A Good Life Hack

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Quickly:  Stop reading the news during your workday — you will be happier and more productive.

I was travelling in Europe in June and in a reflective moment I asked myself a simple question: “What one habit could I change that would improve my life?” As I surveyed my typical day, I spotted an opportunity:  my consumption of news. I started my day off with a 20 minute iPad scan of the @NYTimes. On the way to work I listened to radio news. At work I would consult @washingtonpost, @WSJ, @Guardian, among others between meetings. Notifications nagged me, begging me to return for more scanning. My mindshare, which ideally is focused on clients, ideas, and operations, was continually hijacked into repetitive news reports, angry editorials, and matters that were beyond my control (no, I don’t have a way of getting those Thai kids out of the cave).

So I cut it all out. I didn’t touch the iPad in the morning. I listened to great Podcasts on the way to work or made business calls. I turned off all of the news notifications on my devices. I stopped going to news Web sites or apps during the day. And no non-work related social — no @twitter, no @facebook, no @instagram. At night I would spend 20 minutes catching up with the day’s events — so I did stay current.

What happened?

  1. I was happier. I was not roiled by the political moment, and I was not distracted by bad news coming from some far away place. And I was not discouraged by the continuing incivility of the socialsphere.
  2. I was more productive. Not only did I have a less-cluttered mind, but I also suddenly had more time. Those five and ten minute news views can add up — now those moments were channeled into productive work and thought. I was getting more done.
  3. I was more present. I was able to stay focused on the challenge of the day or the client of the day. There was no gear-changing between the emotions evoked by the news and what I had to get done. I suddenly seemed to be finding new thoughts, new ideas, new relaxed moments.

In short, I felt like I had found an amazing new way to boost my performance and state of mind — by doing less. Now like all life hacks, this may work for me, but not for you. And it takes discipline, like the breaking of any addiction. But if you want more time, and a more focused consciousness, explore.

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