3 ways to stay informed without becoming overwhelmed

Janine Anderson
Janine Anderson / Published April 22, 2020

There's a lot going on right now. Every hour seems to bring something new about the coronavirus pandemic, politics, the economy, local government, businesses and nonprofits that need help in your community, or someone telling you what to do and how to do it right.

My social media feeds are filled with links to articles with the latest developments on one of these topics, or with my friends and family sounding off about the news in general. My email inbox is the same (albeit without the personal views of my loved ones)—every newsletter seems to be trying to put the current situation in context for me as a dedicated reader or customer.

It's easy to want to tap out and bury myself in ridiculous novels or binge-watch something I'd normally never watch, like Netflix's Anne with an E.

I've lost count of the number of times I opened Twitter on my phone expecting to spend five minutes scrolling through the latest updates but looked up to find I spent more than an hour reading threads and articles about coronavirus and how different communities are managing COVID-19. Or how often I open Facebook and end up hollering at the screen because of something someone posted or shared.

Here are some tips that can help you stay informed without becoming overwhelmed.

Tame your social media consumption

If you're like me—prone to following links from one thing to the next until you've spent far more time on news than intended—send things you want to read later into a static place. That way you can scroll for the fun stuff and never worry that you'll be unable to find that interesting link when you want to revisit it later.

Zapier can help you streamline the process by automatically sending information from one app to another. Here are a few pre-made Zaps that can help you cut down on noise. To get started with a Zap template, just click on it, and we'll guide you through customizing it—it only takes a couple of minutes.

If you create a Twitter list for the people whose tweets you most want to see, you can set up an email digest to put those into your inbox. The digest can even include links to each tweet if you want to be able to click through to any of them to read replies or retweet.

If you'd rather skim tweets in a spreadsheet, you can have them dropped into a Google Sheet.

If you've got search terms in Twitter or Reddit that you want to be sure to follow, you can use these workflows to send those to a spreadsheet, or otherwise save for later reading.

These automated workflows can help you stay off social media entirely—at least for a time—without worrying you'll miss something you would have wanted to see.

Create your own newsfeed

If you're feeling guilty about how much time you're spending on your favorite news site or blog, you can use a similar technique to get the posts you want to see into a place where you can review them more intentionally.

You can use RSS by Zapier to automatically append posts from the sites you care about to a digest or save them for later review.

Get an email digest of news releases from official sources

You can use the strategy outlined for news sites for any website with an RSS feed, including primary source sites like health departments or federal agencies.

You can use this Zap to get a daily email digest of any coronavirus-related news releases the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) puts out.

If you'd like to add state or local RSS feeds to this, you'll need to adjust the first step of this Zap and select New Items in Multiple Feeds from the Choose App & Event section of the first step of this Zap. (You'll want to grab the CDC link from the Customize Item step first, though.) Then, add all the RSS feeds you want in the first step, confirm the digest is being created correctly, and that the email is still how you want it.

Be intentional about when you consume news

For me, being intentional about consuming news sometimes means taking social media apps off my phone completely so I'm forced to sit at a computer to check things. If you don't want to take it that far, you can use apps that limit your ability to get to certain sites during focus blocks.

Building a routine around when you read the news can also help. Maybe you want to replicate reading a morning newspaper with coffee, or catching a TV newscast before bed. Setting aside a block of time when you'll knowingly dive in and read the latest developments can help do that.

If you've used these automated workflows to curate your reading list, it'll be easier to stay focused on what you want to read so you can stay informed, but not overwhelmed.

And if you find yourself needing a pick-me-up, you can automate that, too. I recommend @happybcast for some lighter news fare, but you can choose anyone whose tweets make you happy.

Don't rely on willpower alone. Let automation provide an assist.

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