Why Instapaper & Read It Later Apps Can Boost Your Productivity

Long ago, when writing material was scarce and Gutenberg was perfecting his printing press, one could easily complain that there was not enough content to read. Books where cherished and even newspapers were stored to be read and reread months later. In today’s gadget crazed world, where nearly 500 tweets are sent each second and 500,000 new posts are published on WordPress.com each day, there’s way more material written in just one day now than we’ll ever read in our whole lifetime. No longer can it be said that there’s nothing to read!

With this torrent of content rushing past us each day, how in the world can you keep yourself productive? Your friend emails you an interesting article, then you see a tweet about a company that just raised $100 zillion in funding, and then you remember to check Google News for the latest headlines. Before you know it, you’ve wasted your whole day clicking and reading links. There’s got to be a better solution, and that’s where Instapaper and similar apps come in.

Say Goodbye to Website Clutter

Today, there are tons of apps designed to let you save articles to read later. Your browser’s bookmark bar, Delicious, Pinboard, and similar services work good for keeping up with links you come across. Instapaper, Read it Later, Readability, and more take this further, letting you save the actual text of articles to read whenever you have a chance.

Most of these apps started out with bookmarklets that stripped away all of the junk in websites, leaving just the text and important images in a clean, readable format. One of the most popular was Readability, which Apple incorporated into Safari 5 as Safari Reader. Even today, if you want to read an article now in your browser but want to make it easier to concentrate on the content, these are still great tools.

Safari Reader cleaning up a Techcrunch post

Don’t Do It Now

The latest iterations of Instapaper, Readability, Read it Later, and more are even more helpful, since they let you time-shift your reading. You simply have to sign up for the service, then add the bookmarklets to your browser bookmark bar. Many even have browser extensions if you’d rather not deal with bookmarklets. Now, whenever you come across an article you want to read, just click your Read Later button, and close the tab when it’s saved.

Later, when you have more time to read, you can come back and read without interrupting your work. If you use a smartphone often, many mobile apps include Instapaper and Read it Later integration, so you can save article to read later anytime, anywhere.

Tools of a delayer's trade

Restoring Concentration

Once you’ve added posts you’d like to read, the next time you have a quiet time with nothing to do, just sit down and read. Don’t check Twitter or play yet another round of Angry Birds; instead, focus on the quality writing you’ve already discovered. You’ll be amazed at how much more solid reading you can get done when you’ve got a curated list of articles. Over time, your reading list can end up being like a magazine that you can sit and read in one sitting rather than wasting 15 minutes over and over again throughout your week.

If you would like more reading, many of these apps include lists of long-form online writing you can enjoy directly. Instapaper lets you subscribe to a variety of Editor’s choice articles, while Read it Later’s new Digest can suggest articles based on your interests. Other great sites for finding long-form reading you’ll actually learn from include Longform.org and Longreads.

My reading queue in Instapaper

Giving Back

Not only can apps like Instapaper help you save time and improve your own reading experience, some can even help support those that took the time to write the article you enjoyed. The new Readability service, which starts at $5/month, lets you designate 70% of your subscription fee to go to the writers of the articles you read or favorited throughout the month.

If you are using Instapaper’s mobile or webapps, you can choose to send your favorite articles to Readability right from Instapaper to contribute as well. While this won’t give much per article if you read a lot, it is something that could add up, especially for smaller publishers. As writers struggle to find a good way to monetize their online content, and the New York Times turns on their paywall, it’s interesting to see the new strategies like this that can make writing better for writers and readers alike.

Readability's new service to support writers you enjoy


In our attention deficit world, a moment of silence is a rare thing. Even among the hype and buzz so often found in online media, there are plenty of thoughtful pieces produced daily that deserve a thorough reading. The mirage of apps today that can simplify articles and let you read them on your own time can help restore balance, letting you keep up with the latest articles, on your own time. Who would have ever thought we’d need a TiVo for the internet?

Also, we’re curious: do you use any of these apps? How do you save articles you want to read later? Your bookmarks bar, Instapaper, Read it Later, Pinboard, Readability, or something else? Or do you still print out articles on paper to read later? Let us know in the comments!