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The Low Information Diet

dbagThe big news today is that the politicians of the United States just bumbled themselves into a Government Shutdown.

Last night, a military friend of mine mentioned the impending doom to me, which is the first I had heard of the situation. Unfortunately that triggered a late night of sweaty reading on my part, catching up on the history of this predicament, cursing the bullshit and the rhetoric of the responsible members of congress, and generally being pissed off about things.  But after an uneasy sleep and a slightly groggy morning, I opened my shutters and found a clear blue sky with bright yellow sun, singing birds, and my lovely family running up to me to request hugs and breakfast. And thus, my plans for today do not include reading any more of the news.

If you’re surprised to hear that I knew nothing of the looming shutdown, and that I don’t read (or watch) the news at all, then you will get a lot from this article. Because I’m going to suggest that unless you work directly in the news media industry yourself, you too should be paying absolutely no attention to the news.

This is an unusual stance in this country, where the 24-hour news cycle has become common and 100 million office workers flop down in front of the television nightly to catch up on the day’s events. Political dramas, stock markets fluctuations, sports, local tragedies, weather, and of course an update on what is new in bikinis and celebrity gossip.


“As a citizen, it’s my duty to stay informed”,
one news watcher might say, while another quips,
“I gotta keep with up with my Packers, they got a real chance this year!”

“The markets are on a rollercoaster this year”,
Joe Trader might add,
“I need to be on the watch so I know when to sell!”

“It is all Bullshit”, is what Mr. Money Mustache says, “You need to get the News out of your life, right away, and for life.”

The reasons for this are plentiful, from the inherently sucky nature of news programming itself, to the spectacular life benefits of adopting a Low Information Diet in general. But let’s start with the news.

News programs are, with the exception of a few non-profit or publicly funded ones, commercial enterprises designed to turn and maximize profit. Many of them are owned by larger shareholder-owned corporations, most notably Rupert Murdoch’s News corp. The profit comes from advertising, and advertising revenue is maximized by pulling the largest audience, holding their attention for the longest possible time, and putting them into the mental state most conducive to purchasing the products of the advertisers (which turns out to be helplessness and vulnerability).

This is why the news always starts out with a sensationalist take on a topic of at least plausible national interest, takes a detour into truly horrific and depressing irrelevant tragedies (“Chinese boy’s eyes gouged out with spoon and left in field by unknown woman” is one that unfortunately crossed my screen when doing research for this article), then ends on an uplifting note with something like a defiant entrepreneur or a caring soup kitchen. An emotional roller-coaster ride every day of the week.

Now comes the interesting part. The “largest possible audience” is by definition biased towards the people who watch television the most. These are the struggling masses, the people with debt problems, the folks likely to bring a 3-year-old SUV down to the GMC dealer and trade it in for an even newer loan document. They are not comprised of 65% engineers, technology and finance workers, doctors, lawyers, and teachers like the readers of this blog. While news programming is an awful diet for their brains, it’s even worse for yours.

The news also completely fucks up the layperson’s perception of risk. The very fact that bad events are rare these days, makes them newsworthy. A bicyclist hit by a car. A school shooting or an abduction. A terrorist attack. These things are so uncommon, it is best to ignore the possibility of them when planning your own life. But with a sample size of over 300 million people in the US and 7 billion worldwide, unusual tragedies happen daily, and they end up on the news nightly.

Because of this phenomenon, I got almost 50 concerned emails about the recent Colorado floods.
“Is your family OK out there in Longmont? We are terrified for you!”
I was touched by the thought, but also tempted to write back,
“Are YOU OK? You seem to have been watching the news, which is much more dangerous than living in Colorado during this 500-year flood!”

The news focused on the damage: ripped out roads and flooded suburbs. The numbers tell a different story: less than 1% of homes damaged or destroyed, and a death toll of 8. About the same number of people die in the state’s car crashes every week, and staggering property damage is caused in the state’s almost-2000 car crashes per week. If the news were delivered on a basis of logic rather than sensationalism, it would proclaim “250 more car crashes today! Families mourn injuries and death, and yet pointless commuting and Car-Clown driving remains unchecked!”

