New 30 day challenge: No news

I haven’t given an update on my 30 day challenges in, like, forever. So here goes:

- In 2011, I paused my 30 day challenges to do a “six month challenge”: training to run a marathon. I ended up running the San Francisco marathon (while tweeting!) and a couple half-marathons. Pro tip: ramp up slowly to a marathon. I trained but then said “Hey, I can run 13 miles, so let’s just go for it!” and that was pretty foolish. But I’ve continued to run with some friends I met through USA Fit, and I did an 18 mile run this past Sunday!

- In October 2011, I went vegan with some friends at work. I thought this would be a crazy-hard challenge. But it turns out that Northern California (and especially at Google) is a pretty easy place to go vegan. I gained a lot of respect for people that choose to go vegan for different reasons.

- In November 2011, I needed an easy challenge, so I grew a moustache for Movember. That was a ton of fun, especially the part where a bunch of search folks, including Duane Forrester from Bing, raised almost $20,000 for charity.

- In December 2011, I decided to do an act of kindness or a good deed a day for 30 days. You can read all the different things I did my “act of kindness” Google+ post. It was a really rewarding month, although coming up with something to do every day was kind of stressful (I ended up falling back on giving money or tips more often than I wanted). I definitely noticed my mindset shift–I started looking for nice things to do. It was good to give myself permission to say “yes” to people more often, too. I liked my behavior more this month.

- In January 2012, I tried to draw something every day. My *goal* was that I would pay more attention to creativity and my right brain in 2012: drawing, learning guitar, singing lessons, etc. In *practice*, this was a disastrous failure. I lasted for about 6-7 days, then slipped while on vacation, and never got back into the habit. I want to be the sort of person who draws, but even with a 30 day challenge pushing me, I didn’t actually do it. I need to do some deep thinking about why I didn’t participate in this activity, which I thought I was enthusiastic about.

- In February 2012, I decided to exercise every day. I normally exercise most days, but this challenge upped my focus a lot and I did several “exercise and then bike into work” days. I’d been on the road for 4 out of six weeks between holidays, a vacation, and a trip to India and Korea. It made me really happy to get back into the habit of exercising, and I definitely felt better and saw results.

- In March 2012, I decided to avoid reading, watching, or hearing the news. This was motivated by a TED University talk from TED 2011. The speaker said that he had cut all news out of his daily life. He figured that if something important happened, a friend or taxi driver would mention it to him. The philosophy is simple: lots of news is sensationalized or depressing, you can’t do much about it anyway, and it takes up a fair amount of your mental cycles.

I’ve already learned a lot from my “no news” challenge. I learned that I’m a literal news junkie. Most of the sites I surf for fun (Techmeme, Google News, Hacker News) are all news sites. My default radio station is the BBC World Service. At dinner my wife and I often watch The Daily Show. When I wait in line I frequently browsed news on my Galaxy Nexus. Heck, my favorite podcast for exercising is This Week in Google, which is a weekly breakdown of news about Google and the cloud. I’m not kidding when I say a huge fraction of my “entertainment” time was actually news consumption. And if news is your hobby, that’s fine, but it should be a deliberate choice, not something you back into.

I eventually had to construct a personal spectrum of what counted as news. Twitter stream? Lots of news there. Twitter mentions? Mostly news-free. Google+ stream? Some news at first, but I put newsy people in a circle and set their volume to zero for this month. Reddit? Mostly news free. WIRED magazine? I decided it was okay to read.

The first few days of going news-free were awful. I was unmoored without a constant stream of events to pay attention to. But within a few days, I started to relax and focus more. Without news to occupy me, large swaths of time of time have opened up to do other things. I’ve gotten a lot more stuff done in the last couple weeks. It’s curiously freeing to have no idea who won Super Tuesday or what company just bought what other company. When an occasional piece of news lands in front of me, I’m much more aware of my heart speeding up as I get wrapped up in that story.

It’s also interesting to see which “news” stories are reflected back to me second-hand. Evidently Snooki is pregnant and Rush Limbaugh did something that has people up in arms. It’s made me think a lot more about my information diet. We need better tools to distill the river of news–or more often, bread-and-circus factoids–down to the trickle of things that really matter.

I have no idea what I’ll do after my news-free challenge ends, but it’s definitely made me realize how much time and effort I was putting into hunting and gathering information, and how I used news as an unconscious way to spend time.

51 Responses to New 30 day challenge: No news (Leave a comment)

  1. Good luck Matt. Like i said. Don’t worry. Word-of-mouth will do the trick for the most important newsfacts.

  2. I stopped following the mainstream media a few years ago. You are correct in saying that if it’s that important someone will usually point it out… Or it’ll be on one social network or another.

