Why read the news

It is easy to make fun of journalism as a profession or even claim that “news is bad for you.” But journalists continue working even when the news gets too depressing to cover. They are driven by a purpose, which an editor explained to me in my early days of journalism is to inform and entertain.

To some, however, informing and entertaining are goals that do not provide enough motivation. The right information delivered to the right audience at the right time can be powerful. News can have impact, and to the remaining few journalists it is this “impact” that makes the struggle worthy of the effort.

Such impact, however, is hard to measure. Unless you are working on a story such as the Edward Snowden leaks, it is difficult to find out what kind of impact your story about about jellyfish swimming can have on the real world.

Fortunately, every so often there is a reminder why good journalism is important even if “impact” is not always visible. Consider what Harvard University economist Sendhil Mullainathan wrote in the New York Times on racial bias:

“Even if, in our slow thinking, we work to avoid discrimination, it can easily creep into our fast thinking. Our snap judgments rely on all the associations we have—from fictional television shows to news reports. They use stereotypes, both the accurate and the inaccurate, both those we would want to use and ones we find repulsive.”

We are shaped by the thoughts that surround us. Good journalism plays a vital role in providing those thoughts. So don’t feel too bad about spending some of your time every day reading bite-sized news pieces, even if Mark Zuckerberg would like you to read a book instead. Just make sure that you are selective about the journalism you are reading.

Image credit: pslee999 CC-BY

The best hack to be productive

Summary: To do more in less time, spend more time doing less. 

The summary is not a paradoxical statement. Given how busy everyone’s life has become and how being busy brings social prestige, to do more in less time people have to multi-task. But multi-tasking is the enemy of getting stuff done and the thief that steals our happiness.

Elizabeth Dunn, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, told The Economist, “Multi-tasking is what makes us feel pressed for time. No matter what people are doing, people feel better when they are focused on that activity.”

When you feel better doing what you do, you get more stuff done and walk away happier. So if Dunn is right, it is better to do one thing at a time, which may inevitably mean spending more time doing less but still getting more done.

Some of the best friends I made at Oxford are those that are part of the Oxford Ideas Group. Our similar interests brought us close and they keep us close despite going down very different career paths.

One of those common interests was to find hacks to become more productive: to do more in less time. The “more” was not just for greater quantity but also for better quality. So after a few years of real-life experience, when two members of the group arrive at the same idea about productivity, there must be some “truth” to the revelation. For instance, Christo recently wrote that his “new secret for having more time” was to do less. My new year resolution is to gain more time by doing fewer things with greater focus.

This is a post in the best hack series, where the aim is to find small ideas that have a big impact in improving everyday life.

Image credit: ryantron under CC-BY-ND.

A birthday wish

It’s my birthday. If you were to grant me a wish today, I would ask you to read something I write. Do you like science? Try this. Do you not like science? Give me an opportunity to change your mind, try this.

One of the weirdest thing about being a writer is that most of the time you are unaware of who it is that is reading your work. That, I realise, is an inevitable outcome of choosing this profession.

But I don’t know a single author who wouldn’t want to know who reads them. For instance, if by some good fortune, someone finishes reading my work and smiles, I would love to know that my writing gave them that smile. Perhaps that smile meant a lot more. Maybe it was someone who was reading it in a crowded bus back home after she had had a bad day at work.

The aim, however, is not to collect such lovely anecdotes that will stroke my vanity. Instead, having friends read your work can be a serious advantage. Your feedback can and will help me improve. If I write something that is rubbish, the internet will tell me. However, if I write something that can be improved, it is only friends who will point it out to me in a constructive way.

So as a birthday wish, give my writing a try. The best way to do this would be to subscribe by email, where you’ll get my articles delivered straight to your inbox twice or thrice a week. If what I write is not your cup of tea, you can unsubscribe at any point and I will still buy you an actual cup of tea the next time we meet.

Thank you, dear friends and new readers.