How to Stay Away from Informational Junk Food

Informational Junk
My Old Approach to the News:

I grew up in a household with parents who were regular followers of the news.  They both read the local newspaper each day and watched our local evening news each night as well as the Philadelphia evening news on weekends.

Understandably, I too became interested in the news at a young age.  I recall watching Morning with Charles Kuralt every day before school in the early 1980’s and being fascinated with all of the news stories from across the country.

I was eleven at the time and I think this program served a valuable function to help me begin to understand how adults interacted with one another and what was valued culturally in America during that time period.

Fast forward about ten years for my next memorable consumption of the news.  I was in college and the Gulf War was in full tilt from 1990-1991.  I remember coming home from class and being glued to CNN watching footage from the on-board cameras attached to the smart bombs as they rammed into buildings.  I also recall listening to the commentators cover the battle as if they were doing play-by-play for a sporting event.

Starting to Cut Back on My “Info Diet”

In my mid-20’s I got married and Stacy and I fell into a routine similar to my parents by ending most days watching the evening news.  However, this was also the time that I began to question my over-consumption of the news media.  Most news programs could be summarized as:

  • Here’s who got shot last night and today.
  • Here’s what caught on fire last night and today.
  • Here’s which disgraced politician or celebrity did something really bad recently.
  • Here comes the next impending disaster and why we should all be worried.

Stacy and I eventually renamed the evening news the “Evening Murder & Mayhem Show” and stopped watching a few years into our marriage.

My New Approach to the News

The first external reinforcement of the notion that over-consuming the news really was not doing me any good occurred when I read The Four Hour Work Week  by Timothy Ferriss.  The author challenges the notion that we need to be glued to the news to “stay informed” and postulates that this time is much better spent on more positive endeavors.

Minimizing my exposure to the news is part of a broader effort to both mentally and physically de-clutter my life so that I can bring more energy and focus to what is most important to me.

As a result, I have continued to wean myself off of this informational junk food diet and now adhere to some simple rules:

  • No evening news. Do you really want to end your day this way by focusing upon these things?
  • When I’m in the car either do not turn on the news at all; or, if I do, only listen if some genuinely new and useful information is being reported. This happens less than 1% of the time and I usually turn the volume back off within 30-60 seconds.
  • In the morning, go outside for a walk or run rather than watching the news crawl on the bottom of the TV screen. In the really cold months, listen to a book on tape while on the treadmill or mentally plan my day in the silence.
  • Skip the local newspaper. Scan the front page of the Wall Street Journal and read any articles that will help my clients or help me in my personal life.
  • Avoid all news consumption on the Internet. It is too easy to spend countless hours clicking from link to link and ingesting every minute detail of the news of the day.

Following these few simple rules has still enabled me to “stay informed” in about 5% of the time while freeing up hundreds of hours each year that I now spend on more time with my family, better engagement with my clients and finding creative ways to expand my business.

Your Assignment:

Over the next couple of weeks pay attention to how much time you spend consuming informational junk food.  This includes surfing the internet, listening during your commute, watching TV or reading newspapers and magazines.

Ask yourself  – “Am I really any better off knowing and/or focusing on these things?”

If the answer is “No” and you spend more than 15 minutes a day consuming the news, consider reducing or eliminating one or several of these habits from your daily routine to free up valuable time for you to focus on your personal and business goals.