While we can do nothing to prevent the freak rainstorms that cause floods*, we can certainly reduce the unnecessary driving that kills and impoverishes us all. And thus, wouldn’t reducing driving be a much more practical focus, if the news were really a program designed to help society?

All of which brings us nicely to the real point of this article: it’s not just the news that is the enemy. It’s all forms of irrelevant information**.

 As an unusually intelligent person on a quest to create the best life for yourself and your fellow humans, you have a big task ahead of you, and you’ll need all your brainpower to do it. And yet your intelligence, your time, and your attention span are all finite. So why would you ever squander it on anything that doesn’t help you advance your goals? You need to be ruthless in your quest for a cleaner and more powerful mind, and the better you do at this, the more you will prosper. Let’s look at a few examples from everyday life:

Meetings at Work:

Back in my corporate days, I used to sit in meeting rooms with up to 15 other people, with a conference telephone on the table squawking out the chatter of an additional 15 people who had dialed in from the San Jose office. Pointy-haired managers would quiz people on the minutiae of their individual status reports while the rest of us tried to hide the fact that we were falling asleep. Every mind in the meeting was becoming less focused, less productive, and less happy, due to the flood of completely irrelevant information. Meetings should be as short, focused, and small as possible. It is far better for a knowledge worker to miss some “key” information, than to end up flooded with too much.

Micromanagement:

One of the less competent managers at work used to try to read every single software and hardware design specification produced by the entire 50-person department. “As a manager, I need to stay on top of the design details”, he told me. But he had it all backwards: because of this habit, he slowed down every meeting by second-guessing every design decision of every software engineer – most of whom were much more skilled than he. Let the smart people work at their own higher level while you focus on giving them what they need to do their jobs.

Email:

As I write this, there are no email programs in sight. My phone’s mail application (and indeed every app on the phone) is permanently set to “no notifications”. Every email is a potential wormhole of distraction and mental fatigue. This is fun if you have nothing to do, but disastrous for people like you who are working on improving your life. So keep your email sessions defined, short, and focused, then completely close that Gmail tab (and erase the bookmark) so that logging in is a deliberate affair.

Facebook:

Oh man.. don’t even get me started on Facebook. It’s like the news, but at a local level focused on the latest parenting problems, bowel movements, consumer indulgences, and forwarding of pointless memes and Youtube videos. From this point forward you may sign in to Facebook at most once per week. Make a grand appearance, read the updates from your best friends, drop a few compliments and jokes, then get the hell back out. Delete the app from your smartphone, change your password to a 12-digit alphanumeric string you have to look up on paper, and then log out from the web browser. Ahhhh.

I often tell people that the biggest benefit to early retirement has been “getting my own mind back”. Without the demands of 8 hours of software design every day, I’ve been amazed at the fun things I have had the energy to learn in these past 8 years. But a job really only takes about 50% of your mind. The other half is generally burned by email, television, Facebook, Reddit, video games, researching potential products and other unnecessary things. If you can eliminate these, you’re halfway to retirement already.

With this 50% downpayment on the most powerful asset of a free mind, you can then start getting other things done. You’ll be able to better organize your time, get a better job, learn skills, learn about happiness itself, get in shape, be less exhausted, and much more.

And so begins your real life – which will proceed nicely whether the government is currently shut down or not. Congratulations!

Addendum: 

Wow, this post is much more controversial than I expected and I’m taking some heat in the comments. I think most of the complaints come from the mistaken impression that I am promoting ignorance rather than efficiency.

Following the daily news with the death tolls and pointless squabbles is very different from seeking to understand human society and world politics in general. And when you skip the sugar and carbs of the daily stuff, you free your mind up to accomplish much more than you otherwise would.

As just one example, this blog has reached over four million people and 40 million page views, promoting the idea of lower consumption for the rich world. And I still cast my votes in every election and send the odd letter to a senator. Is this a higher or lower impact than me spending that time being “well-informed” watching or reading the daily news?

Regardless of your goals, you will notice exactly the same effect: If you don’t think you can be a better citizen without daily or even weekly news, just do yourself a favor and try it for one week.

Also, the title for this post was shamelessly copied from a chapter in Tim Ferriss’ useful book The Four Hour Workweek.

