A reading inbox to capture possibly-useful references

To avoid a proliferation of anxiety-inducing browser tabs and a terrifying folder of PDFs, it’s important to have an automatic procedure for capturing references to readings which might prove useful.

Once captured, each item in the inbox either:

  1. gets trashed (doesn’t look like it’s worth a detailed read after all)
  2. gets read in a serious fashion (i.e. Write about what you read to internalize texts deeply)
  3. gets read shallowly and filed in the reference library
  4. (maybe) gets added to some other list like “recipes to be cooked”

Importantly, this isn’t a “someday maybe” list. It doesn’t accumulate indefinitely, because then it wouldn’t be a reliable way to Close open loops.

So, when constructing a reading inbox, the important considerations are:

  1. zero-friction capture for books, articles, web pages (to easily close that loop)
  2. zero-friction to view the reading corresponding to an inbox item
  3. zero-friction listing across item type
  4. the inbox should encourage lingering items to be removed (e.g. it should be obvious when one has been passed over many times)

Interestingly, no existing “read later” or reference management system fits these criteria. They’re usually siloed by content type, and none of them encourages lingering items to be removed. See also: Beware automatic import into the reading inbox.

The reading inbox is an important release valve for things I encounter when on my smartphone (see Use phones to collect and triage, not (usually) to read).

Related: Incremental reading


Note-Taking when Reading the Web and RSS • Zettelkasten Method

The Inbox is the place to hold the items we either want to or need to pay attention to. A lot of stuff will never reach our inbox; we can shut off the noise outside.

Some things that found their way onto the reading lists turn out to be useless. Toss them. Putting items on the reading list is a tiny commitment only: we commit to pay attention to them later, but we don’t need to hold on to them if they don’t withstand a critical look.

Last updated 2023-07-13.