    The end result is an overall increase in happiness with less time spent worrying about issues over which I have no control :)

    News. Sensationalized… Never! /sarcasm

  3. Good luck ! Don’t worry, everything will be ok. Your experience as a Googler will help you to “find the way” . :)

  4. A marathon? Man, that is awesome – and a great idea. Was the six months a sufficient amount to train for it? And, how often did you train?

    I’d like to run a marathon, but it seems like such a huge challenge, but breaking it down into several “thirty-day challenges” make sit seem … possible.

  5. Justin Christley

    Hi Matt,
    You may have done this one before, but how a bout setting yourself a challenge of maybe learning a new word every day or maybe 5 if you really fancy a challenge?

  6. Hi Matt
    What about this for a 30 day challenge.

    ‘stop the folks at google from playing around with the way the results appear for 30 days’
    One day is places, then its images, then news, then shopping, then panda 3.3 and the results go all over the place. :)

  7. So Matt, how’s your NCAA tournament bracket doing? (joke…)

  8. Think i will try that i imagine ill last 10 mins before i get the shakes

  9. Are you still on with you Vegan diet?

    I had a 30 day vegetarian diet and I decided to stop it… Why? Some how it turned eating into a boring activity… Every restaurant I go I have to be searching what doesn’t have meat.. :/

  10. I’m kind of glad to hear that I’m not the only person who stopped watching news, or reading newspapers. I found I had to stop reading or watching after Sept. 11th 2001. I hadn’t intended to make it permanent, but I haven’t gone back to newspapers or TV news since.

    However, I hadn’t considered all the other news that I do come in contact with … RSS feeds from sites like yours, boing boing, the twit podcasts…

    After reading your post I’m wondering if I did ‘no news’ or just ‘different news’. And I’m wondering if I could do “no” news.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  11. sadanand

    Literature is news that stays news. ?

  12. So Matt your now getting back to your normal life. lol. Life without news for you is???

  13. Matt, I’m sure you found that you have oodles of extra time by toning down the constant stream of news information. Conversely, I have found myself enthralled in this election cycle, and in particular, the latent emergence of Ron Paul’s platform.

  14. Great update!
    I’m more and more attracted to the idea of 30-day challanges, I think it’s great to push yourself to do new and exciting stuff that you’d never do without a challange.

    Keep us updated!

  15. jeff

    Can someone provide the link to the ted conference he mentioned about cutting out news

  16. “Was the six months a sufficient amount to train for it? And, how often did you train?”

    I started in February and ran in July, but I wasn’t supposed to run a marathon until September/October. You really want to dedicate a season to it (start in March or April) and train for a race in the fall. But it’s absolutely doable. I had never run more than 8 miles before I started. USA Fit is a great organization that helps anyone run a marathon in just a few months, or you can find running schedules online if you’re a loner. But I definitely recommend USA Fit–knowing that other folks will be running adds a nice amount of peer pressure to show up. I definitely think you can do it, Sarah. :)

    Justin Christley, I did a “learn a word a day” challenge in late 2010: http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/learn-30-new-words/

    Todd, I did hear second-hand that University of Kentucky and UNC are both #1 seeds. :)

    Joel Valdez, I’m not still vegan, but I’m a lot more open to vegetarian and vegan options. Before I didn’t even understand why someone would go vegan, but now it’s a lot more clear.

    Jeff, isn’t it interesting how there’s exactly one newspaper’s worth of news a day, and 30 minutes of broadcast news each day, and one magazine’s worth of news each week or month? It’s definitely fun to think about this topic, and it makes me want to be more deliberate about paying attention to things that have stood the test of time. On the flip side, I think a lot of books can be summarized in 1/2 to 1/10th of the space.

  17. Inspiring, Matt, simply inspiring. I recall reading about your past challenges — but giving up news because you want to rely on social proof in that if it’s important it will come to you is brilliant and very true.

  18. You’ll enjoy this challenge, Matt. There’s nothing like pulling away from the mainstream media, getting the outsider perspective, and realizing how distorted a picture it presents of the world.

    Because there are no facts
    There is no truth
    Just data to be manipulated
    No shame
    No solution
    No remorse
    No retribution
    Just people selling T-shirts.

  19. Tim

    Wow, this is a real hard one. I would call myself a news junky as well, for me it would be nearly impossible. Anyway, Good Luck!

    Best regards

    Tim

  20. Great to see you’ve been keeping at it! It’s funny, but I almost found my 30-day challenges were so successful that they evolved into a different animal. I was looking for the next challenge and decided to take on some year-long challenges instead (much like your shift to the 6-month marathon training) and turn some of what I had learned into long-term habits – especially exercise. It’s been a great experience, and I’ll probably revisit a 30-day challenge here and there, but I don’t think I can keep doing it every month without some of the challenges starting to get silly :)

  21. I recently did a 40 day no games/social media for fun break. At first I thought I was going to die. But after a few days I realized and was amazed with how much time I actually had available each day for doing things with the kids & wife, going outside, reading, etc. It was a great break for me!