* Although if you really think about it, reducing driving actually could reduce the incidence of floods, due to the effect of driving on climate change, and the effect of a warmer planet on the amount of atmospheric moisture and thus the intensity of storms.

** I should mention that while the news is a useless way to learn about the world, learning about the world itself is very useful. But this is best done by reading books – and maybe the odd scientific blog or journal or other periodical.  I do still read most of the Economist every week or two, for example. The facts about the world don’t change on a daily basis, so by focusing on these slower and more well-researched sources of information, you filter out the noise and end up with the stuff that’s really worth learning.

  • Eleanore Strong October 11, 2013, 3:04 pm

    Thanks for this insightful post. Have you read Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows? Consuming all of these news sound-bytes is apparently changing our brains and making it extremely hard for us to focus deeply on anything.

    Ten years ago, I used to spend hours reading a book or writing an article – and I loved having that level of focus on learning and creating. Today, I can barely remember what it feels like. Now that I have a website and a business focused on writing, I desperately want to regain it! You’ve inspired me to take a hard look at what I consume and get rid of everything that’s not high-value. Thank you. :)

    Reply
  • Rob October 13, 2013, 9:19 am

    My Own Advisor brought up a point regarding cable that hasn’t been discussed yet, sports, no cable no sports, unless of course sports are as evil as TV.

    Why cable is worth it

    http://www.myownadvisor.ca/2013/10/golf-channel-tsn-traditional-cable-worth-40-per-month/

    Reply
    • Rob October 13, 2013, 9:24 am

      That aside I used to be a news junkie, spending literally hours reading news, via email, but the shutdown basically did me in so I’m trying to find ways of filling those hours. Reading more books (love the kindle app and iBooks) and websites like Long Reads really help.

      Reply
    • Mr. Money Mustache October 13, 2013, 11:08 am

      Indeed: No Watching of Sports is part of my hardcore prescription. No watching them means more time to engage in them. Try it!

      Reply
  • Rob October 13, 2013, 11:25 am

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  • Brian October 18, 2013, 11:05 pm

    What a timely article. I have a pretty intense web news habit. And I can get pulled in for an hour at a time into some ultimately pointless online debate. I recently installed a Chrome extension on my work computer that allows me to block websites. It’s password protected, so I came up with an impossible-to-remember password, wrote it on an index card, and placed it out of reach on the other side of my office. This was about three weeks ago. I also installed the same extension on my home computer and set a smaller list of blocked sites. Holy shit have the last three weeks been productive. This one change has at least temporarily changed everything about the way I work. I still have relatively unproductive days, but now an unproductive day is a day where I operate at 60%, not at 30% or worse back when the whole unfettered web was at my fingertips. For anyone on the fence about this, who knows deep down they could be making more money, or at least going home sooner, if they cut out their workplace online web browsing, just go for it. You will not be sorry.

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  • Becky October 20, 2013, 9:57 pm

    Once again you are right on the money with this article. My husband works in military intelligence and gets his news straight from reading top secret documents. He tells me all the time that news stations, all of them, frequently get the facts completely WRONG! News is a source of entertainment/gossip at best and proproganda at worst. It is definitely not a good source of factual information to base conclusions from. A low information diet is the way to go. People need to stop letting talking heads, sitcoms and commercials tell them how to think and start taking the time to read and think for themselves.

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  • Ambaa October 22, 2013, 2:47 pm

    This explains your optimism!

    I find it challenging to stay positive and enthusiastic and access to the news is a major part of that. I never watch it and I’ve been avoiding news for years, even though it’s my parents’ favorite hobby. But lately it’s been creeping back into my life through Facebook and the amount of depression and despair it strangles me with is nearly un-livable.

