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Stay Focused; There’s No Time for Media Hype or Spin

Be selective as to where you offer your time and attention.

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Decades back, my friend, Bill Halloran, liked to listen to Howard Stern in the morning. Year after year on his way to work, Bill was titillated by Howard Stern’s shock talk. Hundreds of thousands of working professionals must have felt the same way. Howard is now a multi-millionaire.

Stern offered no sense of breathing space to Bill. After hearing Stern, no one was empowered, energized, or better able to face the day. He was, in essence, an electronic fix, a drug, if you will, that briefly took you out of your own life and into some form of contemptuous humor that got you through the next ten minutes. Even among those who know this on some level, why did so many people listen? The answer is what I call “electronic addiction.”

The Anxiety of Electronic Addiction

As a society, our expo­sure to the media, including the internet, has increased several hundred percent within a few decades, and while worldwide media coverage provides many bene­fits, it also has quite a few side effects. As we spend more and more hours glued to electronic media, we are exposed to tens of thou­sands of messages and images. Just as too much food at one sit­ting, isn’t easily in­gested, neither is too much data in any form.

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Concurrent with the deluge, we have become an anxious society that uses electronics to not feel alone, evade confronting why we can’t seem to get what we want, or to avoid better use of the hours we say we so earnestly want. We retain, embrace and offer rapt attention to all forms of media, and to the devices transmitting them to us. So it’s logical that we then make million dollar super­stars out of TV meteo­rologists and morning exercise show hosts.

The shrinking attention span – Our cultural, elec­tronic addiction to the mass media inverts our per­cep­tion of available time, and diminishes our attention spans. Hence the Howard Sterns of the airwaves capture the attention of otherwise distracted listeners. Tele­vision and radio news and features are growing ever shorter to match the fragmented, de­creasing attention spans of viewers.

Try this: For the next minute, stare at your watch, or if that’s too boring, think about something pleasur­able you’re going to do today­. Your per­cep­tion of the length of a minute will dif­fer vastly from using that minute to listen to the news or read a page from a magazine.

Warning: The exercise you were going to do for a full minute may have just failed. Our culture is so com­mit­ted to mo­tion and to in­form­ation intake that you might be unable to make your­self stare at your watch or simply contemplate for one minute, even when the thought is of something pleasurable!

The Rise of Sensationalism

Around the turn of the century, to build his newspaper chain faster and to sell more papers, William Randolph Hearst used sen­sationalism to heighten the most mundane of stories. For exam­ple, if one of his reporters turned in a story about a dog who got his foot stuck in a sewer grate, Hearst would have the head­line changed to read,

“CANINE TRAPPED IN TUNNEL OF DEATH.”

Hearst perceived that the public was interested in prominent names, and he loaded the paper with them. For several years he worked the “signed statement” racket for all it was worth. The method involved simply sending an inquiry to any person of promi­nence. When a courteous reply was received, it was immediately slapped into print.

In every city having a Hearst paper, an index was kept of people willing to be quoted along certain lines. For example, if Hearst favored the Navy’s buying big battleships, a list of retired admirals would be taken from the files, and each of the old gentlemen would be approached for his opinion. Those who agreed would be heavily quoted in articles, i.e., “Retired Admiral XYZ Says Navy Lacking In…”

I find it remarkable that the Pulitzer Prize, an award alleged to represent the highest aspirations and achievements in journalism, is named for Mr. Joseph Pulitzer. While Pulitzer did not originate sensationalism, he played a crucial role in the history of American journal­ism simply by living at a time when social and economic changes enabled sensationalism to flourish.

Pulitzer used frivolous pictures, poetry, short stories, and the like, to make the newspaper a medium to entertain as well as inform. Pulitzer borrowed ideas of sensationalism that were not his own and brought them up to date to fit a modern America of cities and factories.

When Pulitzer set up shop in New York, he wanted to achieve the greatest circulation in America’s history. He needed a large circulation to have a platform from which his liberal principles could be heard. To obtain it, he had to win the confidence, as well as excite the interest, of the masses of people. Many features that appealed to a working-class audience – pictures, lurid accounts of crime and violence, the air of irreverence – were bound to appeal to others as well.

Overstimulated and Distracted

To this day, to capture an overstimulated, distracted population, contemporary television and other news media rely more and more on sensation­alism. It’s in­grained in the nature of broadcasting, and it’s hazardous to our awareness.

With a planet of nearly eight billion people, the media are easily fur­nished with an endless supply of turmoil for mass transmis­sion. At any moment somebody is fomenting revolu­tion some­where. Such turmoil is pack­aged daily for the 24 hour news cycle.

We are lured with images of crashes, hostages, and natural dis­asters. We offer our time and rapt atten­tion to each new hos­tility, scandal or disaster. Far more people die annually from choking on food than in plane crashes or by guns, but crashes and shootings make for great footage, and play into people’s fears.

Your chance of dying from a commercial airplane mis­hap actual­ly is one in 2,600,000. So, you need only be con­cerned if you fly five flights per week, 52 weeks per year, for several thousand years.

Unless it directly affects you or your com­munity, give up offer­ing any attention, whatsoever, to news coverage of specta­cular crashes and train wrecks, etc. If you’re con­cerned about reducing the incidence of violent death, learn the Heimlich maneuver or CPR. But puuleeeease, stop being enthralled by spec­tacular media cover­age of non-imperative events and sensa­tionalized trivia.

