“Hey Demir, there is SO MUCH going on right now in the world–and it’s everywhere on social media. I want to stay up-to-date, but I feel like I am spending WAY too much time on that. It’s starting to cut into my professional life. On one hand, I want to contribute, but on the other hand I have bills to pay! How do I manage today’s overwhelming politics?”
– Paul D.
Ah, Paul, we all share this problem these days… and I’m no exception.
Lately we’ve been getting flooded with questions about how we “balance” our media diet. Personally, I was counting on things settling down post-election, but every week seems brings a new crisis that you can’t rip yourself away from!
I had to take a “media fast”, and it’s something you should seriously consider.
A “fast” is a break from something for a certain amount of time.
A “sugar fast” is a trendy example. Sugar is fine in small quantities, but in large quantities it starts to be addictive and poisonous. And let’s be honest, Paul — today’s outrageous news is upsetting, but it’s also highly addictive and poisonous.
Sometimes it’s easier cutting out sugar “cold-turkey” instead of tapering it down. The science behind it is simple: when you’re addicted to something, it’s basically impossible to “dial it back,” so the only way to regain control of the situation is to go from 100% to 0%.
Similarly, a “media fast” is going “cold turkey” from your news feed. You’re not logging out of your social media forever, or throwing your iPad out of a window. You’re just cutting out the media to refocus on your priorities, and help you figure out what’s moving YOU forward.
But taking a media fast, like quitting smoking, is easier said than done. Here’s some key tips.
1) Employ a proxy
A proxy is a person or source who serves as a buffer between you and the onslaught of media. They are a trusted expert who can relay just the most important things back to you every so often.
You probably already have a proxy in your social circle: A news junkie friend that obsessively keeps tabs on current events. You might have more than one! Consider scheduling a weekly or bi-weekly coffee with that person to get caught up on current events. They’re going to boil down all of that content to the things that will matter most to you.
Another form of proxy is an email summary. Most major news outlets send out weekly email roundups that include the major stories of the week. I personally recommend subscribing to one from both the left of center (NYTimes) AND the right of center (Fox News). You can get a clear view of how both sides are thinking and handling current events, and since it comes to you on a weekend, it isn’t clouding your work week. This is my personal favorite choice.
2) Reduce time spent on Facebook
Facebook was built by geniuses whose job is to keep us scrolling. But sometimes it can feel manipulative and addictive… it’s better to step away than build a resentment. I always come back happy to have Facebook in my life.
If you don’t need Facebook for work, consider deleting the Facebook app for just one day. See what it feels like, and extend for up to a week if you like it. Eventually you’ll come back, but with a healthier relationship to the experience.
Some of us (me included) actually have to BE on Facebook as part of our job. Enter: Facebook News Feed Eradicator. This is a Google Chrome extension that CHANGED MY LIFE. It replaces your main news feed (where the clickbait lives) with productivity quotes — without affecting your messaging or interactions. Yes, it is as magical as it sounds. Download the NewsFeed Eradictor here.
3) Retake control of your mornings and evenings
This next piece of advice is good for EVERYONE: Store your phone outside of your bedroom.
Instead of using your phone as an alarm, buy yourself an regular old alarm clock. The vast majority of people have had their phones within arm’s reach for the last five years. But there are numerous studies that have shown that too much social media makes people more anxious, depressed and distracted in the long run. It messes with our sleep, and our social interactions. Not to mention cuddling time.
Retaking control of your mornings and evenings is about more than just getting sleep. Your mental state upon going to sleep affects how you wake up, which creates a domino effect rolling into your day. Leaving your phone outside of the bedroom is the best way to “reset” — essentially halting the negative thoughts and creating a positive domino effect.
I discuss the optimal morning routine here.
4) Actually become an expert on something.
I care about a bunch of different issues – school reform, tax reform, foreign affairs, you name it. But it’s impossible for me to be an expert in all of those things at the same time. And knowing a little bit about a lot of topics isn’t going to educate anyone around me and elevate the discourse.
I’m going to let you in on a dirty secret of mine: I pay $35 to the research assistants at askwonder.com to research both sides of contentious issues, with citations. Selfishly, I get to look well-informed on that issue. But I also manage to help other learn about a topic in a deeper way. In an era of misinformation, spreading facts can be a powerful antidote. Here’s a great example of that at work.
5) Take a positive action, every day.
Action aggregation services, like www.5calls.org are new but very popular (on both sides of the aisle). The service brings small, actionable steps to you on a daily or weekly basis. This allows you to unplug without checking out – the best of both worlds!
Make the leap – take a media fast
For the sake of your productivity, I encourage you to rebalance your media exposure soon. The current climate is here to stay. Being in denial won’t change that. If you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed by social media inundation–like something in your day-to-day needs to change–it is probably time to take a media fast.