How I read 20 articles a day using Instapaper, Readwise, Amazon Kindle, and Roam Research

With the advent of Substack, I get an aberrant amount of e-mails a day. At times my e-mail inbox can be filled with 30–40 newsletters a day.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve subscribed to all of them (and unsubscribed to ones that I don’t like). Some of which, read like a little magazine — it’s great.

But what started to get to me, was that I felt like I was just leaking information.

I would read these the newsletters in G-Mail (which, BTW is not the best place to read articles, posts, and blogs), and then would feel like I was forgetting what I was reading.

So, I’m going to give you the flow of how I read, consume information, and log it — and then I’ll break down each section and how I’ve set it up.

Below is a little diagram thats shows at the highest level:

How I distill information from Substack > Instapaper > Readwise > Roam Research
  • All (well most) input comes into Instapaper
  • From Instapaper, I sync to Readwise
  • If I have Kindle highlights, I either auto-forward the highlights to Readwise, or I use clippings.txt to import
  • I then sync everything to Roam Research
  • In Roam, I use the Zettelkasten method to further connect and distill information
  • I do this by an ‘inbox’ (in Roam), I’ll go through a first pass, and then second pass, and ‘harden’ my notes — stolen from this Tiago Forte post.

The ‘catch-all’: Instapaper.

The use for Instapaper is pretty simple. I use it as my catch-all for all blogs, posts, articles, e-mail newsletters that hit my inbox. There are 2 ways that I get content into Instapaper. I use this as my primary reading app. You can open it up on your iPhone, computer, or iPad and basically highlight and comment on pieces of information you may find interesting.

  • E-Mail forward. You can forward your e-mails to a readlater.xxxxxx@instapaper.com.
  • Chrome Extension. The Instapaper Chrome Extension is also a great way to send articles to your Instapaper account.
Instapaper Chrome Extension

For fun, the newsletters that I absolutely recommend you subscribe to (all taken from their about-us pages):

  • Hustle Trends (by fellow Founder Dojo, Sam Parr. They were just acquired by HubSpot!). Access thousands of vetted business ideas you can launch in a weekend and a community who can help you make it happen.
  • Ness Labs: a community of curious humans who want to achieve more without sacrificing their mental health. One weekly email with mindful productivity and creativity tips.
  • Not Boring: Not Boring is the most fun way to learn about what’s going on in business and the strategy behind the decisions companies make. If Ben Thompson and Bill Simmons had a baby, it would look like Not Boring. Written by Packy McCormick.
  • Letters from an American: From Heather Cox Richardson. I’m a professor of American history. This is a chronicle of today’s political landscape, but because you can’t get a grip on today’s politics without an outline of America’s Constitution, and laws, and the economy, and social customs, this newsletter explores what it means, and what it has meant, to be an American.

The Aggregator: Readwise.

Next, I have an auto-sync from Readwise to Instapaper. It will basically pull all Instapaper highlights at a prefixed period of time. This is the point at which I’ll also sync my Kindle highlights to Readwise (every week or so). They also have an option to take a photo of handwritten notes, and a Twitter bot to be able to send interesting Tweets to your Readwise.

The Analyzer: Roam Research.

Roam Research is the holy grail. I’ve been pitching it to so many people, writing this really just feels like I’m a broken record.

But if there is one note taking tool I’d recommend; for your business meetings, your standups, your strategic planning calls, your board meetings, your client meetings — I would 110% recommend Roam Research.

Yes, it costs money — but its definitely worth it.

The reason?

Because of this concept called bi-directional linking. Whereas in Google Docs, Notion, or Evernote, you’re having to spend the time and cognitive energy to build a top-down approach to note taking, Roam Research turns it into a flat ‘graph’. Basically everything is linked to everything else, and if you feel like recalling information — it can be recalled easily without you needing to figure out where it’s stored.

Heres an interesting post on how it works.

Tying it all together: Zettelkasten Method.

Zettelkasten is German for ‘slip-box’, and the most famous execution of the Zettelkasten method was Niklas Luhmann. Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologist who wrote 70 books and 400 peer-reviewed articles in the course of his 30 year career.

I found the above explanation from Zettelkasten.de, and they go onto explain:

“So, in short, whenever you continue a train of thought, you increment the last position in the address, be it number or a character from the alphabet. And when you want to expand, intersperse, or comment on a note, you take its address and append a new character. For this to work, you alternate numbers and characters.”

Niklas kept one collection of notes to reference the sources that he read, which he called Reference Notes. Then the notes that he took while reading was called Literature Notes (these would be in Lunhmann’s own words, a summary). Lastly, he would file these as Permanent notes to fully ‘harden’ an idea.

Ok, so getting back to Roam. I do a very similar process, where all my highlights from Readwise come into my ‘inbox’. And I’ll take a 1st pass and 2nd pass to develop my Literature Notes and Permanent Notes.

I hope this is helpful, its been a ton of trial and error to find the right systems and tools to be able to read information, capture it, and properly file it. Who knows when I’ll need it next, because like Austin Kleon says in Steal Like an Artist:

“What to copy is a little bit trickier. Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”

Having and understanding the way that people thing, the stories they tell, and the points they’re trying to distill — gets remixed into my head, my dreams, and very much outputs itself in my understanding of the human experience, Sutro (my company I run), and the life I live.

This is day 2 of my #90DayOfProse challenge.

Disrupting water.