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  • Nancreature October 23, 2013, 4:32 pm

    Dear MMM,
    I really enjoyed this article and the follow-up one too. Your timing was great as many of your readers, myself included, have probably been following the events of the government shutdown with a growing sense of frustration and anger (that doesn’t quite do it justice though –it’s more like a feeling that your head is going to explode if you think about it one second longer). You made your points –and then clarified and expanded upon them- very well, so this critique will probably seem nit-picky if not full-out complainy-pantsy to you. But the thing is, I would have liked to see more of an emphasis on the idea that voting IS within our circle of control and that the heart and soul of voting is doing so as an informed and concerned citizen. Yes, you made it clear that you vote and that those decisions are based on the more relevant, compact sources of information from which you do partake; however, it concerns me when I think about how similar some of your arguments sound to those I hear from friends and neighbors when explaining why they “don’t follow politics;” i.e. why they don’t participate in political discussions, have any apparent political opinions, and, especially, why they don’t vote –or, perhaps worse, –vote blindly. For example, while standing in line to vote last year, the woman in front of me nervously told her friend that she didn’t know anything about any of the candidates. Her friend assured it that it was easy; on the front page of the ballot, just check the box that says you want to vote completely along Republican Party lines. The sad thing is that this woman probably came out of the ballot box with a real sense of pride at having done her patriotic duty. When asked why she went in uninformed, she’d have probably said things like, “I have more important things to do with my time,” “politics are depressing,” “I just don’t know where to start,” “I can’t do anything about it anyway,” “I’m not a very opinionated person,” etc. Seek out good sources of information and develop opinions –even if it takes up time, even if it makes you uncomfortable, even if it challenges your past assumptions, even if it occasionally makes your head feel like it is going to explode. But do so in a balanced way. Be discerning. And realize that doing so can, in fact, empower you and expand your circle of control. That’s the message that was missing in all of this for me. And even though I know that it wasn’t the main, intended message of your post, I think it’s a pretty darn important one. And one I wouldn’t want to neglect.
    p.s. One result of following the government shutdown was that it inspired me to write to my Utah Senator Mike Lee after observing his ridiculous behavior at the WW2 Memorial Tea Party protest.
    p.p.s. It would also be nice to see you give some credit to documentaries. I think they can be powerful and informative in a unique way as they tend to show “real life” and real interviews (love PBS Frontline documentaries, btw).
    p.p.p.s. I also think the power of debate and civil discussion should be noted. For instance, nothing got me more interested in the pro-/anti-vaccine debate and more likely to make informed decisions about it in the future than going toe-to-toe with an anti-vaccinator friend.
    -LM

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  • Bakari October 28, 2013, 2:08 pm

    I opted out of news completely, for much the same reasons, years ago. But eventually I found myself missing knowing at least a little of what’s going on.

    I have found The Colbert Report to be a very happy medium.

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    • Three Wolf Moon April 11, 2014, 10:24 am

      Now that Colbert is jumping ship and the Report will be no more, might I recommend it’s close cousin – the Daily Show. I find 10-15 minutes of Jon Stewart’s “Fake News” 4 nights a week to be an fine way to stay somewhat informed while simultaneously getting lots of laughs!

      Bonus – full episodes available at the comedy central website, no cable TV required!

      Reply
  • Jay January 15, 2014, 2:22 am

    I have recently started reading content on your website, and this one has hit home the most (so far).

    I used to work as a sports editor for daily newspapers, but after I decided to change careers, I stopped reading newspapers, and also stopped watching or listening to the news. I have since resumed reading the headlines of one newspaper, but that’s only because I live in a small country that regularly experiences terrorist attacks and missile strikes.

    By default, and without consciously deciding to do so, I live a MMM-style life. A few years ago, I started earning a decent salary, and my saving rate has increased substantially over time. I hope to reach at least partial financial independence earlier than assumed.

    Thank you.

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  • jeff January 30, 2014, 12:05 am

    I find it rather shocking there is such a large number of people agreeing with his concept of a ‘low information diet’. The importance of being able to process large amounts of information in an unbiased manner is undoubtedly essential to a healthy mind. To virtually remove all connections with the outside world? That is borderline insane.

    Aside from the people who simply find reading the news enjoyable, (I love nothing more than to sit down and read news/gossip about my football team), news articles provide readers with valuable information. While in some cases they do skew a persons perception of risk, I think they do educate an individual on the risks that exist in the real world. If I had a child, I wouldn’t want them to think we live in a perfect world, but to know what can and will happen to you or someone you know, (“a bicyclist being hit by a car”).

