No News is Good News - Next Action Associates

Let’s start today’s blog with some breathing exercises. Place your hands on your belly and breeeeeeeeathe… belly rising, belly sinking… breathe in… 2… 3… breathe out… 2… 3…

And rest.

I’m kidding, of course. But seriously – the last four years has been a bit of a rollercoaster, hasn’t it? Whether you were a supporter of President Trump or not, no-one can deny that it was a hell of a ride.

The silence when Twitter turned him off was at first unnatural, such had we become attuned to one man dominating the news almost daily for so long. Even though he had to compete on the front pages with Brexit, Covid and more during that time, his disappearance from the daily noise was still palpable.

You will have greeted this ending with either relief or sadness according to your political proclivities, but, either way, surely no-one will have been unaware of the omnipresence of ‘The Donald’. Except perhaps Rolf Dobelli.

Dobelli, a Swiss author, will have missed a lot of what’s been going on in the world because he doesn’t read the news. At all. This is, at least, what he claims in his book, ‘Stop Reading the News: A Manifesto for a Happier, Calmer and Wiser Life’.

His contention is that most news is personally irrelevant to you and highly distracting, likening it to sugar – instantly satisfying and addictive but not good for your long term health. He observes that the advent of the internet and the hyper-caffeinated age of social media has forced the news industry to become a machine whose daily purpose is to fill space and seize your attention. It is a world governed by a parallel of Parkinson’s Law; just as work expands to fill the time available, according to the 1950s British historian Cyril Parkinson, news does the same. Whether or not anything important is actually going on, the same amount of multi-channel news space still needs to be filled.

For most people, Rolf’s total detox solution might seem extreme but it is worth pondering because news is not that dissimilar to any other source of information that comes at you these days; your email, your texts, your WhatsApp messages, your Slack notifications, your Facebook messages and so on. Each contains a mix of the relevant and irrelevant and each will fill your attention space if it can and if you let it. As such, the idea that it’s good to take stock of the signal-to-noise ratio of your inputs and calibrate your relationship to them accordingly has some merit.

Most people live at the opposing end of digital diet philosophy to Rolf Dobelli, standing in front of the newsfeed firehose and letting it hit them smack in the face. If email pings up on your screen every time one arrives, this could be you. If you follow hundreds of people on Twitter and consume their tweets through a feed that chucks the lot at you, this could be you too.

In the physical world, however, you’re more likely to curate your consumption. You have boundaries. You see some people once a week, others just at Christmas. You eat each night from a single plate rather than a buffet. You curate already, it’s just harder to do it when you’re submerged in a digital world, using tools designed by the smartest minds on the planet to achieve one end; grabbing your attention.

GTD® is very much about attention and boundaries, too, but it’s on your side. When you implement GTD, and as your use of it matures over time, you are confronted with choices about the relationship you want to have with the world around you. Indeed, one of the biggest strengths of GTD is that it’s always customised and personal. When we teach it in our seminars and coaching we guide, but you decide. You make decisions about where you want your boundaries to be;

  • Is it necessary to have alerts pop up when emails arrive?
  • How often should I check this inbox? And what about that inbox?
  • When do I want to be reminded about this thing again?
  • How quickly should I respond to these types of messages?
  • Which things do I not want to think about at the weekend?

Working through these kind of decisions as you implement and practice GTD is a process of getting clear on the relationship you want with the world. You tune in to where you want your focus to be so that you can better tune out the rest; then you shape your GTD system and practice to create those boundaries.

Indeed, the decision about whether to invest in and practice GTD at all is ultimately a choice about whether you want to shape your world or drown in it.

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Carl Jung

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