Recently, it took me two days to complete a task at work that should have taken, realistically, no more than two hours. But just as I sat down to get to started, I saw the push notification on my iPhone: Anthony Scaramucci, the energetic, foul-mouthed White House Communications Director, had been removed from his post. This mere days after it was reported his wife was divorcing him because of her dislike for President Donald Trump and hours after he unleashed a profanity-laced tirade to the New Yorker.
Between the Twitter takes, palace intrigue pieces, and speculating coworkers, it took me the better part of an hour to focus back on the task at hand. The Mooch became all consuming.
It's far from the first time something like this has happened since January, with a new mini-scandal or two popping up everyday: Don Jr. met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer! The Senate is voting on a health care bill no one has seen! The president just retweeted a celebrity Internet dog! (OK, not yet, but give it time.) With the constant push notifications and endless BREAKING NEWS scrolls all vying for our attention, getting actual work done can be a struggle.
Sound familiar? If you're having trouble focusing on anything but the news these days, there are the standard ways to keep tech distractions at bay: Turn your phone on airplane mode, block websites like Facebook and Twitter via Self Control, disable push notifications on your phone, or take Aziz Ansari's route and go completely off-the-grid. But how likely is that? Here's some more expert-approved solutions for being more productive in the Trump era.
Assess the Situation
Michelle Riba, a psychiatry professor at the University of Michigan and the past president of the American Psychiatric Association, says she's noticed an uptick in patients telling her they are glued to the news, and are experiencing anxiety and depression as a result, since the election in November. She advises people who are feeling more anxious or overwhelmed to be honest about why they are glued to their iPhones or Twitter feeds.
Is it because they are genuinely impacted by what's happening (like the health care bill)? Or is it purely as a diversion from their day-to-day life? If it's the latter, then it's time to make a change.
"It’s important to assess the problem and be mindful and thoughtful in trying to change your behavior," she says.
Set a Designated Time to Check the News
You don't need to-the-minute updates on the Russia investigation. So carve out a time each day to check the news, suggests Valerie Streif, senior advisor at recruiting website Mentat, like when you're on your way home from the office (if you take public transport) or during your lunch break. "This goes for other social media too," she says. "By being strict and setting a specific time to do these checks, you'll save yourself from wasting a significant amount of time scrolling through updates."
"Social media is just a breeding ground for people who are highly anxious," adds Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and the author of Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days. "Choose a news source that you trust and limit your exposure."
Riba puts it another way, too: "We all like ice cream but we don’t need to have it every moment of the day."
Drown Out the Chatter
Streif also suggests listening to classical music or "focus" playlists from Spotify or YouTube rather than the latest round of pundits on CNN. "Listening to the news is a terrible idea for productivity due to the constant change of content," she says. "Having soothing sounds that you don't need to pay attention to can help you stay on task."
Additionally, limit conversations with coworkers or bosses who may not share your political viewpoint. While siloing of information and viewpoints is a real problem, the fact of the matter is politics is best avoided all-together in most workplaces.
Stay Disconnected Outside of the Office
In order to better focus while at work, give your mind a break outside of the office as well, says Riba. Activities like exercise or volunteering, that require your full attention, can help lower your stress levels in your off hours, which then translate to a more productive and less overwhelming work day. And volunteering for or becoming more actively involved in causes you care about (political or otherwise) can help you retain a sense of control and purpose.
Another tip? Get an old-fashioned alarm clock so you're not dealing with 100 news notifications and mean-spirited social media posts first thing in the morning.
Reading books to yourself or a child, talking with your spouse or a friend, and setting up weekly group talks at work (if your company allows it) can also be helpful diversions. Overall, Riba says it's a good time to connect to others. "When you see people who are having some trouble with anxiety and depression and worry, it’s a good idea to ask, what can we do together," she suggests. "Let’s go to a movie, let’s go for a walk, let’s talk about something else."
Just like the old days. Maybe I'll try that this weekend.