    Furthermore, there is an inherent value in being consistently up-to-date with current events that can pay off in innumerable ways; improved social skills, improved analytical skills, individually constructed opinions,

    All my life I have been taught that a better and more well-rounded understanding of the world we live in is something I should be continuously striving for. The sheer notion of shutting the outside world out, in a manner reminiscent of pre-19th century Japan, sounds preposterous to me. I dunno, maybe I am just blowing MMM’s theory out of proportion, or maybe there is a balance that needs to be struck between a news junkie and the low information diet, but I can say for sure I am adamantly against such an idea.

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    • sonofczar January 30, 2014, 12:30 pm

      Taking anything the news says at face value is insane. Keeping “informed” via mainstream news only feeds into the government’s propaganda machine. As an employee of the justice system, I can tell you that 90% of the stories that are printed about crimes have inaccuracies, some of them to the point where it seems like the media is just coming to it’s own conclusions. Because of this, I don’t even watch the news, as there is nothing worth believing on it.

      As far as “low information diet”, it doesn’t mean ignoring lifelong learning which is invaluable. The more skills you can develop the better, and this type of information is important.

      Do you really need the news to tell you what could happen if a bike is hit by a car? That’s ridiculous. And as far as changing the world, I believe charity starts at home. Should the government be donating millions to international aid when they have people starving in their own backyard? You can take a more local view of the world and still make a huge impact.

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  • Michael January 31, 2014, 4:06 pm

    Hey, I want to post a comment and have others think I’m clever, too. **sad face** But no one will see it since the comment wont be on the first page.

    Try this: next time you are at a doctors appointment waiting, do nothing. Don’t pick up your phone or a magazine. Look at the others and say hello. You will find that most people actually want to talk to someone but we are all assuming the same thing, that everyone else is busy. Their not, they just forgot how to converse with strangers like our grandparents did.

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  • serhomeslice February 18, 2014, 12:29 pm

    I’ve always subscribed to LID. My wife is always in a tizzy about what’s going on in the world. While she has helped me in many areas of my life, this is one area where I’m trying to get her to pay less attention. Great article. Thanks

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  • BC February 21, 2014, 11:50 am

    My hubby works for the forest service and when we saw the “looming crisis” we though it would be nice to keep getting work and getting paid, but if not, it would give him time to take care of some things during a stressful time for us. He ended up spending the time painting and doing almost all of the moving into our new place and acquiring and splitting free logs so we could stay warm all winter (instead of having to pay someone to buy it) I was then able to focus on surviving the second week of nursing school. Money wasn’t really an issue because of our savings and our mustachian ability to cut even more of our inexpensively luxurious lifestyle.

    As a side note, I get most of my news from “Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me”, usually a month or so late, on my 10 year old iThingy. :)

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  • Kara April 11, 2014, 6:43 am

    This is great advice. I quit watching the news in college when I didn’t really have the time, but I still read the news in my yahoo (and later google) feed. Eventually, I paired that down from the depressing world news to just local and science related items. Then one day I just decided to stop and boy was it freeing! Every so often people find out that I don’t watch or read the news and I feel guilty. I think I’m going to try to not feel bad in the future when that happens. Also, I deleted the facebook app on my phone, so that I only check it via computer (which is less often). Feeling good about my choices. :)

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  • PJ August 18, 2014, 8:17 am

    MMM, thanks, great article. A rule of thumb I have long followed is that “the world is 80% bullshit”. Keeping that in mind is a calming influence.

    As to meetings, I routinely made a practice of missing them. My boss would sometimes nag me about it but any information I needed still got to me, and the work still got done. I also slept in meetings. There didn’t seem to be any negative consequences to doing this, and I think it was because everybody knew meetings were a waste of time.

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  • Maria September 10, 2014, 10:54 am

    I too didn’t realize the shut down was coming … While I was working at a cavern located within the bounds of a national park! We had very little contact with the outside world save for the tourists – most of whom were out of touch too due to being on vacation.
    We heard about it a day or two before, then that morning got the word that our seasonal job was being cut down to an even shorter season – a bummer for sure, to miss out on 6 weeks of work in a beautiful magical wonderland (Kings Canyon National Park). However, I don’t think that learning about it any earlier would have been any better!

