turn off when news never stops

Too much coronavirus news exposure may be bad for your health, according to the American Psychological Association. Practice self-care by limiting news consumption, says the World Health Organization.

But how do you do that when your job is the news?

First, combat news fatigue, which, though news consumption is up dramatically, can set in when the news seems all bad, by incorporating stories of hope, help and purpose.

Next, recognize that it is possible to take breaks and “turn off” even in “always on” jobs like news. And, as the APA and WHO suggest, it is important.

Newsroom mental health: Why journalists are at increased risk and what to do about it.

As RTDNA communications director, it’s my job to know what’s going on in the world of journalism at all times – and respond in a timely, thoughtful way. No pressure! After almost three years, I’ve learned a few ways to be “always on” while still finding time to turn off:

  • Prioritize the time you do spend “on.”
  • Set up processes and structures to be in place when you are off.
  • Kick the screen addiction.

I also have a few tips for how bosses can help their teams feel comfortable disconnecting occasionally (and do so themselves).

Prioritize your off-the-clock check ins
Chances are, much of the time you’re spending on your screens is just scrolling. It is so easy to get sucked into the Twitter or YouTube black hole.

To limit your “just scrolling” time, prioritize. Set tasks and goals for what you need to know and do to stay in the loop. Is that getting a recap of the governor’s latest press conference? Checking for updated COVID case numbers? Be specific about what you need to accomplish.

Once you’ve checked those boxes, if you’re not on the clock, log off.

Processes to be off
Especially when you are in a small shop or are the only person in your role, it can feel impossible to ever step away. What if you miss something important? You won’t if you set up processes and structures to be in place when you are off.

  • Automate: Schedule social media posts using a platform like Hootsuite or Buffer. Set up social listening tools like keyword search columns in TweetDeck, for example. You can also use CrowdTangle, Social News Desk or whatever platforms your station uses to create curated feeds you can quickly scroll through when you’re back on to catch up only on things you really need.
  • Create routines and expectations: Let your team and your audience know when you’re available – and when you’re not. Collect tips on social media? Keep DMs open for specific hours rather than continually. Try setting up web forms for tips so you can check responses when you want to, instead of getting endless, invasive notifications. Then it can become a team effort, too.
  • Get help: It should never be your responsibility alone to know all the news that is happening in your coverage area. News is a team sport!

Have a dedicated newsroom process for getting people up to speed. Maybe it’s a buddy on the opposite schedule you check in with at the beginning or end of each shift. A Slack channel for key updates. A 5-minute debrief in the morning meeting. A Google doc with a live blog-style rundown of the latest COVID reopening guidelines. Whatever works for your team!

I have realized that if I do miss an important story after hours, I can be sure someone on our team has seen it and will send it my way. I also know that my team can prioritize: If it is truly urgent, they’ll call or text. If not, I’ll have an email or Slack message, usually with a helpful “don’t look until Monday” or “for tomorrow.”

Kick the addiction: Now you’ve got a plan in place to allow you to step away. That still doesn’t necessarily make it easy, though. When you love to be connected, it can be hard to turn off even when you want to, so you have to retrain your brain.

Especially when working from home, physically separating your work and personal space can help cue your brain to mentally separate work time and downtime.  I live in a tiny DC studio, so I do not have a physically separate office. But I do have a dining table with one designated “office” seat (and a separate one for meals). I also close and put away my computer and notepad at the end of each day. If you don’t have separate devices for work and for play, try using separate browser windows or separate screens for work apps and personal apps.

A transition ritual, like putting on slippers Mr. Rogers-style or taking a lap around the block at the end of your workday can also be a mental cue to turn off work mode.

If you still find yourself appalled by your weekly iPhone screen time report, kick that screen addiction by starting small. Once your workday is done, do something else with your screen, like listening to one of this year’s Murrow Award-winning podcasts.

Start limiting your screen time a few minutes at a time. Take a one-song dance break. Go on a 15-minute walk without your phone. Plan your social media and news breaks and use the “downtime” feature on your phone to limit your screen access for an hour, then two. Limiting notifications can make this mental transition easier, along with many more tips here: How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You. I’ve brought my average screen time down from more than 10 hours a day (and that’s just on my phone, not including the computer!) to around 4 hours. That’s probably still too much, but I considered it a victory when I set my phone down and don’t know exactly where in the house it is!

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By Karen Hansen, RTDNA

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