Stay Current While Avoiding the News

Watching TV news makes you feel bad, and that state persists after you turn it off. Being in a bad mood is one of the main causes of procrastination.

Checking the online newsfeeds constantly isn’t any better. I don’t like feeling bad, so I stopped watching and checking the news completely. I was afraid I would be out of touch with the world, but that just hasn’t happened.

Friends, family and coworkers will keep you informed about important events. As a practitioner of productivity practices like GTD, you know you don’t need the play-by-play of everything going on every hour. You just need the highlights.

Watching and reading the news doesn’t just put you in a bad mood while you’re taking it in. There’s little to no action you can take based on news. Learning about events that you can’t control takes away mental energy that you could be using on things within your control. 

What should you do instead? Practice selective ignorance using what Tim Ferriss calls “the low-information diet” in his book, The 4-Hour Work Week. There are three main points to adopting a low-information diet.

1. Go on a one-week media fast. 

No news sites, Twitter, Facebook newsfeed, TV news or non-fiction books for one week. This breaks the habit of checking newsfeeds constantly. You’ll have to disable your news alerts on your phone and desktop to accomplish this. 

The News Feed Eradicator for Facebook Chrome plugin makes Facebook safe to reach out to friends without getting sucked in. But you should give Facebook a rest, while you’re at it. A recent study shows it will free up on average an hour a day AND increase your sense of well-being.

2. Ask “will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?”

Reading facts when you don’t need them is info-tainment. It’s not actionable, and you’ll need to re-read the information again when you’re ready to use it.

3. Don’t finish everything you start.

Diligent people especially struggle with what I call completionism. There is no shame in not finishing a book or article. The moment you start doubting the value of what you’re reading, take stock. Do you really need it? Is there a better source available? The most productive people have mastered the art of quitting.

How to keep up with current events without the news

So now you’ve cut out the unnecessary. How do you stay informed? This is what has worked for me.

  1. Curate a short list of current events podcasts, and only listen when the topic interests you. Don’t fall into the trap of completionism. There is no reward for listening to every podcast in a stream.
  2. Ask people around you what’s happening. This is a good conversation starter, and you get to learn what they think is important. People are always asking me “Did you see the news?” My answer is usually “No, what happened?” Then they get to tell me all about it. It’s a win-win – they get to talk about what is important to them, and you get to skip all the irrelevant details.

When I’m not reacting to every story, I have more time and energy to be productive. Try it for a week and see if you feel more relaxed and less rushed for time.

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