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  • Diego July 20, 2015, 2:33 am

    I’m an information junkie for sure, like many people of my generation. However, nowadays I tend to turn this addiction to… mrmoneymustache.com :)
    Sure, the information I get here is top-quality most of the time. I just think I should eventually spend more time getting this stuff into action! But right now I am trying to finish all the articles to decrease the impulse of reading this blog.

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  • David September 1, 2015, 7:25 am

    I enjoyed reading this and appreciate not owning a television, Facebook account nor needing to be “informed 24/7. I must add that although news is an addictive waste of time, arguing and debating with others over the comments they leave on posts, is equally trivial. Plus, a statue has never been erected for a critic.

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  • Doug October 5, 2015, 11:26 am

    I know I’m late to the game on this one, but it doesn’t look like anybody has pointed out that even though we can’t control natural disasters, we can control how we plan for it. Let’s go with the flooding example. They’re building mile after mile of tract housing here in flood plains where my great grandparents’ generation would have never built a house. Southern farm houses are generally built on a hill for a reason. It can rain like a MF here, but the same applies in even Arizona. And if you have to build in a flood prone area (ie New Orleans), build your house up a bit or on stilts or at least pay up your flood insurance. Also, people need to have it POUNDED into their brain not even to try to cross a flooded road. But even then, my great grandparents’ generation had wisdom in that they built roads along ridge lines where possible as not to be potentially cut off by any more flooded streams than necessary (and save on bridges or fords).

    I know there are tragic extreme cases like the flooding in South Carolina right now, and climate change is not helping (even though it’s just a fiction propagated by the liberal media). But we can reduce the impact by going back to more sensible patterns of thinking about topography before building (or before buying what’s already been built). And places that are historically drier can learn from Alabama here about how to plan for flooding that climate change will likely bring. In the same way, Alabama can learn about earthquake planning from California, because, guess what people, we get them east of the Mississippi too.

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  • diggs October 15, 2015, 10:27 pm

    “Station-to-station desensitizing the nation” – Jack Johnson

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  • Scott December 31, 2015, 2:25 am

    Thanks for the post MMM. I dread to think how many hours of my life I’ve wasted scrolling through Facebook and Twitter. Once a month it is for me in the new year!

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  • Johnny Ro July 13, 2016, 6:43 pm

    Another late reply.

    This is what I think of TV news.

    Mix the approach above with not watching TV. Ever never no matter what. But or rent a series, but on your own schedule and Netflix is OK.

    Then add back reading some select foreign national news on internet which requires 5% of the time of slowly watching TV. Skip the clips, only read. Hong Kong, Tokyo, London, Paris, Toronto. BKK, Seoul. Paris. Each has an English language online newspaper. Moscow Beijing.

    Result, same mind poison in a very time efficient manner. But broader and deeper and less focused on the USA commercial news feed. (“News feed”, think about that)

    Then skip the blinking flashing bad news and scan for cultural content.

    Then dial it back to 10 minutes a day all in. Now you are gathering interesting cultural tidbits on the internet.

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  • Harding July 26, 2016, 3:09 pm

    Incredible article (and site). I’m a mid-20’s new-to-the-workforce industrial engineer and have been working on getting my money and mind straight. My biggest time investment is my stupid phone (and they gave me another one with unlimited data at work!!). I dropped a TON of notifications off of it while reading this article (I guess I should’ve read, and then spent a focused minute turning off notifications, but I wanted to do it whilst inspired).

    What is your opinion of summary news (like ‘www.dailypnut.com’ or ‘The Skimm’)? I find I spend the first 30-45 minutes at work every day reading these…and now that I ask you, I realize I don’t really retain much from them other than a ‘oh crap world is going down but they’re making jokes so it’s ok?’ feeling….

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    • Mr. Money Mustache July 26, 2016, 3:33 pm

      Welcome Harding!

      Holy shit should you EVER get rid of this Skimm news habit at work. What you do FIRST at work really sets the tone for the rest of your day.

      I’d say take the opposite approach: completely ban yourself from any web surfing or personal email while at your work desk. Set up a “safe zone” across the company campus where you’re allowed to walk and check email briefly only when standing there. But spend the rest of the time actually doing great stuff to advance your career.

