How to Stay Informed Without Getting Paralyzed by Bad News

One day Recently, I arrived at the Manhattan office where I work as a tutor. I hoped to tame my inbox before my first session. Instead, I clicked a news alert and succumbed to a media storm of Ukrainian refugees fleeing bombed homes and President Biden’s ominous warnings about Russian chemical warfare. This news cycle—more like cyclone—then submerged me in TikToks of teenagers tearfully mourning their country, families sheltering in subways, and footage of Ukrainians’ secure lives mere weeks earlier. Soon my chest was constricting uncomfortably. A donation to the International Rescue Committee couldn’t entirely comfort me before my client arrived.

I’m describing my morning, but I’m not the only one with this experience. Peculiarly, when updates about Ukraine make me feel powerless, I feel additional anxiety knowing I can’t sit and scroll forever. Despite life-changing events, I’m living in one of the world’s most expensive cities: I have to fulfill my job requirements.

On one hand, the significance of daily engagements diminishes while so many suffer. Yet, neglecting everything except the most recent global trauma would lead to unemployment and instability. This line between reckoning with terrible realities and wanting to be productive to support yourself is tenuous. “Media informs us, but there’s plenty of bleak news out there. And our brains have a negativity bias,” says psychiatrist Jess P. Shatkin. “We have an inborn mechanism in the amygdala and limbic system to pay attention to what can harm us. But engaging like that does impact our mood, sleep, and anxiety,” he says.

Shatkin, the director of NYU’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Studies department, emphasized that attending to professional and family matters can prevent feeling incapacitated by current events. “I can’t directly affect what’s happening in Ukraine,” he says, “but I can try to be good to my students, patients, and family.” Investing in your own commitments and relationships builds resilience.

Although technology can produce bad-news paralysis, online tools can also help you make productive contributions within your various roles. As an organization junkie who juggles four part-time jobs with college classes and a private life, here’s how I balance responsibilities.

Schedule and Acknowledge Time

To-do lists can feel like a record of failures when you can’t check things off your list. Google Calendar works better for me, because it promotes (A) designating time for every task so that I see what I can realistically complete each day and (B) easily documenting changes so that I recognize my efforts when a last-minute meeting pops up, my Wi-Fi quits on me, or a friend is in need.

I create events for most daily activities: addressing emails, running errands, making presentations, even eating lunch. This way, I assign a start and end for each enterprise instead of staring at a directionless list. The best part of GCal is its flexibility. When my time estimates are off, I edit the event to capture how long I spent on an obligation and shift subsequent duties to the next day, if needed. This week, for example, sending my coworkers a post-meeting email took 30 extra minutes because I was scouring our shared Google Drive for a spreadsheet. (That’s putting it politely—I was ready to throw my laptop against a wall.) To compensate, I adjusted my next task to start later and edited my “Send debrief email” event to reflect its true duration. When I opened GCal the next day, I understood why my plans were altered instead of thinking I just hadn’t been productive enough, and I knew to allot more time for drafting emails in the future.

Try also creating calendars for different aspects of your life and attaching documents into event descriptions so that you’re not me on Monday night, furiously hunting for missing materials. If scheduling daily labor becomes compulsive or tiring, you can use GCal’s reminders or tasks function instead, and there’s always the Reminders app for Apple users or Todoist for Android fans. I find allocating time more motivating, but do what you like best.

Embrace Accountability

Focusing on deadlines is hard when it feels like World War III is raging. Occasionally you just need to congratulate yourself on little wins, like attending all your meetings (or even smaller successes—I’m not above celebrating showering). Don’t beat yourself up, but do compassionately hold yourself accountable.

If quantitative data drives you, consider an app like Yeolpumta, available in English and Korean for Apple or Android devices. The app’s charts that track time spent on different ventures help me visualize daily, weekly, or monthly progress. Additionally, starting the in-app stopwatch locks non-approved apps from opening, which encourages concentration when willpower is waning.

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