You might not need a study to convince you that reading the news in the morning can depress you all day, but if you want research to back up your instincts, it exists. A recent study found that just three minutes of negative headlines in the morning was enough to make you grumpy for eight hours.

Which seems like a pretty compelling reason to swear off the news. But what if, for whatever reason, you just can't? Maybe you work in media, investing, politics, or some other industry where staying informed is essential for success. Or maybe you're simply a responsible citizen who hates the idea of going to the polls or engaging in debate without knowing all the facts (in which case, God bless you!).

Is there a way to stay both informed and sane despite the avalanche of alarming news lately? Yes, answers the always enlightening Oliver Burkeman in the UK Guardian. In a recent column, he suggests a dead simple hack that will get you all the necessary facts and analysis without the accompanying panic attack.

Time is the best test of importance.

Burkeman begins his piece with a simple premise. The problem with the news these days is that there is just too much of it, which it makes it exceedingly hard to sort developments that actually matter from the cacophony of pointless but alarming noise. He writes:

I'm increasingly convinced that the real cause of headline anxiety isn't learning about worrisome new developments. Rather, it's not knowing which new developments will prove to have been worth worrying about. Of the 45 troubling things you saw on Twitter this morning, two or three may prove to be signs of the rise of fascism/the destruction of the environment/the collapse of Brexit Britain. Yet the rest won't.

So how can you separate the truly meaningful from the momentarily terrifying but ultimately trivial? Traditionally, Burkeman points out, news organizations had a simple way to do this: they waited awhile before publishing a story to see if it had legs. Time is the perfect tool for separating the relevant from the irrelevant. These days, the voracious demands of social media and cable news, make it impossible for media companies to do that anymore.

But just because they can't, doesn't mean you shouldn't. Burkeman offers this dead simple suggestion: just "consume the news a day or three later than everyone else."

How do you practically accomplish that? It's up to you, but his strategy is "promiscuously cruising the web, saving umpteen articles in a 'read later' app (in my case Evernote, though you could use your browser's bookmarks). By the time I read them, the time filter has worked its magic: a small proportion of them stand out as truly compelling."

The appeal of this approach is that it splits the difference between sticking your head in the sand and becoming obsessed with each momentary twist in a story. You don't have to give up your curiosity or even your long-standing morning news browse. All you have to do is delay reading articles you bookmark for a day or two (even eight hours would probably help). That should automatically gain you the anxiety-reducing perspective of time.

What do you think? Is this approach worth a try? ​

Published on: Apr 23, 2018