      If you someday find your job isn’t worth 100% of your effort, switch the working-hours focus straight to getting your next, better job.

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      • Helene July 27, 2016, 9:32 am

        Such simple but great advice! I tend to do a lot of that “news browsing” when I just get in to work in the morning. On days where I don’t, I usually get a lot more done (and usually I haven’t missed anything of great importance).
        Og and MMM thanks for a great site. Found it a month or so ago and am really inspired! Have cut a lot of clown driving out of my life and generally feel a whole lot better about how I spend my money – lots of small changes in a short period of time!
        Best regards
        Helene

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  • Mike M. October 28, 2016, 7:01 am

    “The news also completely fucks up the layperson’s perception of risk.”

    Wonderfully said!!!

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  • Lisa November 29, 2016, 6:44 am

    Thank you for this great post. I never watch the news either for those same reasons because hey, if it’s important enough I’m sure someone will tell me about it. I get a lot of crap from people about it over the years, so it’s great to know that I’m not the only sane person on this planet.

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  • AJ Yukon January 31, 2017, 7:29 am

    I am all for a low information diet; it seems particularly revolutionary in the current 24-hour news-of-fresh-disaster environment. But how does one ensure s/he is not failing to engage and protect civil rights/democracy? When does just keeping on keeping on in one’s own comfortable life slide into ignoring megalomaniac-inspired social injustice?

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  • Jason January 31, 2017, 11:59 am

    I think its pretty easy to be a discriminatory reader of the news. Maybe “low information” is not the best term but “cognizant information” or “resourceful information” or “purposeful/directed information” diet might better suit a purpose.

    The question I ask myself is “how does this information contribute or cause me to contemplate my understanding of history i.e. political, US, world etc.” Obviously this would preclude me from clicking on the headline “Justin Bieber Talks About Immigration Policy” or “Lindsay Lohan Claims She is on Better Terms With Her Higher Power.”

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  • Dan March 6, 2017, 9:44 am

    And what about now, 4 years later. Can we afford not to know what is going on in Washington? That’s a straight up question, not rhetorical.

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    • Mr. Money Mustache March 6, 2017, 5:20 pm

      Good question Dan! I think the strategy is just as important, or even more so, now.

      We don’t need to know about every uninformed policy or ridiculous tweet that Trump craps out. If you read the US stories in the Economist once a week, or even once per month, you’ll get much more thorough understanding with 90% less noise. Bonus: you can also read about bigger trends in the rest of the world in that magazine.

      If you want to make a bigger difference than just voting every two years, write letters to senators and local reps, and run for office. If your entire career is in politics or journalism, then you’ll probably be reading more daily headlines.

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      • Travis August 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

        It’s strange to reread this article about the media being the enemy of the people so many years later.

        I agree with MMM, I was overseas when Trump won the election and later when he was sworn in. Although we were far from home, we had internet access and people would come to work gossiping about the crazy stuff he was doing during his first weeks in office. It struck me how little actually needed to be fought (eg the Muslim ban) vs how much was just noise (for all the talk of building walls, the US border already had a lot of fencing up already and the wall hasn’t been built to this day.) One of my coworkers reads the news all the time and gets herself worked up over everything Trump says and does, and it accomplishes nothing. Attending a protest or writing a letter works toward getting things changed, not being irrationally angry. Besides, I always tell her if you get too worked up your head will explode when he wins his second term. You have to accept the world even when things go badly.

        Just the other day my wife and I were discussing how to deal with Doug Ford winning the election in Ontario. We figured rather than being angry, we’ll just fight where we can by writing letters to our racist and xenophobic representative where we think we can have an effect, and let the rest of the world work where we can’t convince the government to shape up.