  22. Hey Matt, congratulations on all your successful challenges — though I’m a little sore about this one. I’m a journalist with CBCNews.ca up here in Canada who stumbled across this on Poynter. Honestly, I think you’ve got it right in terms of unplugging from the Snooki drip, but I’m curious about what you’re missing out on.

    This line: “We need better tools to distill the river of news” was probably the most interesting for me. That could mean you want journalists to be more concise, or simplify issues more. But I think it’s more likely that YOU are the “tool” — and I don’t mean that in an offensive way — that you’re looking for. Instead of letting news wash over you, couldn’t you push yourself to read harder journalism (long-form, investigative, in depth)? You know I’m biased, because I work in the media, but I promise you there is brilliant news out there that you’re missing out on.

    So I guess what I’m saying is, come on back. But when you come back, push yourself and change your media diet so you’re getting the good stuff.

    If you need a start or two just give me a shout.

  23. You should allow yourself Jon Stewart – even he claims he is a comedian, not a newsman. Though I can see how it might go against the spirit of the challenge. Too bad your wife has to suffer…

    No Daily Show would be enough of a 30 day challenge in itself.

  24. Hi Matt, congrats on your success and self control. As a self professed news junkie whose focus is often distracted by all sorts of news channels (BBC World News, PBS News Hour is my nightly fix from TV), twitter, G+, LinkedIn, BBC.com, Google News, inbound.org and others. I like the idea of an information diet. Did you coin that phrase? I am not sure I could do the 30 day challenge cold turkey with no news. PBS news hour, BBC World News are good as they have a start and an end and generally cover issues from both sides and as politically neutral as possible (PBS that is). Online can get crazy as sometimes clicking around and commenting can chew tons of time. Hats off to you for having the discipline to not let yourself get distracted and freeing up the time for other high value activities. Thanks for sharing.

  25. I haven’t followed the news on TV or newspaper because as you say Matt it’s usually depressing and if it’s a big news, I’ll know about it, one way or the other.
    I don’t need TV to distract me more than I’m distracted with searching online…
    Keep going the good work!

  26. Greg, I’ve been allowing myself the interviews (mostly news-free) from the Daily Show but not the first 2/3rds of the show.

    John Rieti, I’m not very unhappy with conventional journalism–the inverted pyramid means that I can stop reading whenever I want. And sources like the BBC World Service do an admirable job of condensing the most important stories into 3-5 minute updates every 30 minutes.

    What does trouble me is some of the new web services that only provide updates chronologically without a solid notion of which updates are the most important. There are a few startups that try to do things like “Show me the 10 most important tweets from the people I follow.” I certainly can be the tool that does the filtering, but I’d prefer some help with that task from my computer.

  27. I stopped getting the daily newspaper last year and I rarely have the TV on a news a channel. All that’s ever reported or written about is bad or depressing news, agreed! I will stick with movies and presently NCAA — Go cats! Its been to long.

  28. Please add email subscription button. Thanks.

  29. Hi,
    I read this post and respect for the discipline it takes to apply yourself to the various goals you set. But don’t you think its a case that if what you are doing on a daily basis was more fulfilling then you would not have to set these mini challenges for yourself?

  30. Darrell

    Hey Matt

    I have a new 30 day challenge….to try and eliminate Google from as much as I can every day….I mean – deleting literally everything I can because its sooooo creepy what Google is doing now with the updated policy – I feel like you and Google are literally stalking me – oh wait you are stalking me….For example, I have switched a lot of email now because I get tired of you and the rest of your colleagues reading my email – literally too and you know G does read people’s email. Hoping the FTC jumps into that one too to really hammer Google with some add’l penalties…

    Just remember, its unethical and illegal to read someones email without their permission….Larry and Serge might think it OK, but its only a matter of time before Google will have to pay yet again for illegal stuff that they do. If any of us did what Google did, we would literally be in jail and you know its true. For a guy that is smart, I am surprised you actually still work for that type of company.

    There is simply a point where what you and your team are now doing is so wrong for organic search results that its truly sad. For example, I was reading some forums, like Traffic planet and I noticed someone mention you tweeted about them.

    Let me ask you a straight forward question – do you just hide behind an alias on forums and your team or do you actually have the guts to put your real name down or do you hide behind an alias?

    You once discussed sometime ago that if your competitor throws crappy links at your site, that Google takes that into account and your site would not be penalized. Well, since the latest Panda 3.3 update or whatever number you are at, you are now taking down legitimate sites too who play by the rules. So, how is this a good thing?

