How to Stay Informed Without Driving Yourself Crazy

The day after the elections, I was utterly despondent. I had to get outside to clear my mind. Walking the streets of Mexico City, I saw the eyes of people walking by shift in my direction and then scurry to another like a cat afraid of its own shadow. Even though it wasn't their election, we all knew the gravity of the previous night's events. In the coming days, fake news, errant tweets and a war with and between the media dominated the headlines. As much as I wanted to stay informed, on top of current events, I also wanted to bury my head into my pillow, turn off all social media feeds and go dark for a couple of days. In reality, that lasted only a few hours, but I emerged more resolved than ever to become more informed. To make this happen, I needed to answer this question: How can I stay informed when I have so much else going on, friends to see, work to do? How can I not go crazy?

The answer is pretty simple. Listen. Yes, listen to the news. Don't watch or read it. Just listen. Back away from that TV. Do not scroll through your social media feeds in search of something.

There are podcasts, radio shows. Hell, you can even have Siri read articles to you. As you start adopting the practice of listening, it'll start to become, in a sense, music. Why is that a good thing? You can multitask. According to Professor Clifford Nass, listening to music and doing another task is the only instance when humans can do two things at once.

"In the case of music, it's a little different. We have a special part of our brain for music, so we can listen to music while we do other things. But in general, no, our brain can't do two things at once."

Now comes the next part: developing a system to get the most out of news without driving yourself mad. Here's how to do it.

1. Start your morning off with a topline news summary.
Before you hop on social media or get sucked into your email, digest a summary of global news with your cup of coffee when your mind is fresh. In the age of busyness, news outlets now cater to the attention economy. Here's what I listen to every morning:

  • Up First - NPR's newest podcast is a 10 minute summary of the three biggest stories and ideas from politics to pop culture you should know about with analysis from people close to the developments.
  • The Rundown - Meet the A.I.-powered news station from Anchor.FM. Each morning it greets you by name (yes, it's on a first name basis), gives you a weather report and delivers news and audio clips. The station updates throughout the day.

Other options: Fox News 5 Minute Newscast - For those of you who want a perspective that spans the political spectrum, this podcast runs through the daily headlines. 

2. Make your preferred news sources come to you.
Rather than searching the web endlessly for news throughout the day, let the news come to you. Technology is your friend. Use Pocket, a save-for-later service that syncs across all your devices and couple it with your favorite IFTT recipe (If Then, Then That) to push interesting articles automatically to you throughout the day. Here are some of my IFTT favorite recipes:

Because Pocket syncs the articles offline and has a Text-to-Speech option, this is the best solution to digest more news while you're on your daily commute.

3. Find niche newsletters
Since we obsessively check our email on an hourly basis, subscribe to newsletters on specific topics that interest you. Most days, I will skim these emails, identify the ones that interest me and save them for later in Pocket, which I listen to on my commute. It all comes full circle. Here's what I currently subscribe to:

  • The Skimm - Focuses on general news and pop culture. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday through Friday
  • The Hustle - A daily email with all the tech and business information I need to know
  • Nieman Lab - The journalism lab was a project that started at Harvard initially.  It has blossomed into a daily publication that is attempting to help figure out the future of journalism in the internet age.

Bonus: These newsletters each have a unique voice, which makes it feel like you're engaging in a conversation with a friend rather than an annoying, old email.

4. Follow super readers
Finally, use social media to your advantage to discover people who read a lot. These people scour the internet in search good reads for you. While it might take some time to find the right people, you can start by following writers of the articles you read or the hosts of podcasts you listen to the most. That's how I came to discover MG Siegler, Ryan Holiday, Maria Popova. Save what they read, share on Twitter or in their newsletters to Pocket and read it later.

Becoming informed doesn't happen magically overnight, but put these four things into practice, and you'll be on the path to becoming more knowledgeable in no time.

Now it's your turn. How do you stay informed?