You work hard, lift hard, eat healthy, and generally lead a well-rounded lifestyle. Good for you.
But, if pressed, could you articulate your opinion on the privacy war between Apple and the FBI? What was your reaction to the Panama Papers? Do you think the Pacific Northwest needs a better earthquake-detection system? If these current-event questions didn’t stump you, I’ve got some great news: Aside from helping you responsibly fulfill your most basic civic duties (how can you vote wisely if you’re not up on the issues?), knowing what’s going on in the world can also enrich your life in other crucial ways.
Like: helping you on the job. “Guys who excel at work generally have an excellent grasp of current events,” says executive coach Bruce Tulgan, of RainmakerThinking—i.e., a smart company will promote an informed, intellectually curious employee over a clueless dullard any day. The principle applies with the ladies, too. “If a dude doesn’t know what’s happening in the world, he probably doesn’t have opinions—and not caring is not sexy,” says Kate, 26, who works in TV.
Even a guy’s social life gets a bump if he stays au courant—after all, what dinner party doesn’t put a premium on sparkling conversation? So for the best, most efficient ways to gather—and retain—the info you need to keep you in the loop, try these four expert tricks.
We guarantee, you’ll never get caught with your news briefs down again.
Jeff Wilser is the author of The Good News About What’s Bad for You...and the Bad News About What’s Good for You.
Lesson 1: Set a news browser as your home page
This is a simple trick with a powerful upside: When, for instance, Google News is your home page, it forces you to notice the news every time you fire up your browser. Simply scanning the headlines for just a second will leave an impression.
“The big thing I find is that it’s so much easier to stay fairly informed if you’re at least minimally informed on a regular basis,” says Samantha Rollins, news editor at The Week. “This gives you a pretty good baseline, and from that you can dive deeper on the things that interest you.”
Then, of course, if something really catches your attention and prompts you to want a deeper understanding, you can head off for a longer read via an app like Pocket or Instapaper, from which you can save longer articles for later.
Lesson 2: Have “get-informed” time every day (no multitasking!)
Many of us are guilty of trying to do too much at one time. This is particularly true in the mornings, when we’re fresh, caffeinated, upbeat, and hopeful, so we put all that good energy into trying to multitask—and accomplish very little.
Because, as it turns out, our brains aren’t wired to manage workflow while paying bills and scrolling Twitter. In fact, multitasking is incredibly inef- ficient. When you inundate your brain with too much information, it doesn’t know what’s important enough to remember. The same goes for absorb- ing current events. “We think we can read the news while we’re doing other things, and of course we can—but we won’t be able to retain the information,” says Emma Rodero, Ph.D., a cognitive psychologist who specializes in media.
Instead, dedicate a block of time—even if it’s just five minutes—to reading only the news.
Lesson 3: Both read and listen to a story to become an instant expert
“Prosody” is defined as the melody of speech. “If I write, ‘Oh, what a great party,’ but you don’t actually hear me say it, you have no way of knowing if I’m being sarcastic,” says Daniel Willingham, Ph.D., a professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Virginia. “The extra audio cues—the prosody—can help your brain.”
In other words, listening is a tremendous force for retaining information, which is good news in 2016, when podcasts are all the rage. But it gets even better: If you listen to a story on a subject, then also read about it, that audio/visual combo—called “dual-coding”—attacks the brain with a one-two punch that can practically turn you into a tenured professor on a subject. “Studies show that the combination of hear plus see is the best way to learn,” says Rodero.
Her advice: Scan a story on Reddit, for example, then listen to a radio presentation—like a podcast of NPR’s All Things Considered—on the same subject, and you’ll learn more quickly and in a more consolidated way.
Lesson 4: Make the most of Twitter “lists”
For everyone I interviewed for this article, Twitter is the backbone of the process flow for consuming news. And taking full advantage of the “list” functions are crucial.
“I rely heavily on lists,” says Daniel Victor, a writer and editor at The New York Times. “I have a second monitor dedicated mostly to six columns of TweetDeck. I have a list of just news sources, one of journalists, one of presidential candidates, etc.”
Why bother with this? If you’re on Twitter and follow more than, say, 10 people, you quickly find that it’s like trying to drink news from the fire hose. Scanning your entire feed, you will either A) waste time that could be used more productively; or B) miss real, actual news, which is buried in the weeds.
So here’s your plan of attack: In one list, put no more than three to five of your most trusted news sources. That will be the feed you can scan in quick, 30-second gulps. Bookmark the list. Check it every day. Then make other lists for your IRL friends, the sports teams you follow, and your less important indulgences, such as The Onion. Bookmark each of these. Install either Tweetdeck or Tweetbot on your phone and on your laptop.