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Get More Out of Google Reader

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Get More Out of Google Reader
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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.

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

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    8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

    How would you feel if you were sharing a personal story and noticed that the person to whom you were speaking wasn’t really listening? You probably wouldn’t be too thrilled.

    Unfortunately, that is the case for many people. Most individuals are not good listeners. They are good pretenders. The thing is, true listening requires work—more work than people are willing to invest. Quality conversation is about “give and take.” Most people, however, want to just give—their words, that is. Being on the receiving end as the listener may seem boring, but it’s essential.

    When you are attending to someone and paying attention to what they’re saying, it’s a sign of caring and respect. The hitch is that attending requires an act of will, which sometimes goes against what our minds naturally do—roaming around aimlessly and thinking about whatnot, instead of listening—the greatest act of thoughtfulness.

    Without active listening, people often feel unheard and unacknowledged. That’s why it’s important for everyone to learn how to be a better listener.

    What Makes People Poor Listeners?

    Good listening skills can be learned, but first, let’s take a look at some of the things that you might be doing that makes you a poor listener.

    1. You Want to Talk to Yourself

    Well, who doesn’t? We all have something to say, right? But when you are looking at someone pretending to be listening while, all along, they’re mentally planning all the amazing things they’re going to say, it is a disservice to the speaker.

    Yes, maybe what the other person is saying is not the most exciting thing in the world. Still, they deserve to be heard. You always have the ability to steer the conversation in another direction by asking questions.

    It’s okay to want to talk. It’s normal, even. Keep in mind, however, that when your turn does come around, you’ll want someone to listen to you.

    2. You Disagree With What Is Being Said

    This is another thing that makes you an inadequate listener—hearing something with which you disagree with and immediately tuning out. Then, you lie in wait so you can tell the speaker how wrong they are. You’re eager to make your point and prove the speaker wrong. You think that once you speak your “truth,” others will know how mistaken the speaker is, thank you for setting them straight, and encourage you to elaborate on what you have to say. Dream on.

    Disagreeing with your speaker, however frustrating that might be, is no reason to tune them out and ready yourself to spew your staggering rebuttal. By listening, you might actually glean an interesting nugget of information that you were previously unaware of.

    3. You Are Doing Five Other Things While You’re “Listening”

    It is impossible to listen to someone while you’re texting, reading, playing Sudoku, etc. But people do it all the time—I know I have.

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    I’ve actually tried to balance my checkbook while pretending to listen to the person on the other line. It didn’t work. I had to keep asking, “what did you say?” I can only admit this now because I rarely do it anymore. With work, I’ve succeeded in becoming a better listener. It takes a great deal of concentration, but it’s certainly worth it.

    If you’re truly going to listen, then you must: listen! M. Scott Peck, M.D., in his book The Road Less Travel, says, “you cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” If you are too busy to actually listen, let the speaker know, and arrange for another time to talk. It’s simple as that!

    4. You Appoint Yourself as Judge

    While you’re “listening,” you decide that the speaker doesn’t know what they’re talking about. As the “expert,” you know more. So, what’s the point of even listening?

    To you, the only sound you hear once you decide they’re wrong is, “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah!” But before you bang that gavel, just know you may not have all the necessary information. To do that, you’d have to really listen, wouldn’t you? Also, make sure you don’t judge someone by their accent, the way they sound, or the structure of their sentences.

    My dad is nearly 91. His English is sometimes a little broken and hard to understand. People wrongly assume that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about—they’re quite mistaken. My dad is a highly intelligent man who has English as his second language. He knows what he’s saying and understands the language perfectly.

    Keep that in mind when listening to a foreigner, or someone who perhaps has a difficult time putting their thoughts into words.

    Now, you know some of the things that make for an inferior listener. If none of the items above resonate with you, great! You’re a better listener than most.

    How To Be a Better Listener

    For conversation’s sake, though, let’s just say that maybe you need some work in the listening department, and after reading this article, you make the decision to improve. What, then, are some of the things you need to do to make that happen? How can you be a better listener?

    1. Pay Attention

    A good listener is attentive. They’re not looking at their watch, phone, or thinking about their dinner plans. They’re focused and paying attention to what the other person is saying. This is called active listening.

    According to Skills You Need, “active listening involves listening with all senses. As well as giving full attention to the speaker, it is important that the ‘active listener’ is also ‘seen’ to be listening—otherwise, the speaker may conclude that what they are talking about is uninteresting to the listener.”[1]

    As I mentioned, it’s normal for the mind to wander. We’re human, after all. But a good listener will rein those thoughts back in as soon as they notice their attention waning.

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    I want to note here that you can also “listen” to bodily cues. You can assume that if someone keeps looking at their watch or over their shoulder, their focus isn’t on the conversation. The key is to just pay attention.

    2. Use Positive Body Language

    You can infer a lot from a person’s body language. Are they interested, bored, or anxious?

    A good listener’s body language is open. They lean forward and express curiosity in what is being said. Their facial expression is either smiling, showing concern, conveying empathy, etc. They’re letting the speaker know that they’re being heard.

    People say things for a reason—they want some type of feedback. For example, you tell your spouse, “I had a really rough day!” and your husband continues to check his newsfeed while nodding his head. Not a good response.

    But what if your husband were to look up with questioning eyes, put his phone down, and say, “Oh, no. What happened?” How would feel, then? The answer is obvious.