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  • Kevin April 26, 2017, 1:11 am

    YES! i agree entirely and am trying to wean myself off facebook and the most recent bane of my existence – youtube. there is so much floating around cyberspace that is designed for the purpose of ensnaring you in a 2 hour trip down the rabbit hole, reading shit that fucks with your emotions and having fights with random strangers. i find that almost every single time i scroll down my facebook feed i find something that inevitably pisses me off and keeps me thinking about it the rest of the morning. such an unnecessary form of stress that adds nothing to anyone’s life, but that nonetheless holds our attention and keeps us from focusing on things that might actually help us and more demonstrably better the world. i find it also fucks with my brain and gives me the attention span of a small mammal, so that when i actually try to do work, i can’t go more than 10 minutes without a random distraction (many times that stupid facebook post coming back and triggering some negative emotion or another) waltzing into my brain and potentially sending me on another time wasting trip to social media land. i’m trying to combat this with some meditation these days and i think it helps, but also unsubscribing to every email notification, keeping my phone off in the morning, and reading instead of facebooking when i’m on public transit.

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  • Dominic December 25, 2018, 9:04 pm

    I totally agree with what your saying in this post. I’ve been saying all this for years and was starting to think I was wrong because no one else seems to see it this way. We’ve been traveling non stop for two years and we constantly are made aware of what we call the “culture of fear”. When people learn about our travels most people tell us how dangerous it all is and how lucky we are to be alive….which is total bullshit. Everyone is so afraid of each other and afraid of the unknown…of course you;d be afraid if all the news was every night was murders, home invasions, and scams..This is why when we travel overseas we are almost always the only Americans in a sea of Canadians, Brits, and Ozzys. I read or heard a quote once. I don’t know where it came from but I think about it all the time…it relates to our mania with the perception of safety….“Fear doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life.”..Every time someone tells me how dangerous something is I think of this quote…anyway…loving the blog…just found it this afternoon and having been reading all the good stuff.

    Reply
  • Lance Coleman March 22, 2020, 1:37 pm

    Just another great article… I thought with the incessant news about Coronavirus stressing me the hell out, that I should revisit what you said about cutting the pointless noise out of ones life and focusing on the circle of control. Everywhere one looks people are losing their minds with the chaos caused by Covid 19. The markets plummeting adds just another thing to worry about….. but after re-reading this article many years after first seeing it I feel a sense of calm returning… it reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If”. To those who don’t know it, have a read!

    Reply
  • Ben Burnside April 30, 2020, 10:05 pm

    Hello Mr. Money Mustache, I just want to first say how much I appreciate this article. It’s a great source to go on, as I am coincidentally dialing down the social media stuff for my ow personal time (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and at least mostly youtube) I have a lot of questions and comments that I want to ask, in response to this article:

    I have to agree with you on getting rid of many news sources. It sounds good to get rid of news outlets that are run by corporations who care more about profits ( Ex: Rupert Murdoch and Fox News), and I feel that it is important to gain some worldly information from Nonprofit sources, as you said. The information that is told on there can be important, and I honestly do feel that it is my duty to contribute to others, at times, by talking about accurate and important information when given an opportunity. I am now trying to get news from four levels: World News, National News, State News, and Local News.
    -For World News, I am first trying ABC News with David Muir. I don’t think that that is going to last long for a variety of reasons: 1) They rely on profit, I believe 2) It is only thirty minutes long, which includes commercials, and that seems kind of short 3) For being called World News, they talk about America for about 90% of it.
    – For National News, I am listening to CSPAN’s Washington Today podcast. That show is a keeper. It’s about 40 minutes long on average, with no real ads. No Sensationalist stuff
    – For State, I am listening to NPR Radio’s The California Report. It feels hard to find State News in general that is reliable. I don’t know if this 10 minute podcast will be the show for me, as it only is ten minutes long, and they focus on specific and unimportant people sometimes in that limited time.
    – For Local, I am trying the local news on NBC. I honestly feel like this is kind of informative, but it definitely has the icky vibe of sensationalism in their stories. I might try the local newspaper, or a media non profit organization that doesn’t produce that much content.

    Additionally, I also wanted to know what your thoughts were on Youtube and Podcast Listening: Youtube is one of those social media time wasters, but it also includes some informative stuff with interviews from experts on various topics. I can probably get most of that content through podcast, but I also feel that Podcasting can be yet another potential time-waster, as I get quickly fall into the listening rabbit hole where I can get distracted. I am thinking of making it to where I listen to one podcast per day and that’s it, maybe along with the news sources. What are your thoughts?

    Reply

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