Stop Watching Breaking News–It’s Urgent but Not Important

Urgent doesn’t equal important. We often conflate the two. Answering emails or responding to slack messages feels urgent and important — but they are likely neither. They feel urgent and we make them important. You do need to respond, but does it really need to be done right now? What truly important work might we be doing instead?

It’s a tough time for many — in addition to being out of work, working on the front lines, or working from home (with the distractions of children, partners, cooking, laundry, pets), some of us have become obsessed with breaking news — and it can be all consuming. But, as Seth Godin writes succinctly: “breaking news of any kind is rarely important.” 

I think that bears repeating:

Breaking news
of any kind
is rarely important.”

For example, keeping up on the latest news of Black Lives Matter is less important than learning what systemic racism means and implementing a plan with your whole work team to recognize and eliminate this injustice.

Or following multiple political polls that predict the outcome of the 2020 presidential election is less important than getting involved in your community and working for a candidate who inspires you.

Or keeping up on the breaking news about when we will get a vaccine for COVID-19 is less important than understanding the scientific recommendations for protecting you and your community right now (hint: wearing a mask is not a political statement).

Important means:
long-term, foundational, coherent,
in the interest of many, strategic,
efficient, positive…

Seth: Deconstructing Urgent vs. Important

So, if you are committed to being less distracted by the news, which will enable you to do your important work, here are some tips:

  • Choose how you get your news: a daily podcast, email summary, or your favorite twitter source? I use a free email service called “Need2Know“) and listen to an NPR podcast “Up First”
  • Choose who provides your news; what’s the best source that provides you with the coverage you need? In addition to the my daily email and podcast, when I’m looking for more in-depth coverage, I read the NYTimes or listen to The Daily (also NYTimes).
  • Choose when you will get this content: Every morning? Twice a day? My sources are both in the morning, although there are also evening reports. So, if there is a lot going on (e.g. today is a big primary day), I might want to check back in with NPR or the NYTimes near the end of the day.
  • Turn off your notifications. Unless you do this, “when” you get your news will no longer be your choice (don’t worry – there’s an alert system that will tell you if something really urgent changes).

I hope you find a way to do some important work today. For me, writing is part of my important work; now I’m off to tackle some others on my list. Let me know what you try and how it goes! I really do like to hear from any of my readers.