In my day job, I work for a 4-year residential liberal arts college. It is a great job with many benefits – both granted and not. One of the benefits comes along each summer. When a vast majority of the students leave to go home, they tend not to cancel their magazine subscriptions for that 3 month period. Instead, the magazines arrive and get left in some large postal bins by the mailroom. With no recipient there to greet them, they become free for the taking.

Those that know me know that I love magazines, especially when they are free. So, I am known to go down and scrounge through the bins picking out anything that seems remotely interesting without regard to need, time or any other constraint because, well, they are FREE.

Of course, It is not like I have the time to read dozens of magazines. I barely have the time to read the limited amount that I actually subscribe to and DO read, nearly cover-to-cover, every month. After a few weeks of seeing the pile of magazines grow on my desk, with no time to ever get through them, I knew I either had to find some way of reading them or put them back for someone that would.

Then, it occurred to me. In the digital world, using Google Reader, I quickly jump through hundreds of posts in dozens of RSS feeds I subscribe to. When I do this, I star the ones I am interested in or require more time to read fully. Then, when my time and energy allow, I go through my starred items and read them. Here is how I apply that same method with the magazines.

First, I flip through the pages quickly scanning the headlines for things that I want to take the time to read. Using Post-It Flags, I mark the pages with stories that look interesting to me. This way, I can go back through and quickly jump to only those articles that I marked when I have the time to read them, already having put the time in up front of doing the finding. Just like using the starred items in Google Reader.

I know this may seem simple, but it saves me tons of time that I otherwise would have spent doing the wading and reading at the same time. It also made useful a stack of items that seemed to become so daunting, due to the sheer time I perceived to be involved, that I never derived any benefit. There are even several magazines I find myself returning to the bin, not having found anything worth my while during that first quick pass.

It is all about being able to focus in on the signals knowing that I have already aggregated them from the noise.