    According to Alan Gurney,[2]

    “An active listener pays full attention to the speaker and ensures they understand the information being delivered. You can’t be distracted by an incoming call or a Facebook status update. You have to be present and in the moment.

    Body language is an important tool to ensure you do this. The correct body language makes you a better active listener and therefore more ‘open’ and receptive to what the speaker is saying. At the same time, it indicates that you are listening to them.”

    3. Avoid Interrupting the Speaker

    I am certain you wouldn’t want to be in the middle of a sentence only to see the other person holding up a finger or their mouth open, ready to step into your unfinished verbiage. It’s rude and causes anxiety. You would, more than likely, feel a need to rush what you’re saying just to finish your sentence.

    Interrupting is a sign of disrespect. It is essentially saying, “what I have to say is much more important than what you’re saying.” When you interrupt the speaker, they feel frustrated, hurried, and unimportant.

    Interrupting a speaker to agree, disagree, argue, etc., causes the speaker to lose track of what they are saying. It’s extremely frustrating. Whatever you have to say can wait until the other person is done.

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    Be polite and wait your turn!

    4. Ask Questions

    Asking questions is one of the best ways to show you’re interested. If someone is telling you about their ski trip to Mammoth, don’t respond with, “that’s nice.” That would show a lack of interest and disrespect. Instead, you can ask, “how long have you been skiing?” “Did you find it difficult to learn?” “What was your favorite part of the trip?” etc. The person will think highly of you and consider you a great conversationalist just by you asking a few questions.

    5. Just Listen

    This may seem counterintuitive. When you’re conversing with someone, it’s usually back and forth. On occasion, all that is required of you is to listen, smile, or nod your head, and your speaker will feel like they’re really being heard and understood.

    I once sat with a client for 45 minutes without saying a word. She came into my office in distress. I had her sit down, and then she started crying softly. I sat with her—that’s all I did. At the end of the session, she stood, told me she felt much better, and then left.

    I have to admit that 45 minutes without saying a word was tough. But she didn’t need me to say anything. She needed a safe space in which she could emote without interruption, judgment, or me trying to “fix” something.

    6. Remember and Follow Up

    Part of being a great listener is remembering what the speaker has said to you, then following up with them.

    For example, in a recent conversation you had with your co-worker Jacob, he told you that his wife had gotten a promotion and that they were contemplating moving to New York. The next time you run into Jacob, you may want to say, “Hey, Jacob! Whatever happened with your wife’s promotion?” At this point, Jacob will know you really heard what he said and that you’re interested to see how things turned out. What a gift!

    According to new research, “people who ask questions, particularly follow-up questions, may become better managers, land better jobs, and even win second dates.”[3]

    It’s so simple to show you care. Just remember a few facts and follow up on them. If you do this regularly, you will make more friends.

    7. Keep Confidential Information Confidential

    If you really want to be a better listener, listen with care. If what you’re hearing is confidential, keep it that way, no matter how tempting it might be to tell someone else, especially if you have friends in common. Being a good listener means being trustworthy and sensitive with shared information.

    Whatever is told to you in confidence is not to be revealed. Assure your speaker that their information is safe with you. They will feel relieved that they have someone with whom they can share their burden without fear of it getting out.

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    Keeping someone’s confidence helps to deepen your relationship. Also, “one of the most important elements of confidentiality is that it helps to build and develop trust. It potentially allows for the free flow of information between the client and worker and acknowledges that a client’s personal life and all the issues and problems that they have belong to them.”[4]

    Be like a therapist: listen and withhold judgment.

    NOTE: I must add here that while therapists keep everything in a session confidential, there are exceptions:

    1. If the client may be an immediate danger to himself or others.
    2. If the client is endangering a population that cannot protect itself, such as in the case of a child or elder abuse.

    8. Maintain Eye Contact

    When someone is talking, they are usually saying something they consider meaningful. They don’t want their listener reading a text, looking at their fingernails, or bending down to pet a pooch on the street. A speaker wants all eyes on them. It lets them know that what they’re saying has value.

    Eye contact is very powerful. It can relay many things without anything being said. Currently, it’s more important than ever with the Covid-19 Pandemic. People can’t see your whole face, but they can definitely read your eyes.

    By eye contact, I don’t mean a hard, creepy stare—just a gaze in the speaker’s direction will do. Make it a point the next time you’re in a conversation to maintain eye contact with your speaker. Avoid the temptation to look anywhere but at their face. I know it’s not easy, especially if you’re not interested in what they’re talking about. But as I said, you can redirect the conversation in a different direction or just let the person know you’ve got to get going.

    Final Thoughts

    Listening attentively will add to your connection with anyone in your life. Now, more than ever, when people are so disconnected due to smartphones and social media, listening skills are critical.

    You can build better, more honest, and deeper relationships by simply being there, paying attention, and asking questions that make the speaker feel like what they have to say matters.

    And isn’t that a great goal? To make people feel as if they matter? So, go out and start honing those listening skills. You’ve got two great ears. Now use them!

    More Tips on How to Be a Better Listener

    Featured photo credit: Joshua Rodriguez via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Skills You Need: Active Listening
    [2] Filtered: Body language for active listening
    [3] Forbes: People Will Like You More If You Start Asking Follow-up Questions
    [4] TAFE NSW Sydney eLearning Moodle: Confidentiality

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