Gaining Control

It is not immoral to not “keep up” with the news. However to “tune out” – turn your back on the world is not appropriate either. Being more selective in what you give your attention to, and to how long you give it, makes more sense.

There is little utility in in­tel­lectually reson­ating with the world’s challenges and problems. Pick one cause or one issue, and take some kind of action outside your home. For most of us on the Right, the burning issue today is reclaiming our country from Leftist zealots.

Action is customarily invigorating. Your ability to make a real, if minute, difference will immediat­ely lessen your concerns about attaining some breathing space.

Tomorrow morning, quietly envision how you would like your day to be. Include every­thing that’s import­ant to you – the commute if you make one, entering your building or your office, sitting down at your desk, handling tasks, and taking breaks.

Envision interacting with others, going to lunch, conducting or attending meetings, using the phone, finishing up projects, and walking out in the evening. With this exercise alone, you’ll begin to feel a greater sense of control in aspects of your job that you might have considered uncontrollable.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



 
 
 

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Business

Smart Move in a Rough Economy: Help Your Boss to Shine

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives

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Making your boss look good can only reflect favorably on you. Both your boss and his or her supervisors will appreciate this.

The best way to make your boss look good is to handle your work efficiently and thoroughly. If your boss is fair, he or she will give you credit for the work, increasing your chances of promotion.

If your boss is not doing his or her share of the work, leaning on you unfairly without giving you the credit, it’s still likely that you’ll be promoted when your boss is promoted. That person knows you’ve been doing more than your share, and he or she won’t be able to take a new position without your help.

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Becoming a Mentor to Others

Maybe you’re only 27 years old, or perhaps you’ve only been with your present firm for a year and a half. Yet, with your previous experience and achievements, you may already be in a position to serve as a mentor to junior members of your organization. This can be accomplished on an informal, ad hoc basis, and you can literally choose the amount of energy you’re willing to commit. Helping junior members always looks good to those above you, especially at performance review time.

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives. This three-way strategy includes reviewing your job description, deciding precisely what your department’s goals are, and determining your company’s objectives:

Your Job Description

First, knowing your job description and honoring it, or amending it if necessary, protect you from any misunderstandings. It will also give you an idea of the part you play in the total picture of the organization, an important factor in your work satisfaction and chance of promotion.

Your job description ideally contains all the important activities of your position, the knowledge you need to have or acquire to perform those activities, and some sense of your overall role. If your job description does not adequately detail the information you need to know and the responsibilities you have, now is the time to change it.

Company Goals

Second, learn and understand the goals of your part of the company. By whatever method your organization is broken into groups — department, division, project team — your group has objectives.

Goals are important to guide actions as well as to mark milestones. Knowing your group’s goals will help you to set priorities for your own work and make wise decisions concerning how jobs can best be done.

What is the Mission?

Finally, be aware of your organization’s mission. Any organization, from the smallest business to the multibillion-dollar corporation, has a mission. If you don’t already know it, find out. Your organization’s brochure, annual report, promotional literature, or employee handbook will have the mission spelled out.

The mission will unify and give meaning to all the division or department goals. Although conflicts among divisions will occur because of the nature of different responsibilities, a solid base can be produced when all employees realize the overall mission of the organization.

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Business

Lessons of the 2020s: Unanticipated Events Happen

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being as well as on our time

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By now, nearly everyone has mentally marked the first few years of this decade as strange and, for those on the right, entirely upsetting. While we can’t guard against the unknown, or anticipate radical moves emanating from Washington DC, we can seek to do our best with what we have and what we know.

Each day when you compose your to-do list and begin proceeding merrily down it, do you take into account what is likely to occur in the course of a day? No matter how well we organize our lists and how productive we are in handling the products and tasks unexpected obligations, interruptions, and other developments arise that are going to throw us off.

How do you react when you are humming along, and all of a sudden, you get an assignment from out of left field? Perhaps your boss has asked you to jump on something immediately. Maybe a client calls. Maybe something gets returned to you that you thought was complete.

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To Be Flustered No More

If you are like most professionals, you immediately will become flustered. The intrusion on your time and your progress means that you are not going to accomplish all that you set out to before the end of the day. Is there a way to proceed and still feel good about all that you accomplish?

I believe there is, and it involves first making a miniature, supplemental to-do list that accurately encapsulates the new task that you need to handle. Why create this supplemental to-do list? It gives you focus and direction, reduces anxiety, and increases the probability that you will remain buoyant at the time of its completion and be able to turn back to what you were doing before the task was assigned.

If you don’t compose such a list, and simply plow headlong into the unexpected challenge that has come your way, you might not proceed effectively, and you might never get back to the to-do list on which you were working.

Anticipating the Unexpected

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent more than intrusions on our time; they represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being. Some people are naturally good at handling unexpected situations. Most of us, however, are not wired like this. Interruptions and intrusions on our workday take us off the path that we wanted to follow, and tend to be at least momentarily upsetting.

So… when executing the items on your to-do list, proceed ‘knowing’ that there will be an interruption of some sort. You don’t know when it is coming or how large it will be, but it will pull you off course. The key question for you is: can you develop the capacity to maintain balance and equanimity in the face of such disruptions?

The good news is that you can, and it all starts with acknowledging that the situation is likely to happen, devising a supplemental checklist to handle the new task, and as deftly as possible, returning to what you were doing.

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