’ve created “tags” when you look at them in the “Settings”. But there’s another, distinct tagging interface in Reader that works more like we’ve come to expect tagging to work.

At the bottom of each post in a feed, there’s an “Add feed” link (it will say “Edit feed” if you’ve already tagged a post). Clicking this will open a text field to enter tags into. You can enter as many as you like, separated by commas.

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Once you hit “Save”, scroll down to the bottom in the left-hand sidebar and you’ll see all your tags with little “sale tag” icons next to them. Clicking one opens all the posts you’ve tagged with that tag.

Share and Star

On the same toolbar as the “Add tags” link is a link marked “Share”. Google Reader creates a public page for each account, and everything you mark to share gets posted there. For example, my shared items are here. It will also create an RSS feed that your friends or clients or whoever can load into their own RSS reader. In theory, you could load your own shared items RSS, which must be useful for something, but that use escapes me at the moment…

Right next to “Share” is “Add star”, Google Reader’s version of bookmarking. Anything with a star on it is accessible through the “Starred items” feed at the top left of the page (unlike shared items, starred items do not appear publicly). So you can skim through your feeds, starring anything that merits closer attention, and come back to your “Starred items” view when you have time — just don’t forget to “unstar” them as you read.

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Take Shortcuts

Google Reader is fairly intuitive, but there are a few basic keyboard shortcuts you should get to know, to make using it even easier:

  • Go to next item: j
  • Go to previous item: k
  • Down one page: space (will go to next post if current post is less than one page)
  • Star: s
  • Share: shift-s
  • Mark as read/unread: m
  • Mark all in feed as read: shift-a
  • Add tags to an item: t
  • View all items for a tag: gt
  • Go to “all items” view: ga
  • Go to “starred items” view: gs

Go Further

The spread of RSS to virtually everything in these mashable times means more and more information can be channeled to Google Reader and available virtually the moment it appears on the web. Here’s a few interesting tricks and hacks I’ve come across to do more with Google Reader:

  • Add your shared items to your own website. Click “put a clip of your shared items” at the top of the “Shared items” view to get the code to add your most recent shared items in a box on your own site. You can choose what to title your feed box, how many items to include (up to 10), the color scheme, and whether or not to show the items’ original sources. (See the “What I’m Reading Lately” box at the bottom right of my site’s home page).
  • Read your feeds on your phone or web-enabled PDA. Google Reader has a beautiful small-screen interface at www.google.com/reader/m. I use Opera Mini on my Treo 680 to view Reader, and although it sometimes takes a little while to load the first page, after that it’s pretty snappy, and Google does a good job of formatting content for the small screen.
  • See what’s playing at a theater near you. Use the Favorite Theater RSS Generator to create a separate RSS feed for each theater you frequent; you will get up-to-date times for each movie currently playing, with one movie title and times per post.
  • Create Google search feeds. If it’s important to you to keep up with new search results for particular search terms, you can use GoogleAlert to create feeds based on selected keywords. The free account allows you to maintain three separate searches; for more, you have to upgrade to a paid account. Make sure you turn off the email alerts under “user settings” or you’ll get duplicate results by email.
  • Create feeds from sites that don’t have them. More patient folk than me can use Dapper to RSS-ify websites that don’t have feeds. You have to identify the content areas to show Dapper how to do it; frankly, the process will need a separate tutorial to explain properly, but if you can figure it out, have at it.
  • Track packages. If you ship a lot of packages, set up a “Package Tracking” folder in Reader and use one of the following services to create RSS feeds for each package. Each is slightly different, so try them all and decide which best meets our needs.
    1. SimpleTracking is, well, simple — enter your tracking number, select what shipping service you’re using, and click “Generate RSS URL”. Cut and paste the URL thus generated into Google Reader. Track your package.
    2. TrackThePack autodetects what service you’re using, and adds the ability to add a note to your feed, which might be useful to distinguish the shipment of toner cartridges from the collection of vintage manga toys you bought on eBay.
    3. Package Tracking With Google Maps and RSS maps your package’s progress on a Google Map, so you can watch your package fly past wherever you live to the central sorting facility and then slowly crawl back to you.
  • Go offline. The latest thing out of Google Labs is Google Gears, an open source browser extension that enables web applications to provide offline functionality using javascript APIs to yadda-yadda-yadda. Here’s the deal with that: Google Gears gives Google Reader mojo, with which you can save your current feeds for off-line reading. If you fly a lot or frequently use your laptop in places where no wi-fi is available, just click “Read offline” at the top right (you’ll be prompted to install Google Gears if you haven’t already; you may be surprised to hear that Google Gears is still in beta, so the usual disclaimers apply). When you come back online, Google Gears will synchronize your offline reading so that anything you’ve read, starred, or shared will show up as such.

Get All Zen and Stuff

One last thing: there is no search function in Google Reader. Yes, even though Google is a company built on search technology, the powers that be decided, “no search”. There’s a hack-around involving rolling your own search engine using the OPML export of your Reader subscriptions and a Greasemonkey script and a ball of string and the skull of a righteous man with three silver nails hammered into it, but as soon as you add a new feed you have to start over, and that sounds like a pain in the… neck.

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So using Google Reader gives you a special opportunity to practice acceptance of those things you cannot change, to learn patience with the way the world is, and rise above your petty yearnings. Which is quite a bit to get from an RSS reader!

And, like I said, you can track packages.

At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.

Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.

One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.

When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.

So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.

Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day

This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.

Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.

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When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.

Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity

One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.

Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.

An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.[1]

When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.

Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day

Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.

We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.

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By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.

Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment

While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.

I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.

You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.

Con #1: We Move a Lot Less

When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.

Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.

Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.

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Con #2: Less Human Interaction

One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.

Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.

Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.

This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.

While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.

Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment

Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.

This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.

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For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.

Con #4: Unique Distractions

Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.

For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.

To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.

We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.

More About Working From Home

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