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A constant stream of breaking news on TV.  Our smartphones pinging us about that news alert, social media mention or new “friend.”  Weather alerts where we live and just about everywhere else on the globe.  Another reason to fret, worry or panic caused by real media reports, fake media reports, Presidential and not-so-presidential tweets.

It’s far too easy to get caught up in the headlines, pings, dings and other constant demands for our attention.  At best, we wind up carrying around a low-grade stress headache every day.  At worst, it can cause much larger problems and afflictions in our lives.  Learning how to manage what information we consume and how we take it in can be a real challenge today as the volume of information and rhetorical tone is something we wouldn’t have recognized just a few years ago.

As Kai Ryssdal of American Public Media’s Marketplace fame has been saying quite often on he and Molly Wood’s new podcast, Make Me Smart, “if everything is a crisis, nothing is a crisis.”  In other words, if we allow every piece of information passing by our eyes and ears to feel urgent and fearful, when something worthy of that response does arise, will we be able to tell the difference?

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things worthy of our attention.  We all have different issues, causes and interests that we care deeply about and want to grab our attention when events warrant.  I’ve spent time recently performing somewhat of an audit on what information I take in and how and when I interact with various sources.  Two actions have made a big difference in this exercise and I thought I’d share them today.

Who Controls What I “Notice?”

On my smartphone, the term is notifications.  On yours, it might be something else, but it dawned on me as I was thinking about how to manage some of the madness described above that the trade off to giving an app, news feed or social media tool the ability to “notify” me was giving away my ability to control where and when I utilized these tools.

Every time a little red number appeared above an app or a notification banner appeared, my devices were competing, and often winning, my attention.  Sure, it’s only a split second, but those seconds add up, especially when you take into consideration the time it takes to regain focus of the often much more important task in front of you.

About a month ago, I turned almost all these notifications off.  I haven’t sworn off news, social media and the like, but now I get to decide when I interact with it and not the other way around.

Will It Matter?

The other tool I’ve used is a simple test shared with me by a political scientist friend of mine.  When news comes out about a political, financial or any other topic that feels like something to fret over, ask yourself, “Will this matter 30, 90 or 365 days from now?”  The media or others pushing their agenda are expert at going right to the worst in any situation to stir your emotions.  Taking a step back and thinking through whether or not something has real staying power can have a big impact on how it impacts you.  The question provides context and perspective, helping you deal with how you decide to interact with the information rather than allowing the agenda of the source to decide for you.

These certainly aren’t foolproof ways to deal with news and data in today’s society, but they’ve been a step in the right direction for me.  As with so many things, just a few ounces of awareness about what things grab our attention or set us off in the wrong way go a long way to helping manage things in a more productive direction.