    Literally, since you took down ALN and BMR, sites are disappearing by the thousands. So, you just showed everyone in the SEO industry, that all they need to do now to destroy the competition is throw shitty links at you competitor and the G algo will automatically spank your site in a few weeks. Great job that latest update – NOT…I really thought Google was the ultimate search engine, but clearly that is no longer the case. I won’t ever use Chrome and any time I do a search, I log out of Gmail for the limited amount of time I use it now.

  31. I could quiet easily give up the news, what would be hard for me is giving up my cellphone for 30 days or give up checking email on it when I’m out of the house :)

  32. So the 30 days are finishing up – how did it go? Is this going to affect your life in a permanent way? Have you decided yet, or are you just going to let it roll and see what happens?

    I’ve personally pulled back from news in the past quite a bit since I realized the majority of news is negative and I find I’m much more productive when I stay positive. Since then I only poke in every now and then, especially if I hear of something notable. But overall keeping away from a daily diet of news feeds has had a very positive effect on my own life. I’d be interested to hear long term plans from someone who has actively (and consciously) adjusted their own input level of news.

  33. Cool Matts! I’m going to learn from you and doing some of my own challenges. I’m a smoker and really want to quit smoke. So quit smoking should be my first challenge. :)

  34. Hi Matt, I should give up checking facebook on my iphone. So I removed it from my phone and was pretty happy with myself. 2 weeks later my alterego downloaded the bloody ap again and here I am. I know I can do it and should never give up giving up! Marathon running? No, thanks.

  35. I canceled the news paper last year and do not run my evening around seeing the news. It is interesting seeing which stories people relay back to you. Really, I don’t feel I’ve missed anything important by stopping the paper and not watching the news.

    Now that I’m using Google+ I have interesting bits of news and factoids to pass on when people tell me the news of the day.

  36. SEO problem.There is a bug in google search,maybe it’s individual,however it’s one problem! You type “p90x” to google search, the third website “4000more.org” has nothing to do with p90x,but it’s there more than one year since Feb 24, 2011(no update).That can not be explained by SEO.It’s FANTASTIC

  37. That’s awsome, i ll begin an 30 day challenge too.

    In your company i dare you that you ll hear some news ;-)

  38. Good luck !!!
    What are challenges for, april, may and June ?
    For me “The challenge” is just to wear my news bikini for this summer ;)

  39. It’s amazing – your 30 day challenges are fantastic.

  40. My back links are not visible in any back link checker. I wants to ask you that what is the search engines strategy.

  41. Hey Matt, “avoid reading, watching, or hearing the news” I started to do that as a New Year’s resolution and it has reduced stress a great deal. I have noticed that I am often made fun of by colleagues and friends for not knowing who any reality stars are these days though. I’ll take it though. Love your thoughts!

  42. every day to find the latest news I would use google search engine. But unfortunately this time I was not satisfied, because the number of spam blogs whose content is not appropriate that I typed in the search engines. how to prevent the solution of search results that do not fit this?

  43. No news.. that is IMPOSSIBRU. I have infobesitas. Without news.. I’d die a little inside.

  44. Matthew Anderson

    I got stuffed by your new update. I have a 7 year old website with SEO work done on it several years ago. No real SEO done in the past 3 years. So I have been penalised for SEO work done 3 years ago is all I can think.

    My website “was” top of its niche, with several hundred multi million pound clients. In the past day we have had a 95% drop in traffic and all but a bare few keywords left with rankings. Over 250 rankings we did have that we monitor each day have gone. These were top 3 rankings, now not even anywhere to be seen

    We have never done any bad SEO, we need to compete, but we have never done black hat. Saying that, what we did do was borderline, but then so does everyone else so we were left with little choice. We have bent the rules, but no different to others.

    Overnight my business which supports my 5 children, 3 employees, pays for my mortgage and debts etc has been wiped out. If I cannot sort this and fast, then the 3 employees will have to go, my website server bills will go unpaid, my car taken from me and worst of all my children will lose their home and be rehomed by the government in a new area with no friends and a change of schools. I imagine I am not the only one in this position.

    Thanks Google. At a time where almost every country in the world is suffering, way to go with applying a little more hardship to people whom have just tried to play the game as does everyone.

    There must have been a better way of doing this than what you have done. “Do no evil”

    From my 3 employees, 2 dogs, 5 cats, Wife and 5 children. Thanks a lot.

  45. Dear Matt,

    thanks you for sharing your all things with us..

    we all r get aware about everything for you.

    cheers up!

    http://theprabin.com/

  46. Great idea Matt to “Cutt” out the news, eh ?
    Today’s news is depressing and sensationalized for sure.
    I live in Tampa, and you would think it is the worst place to live in Florida by watching our local news.
    I admire any Vegan, and I cut meat down recently because I am diabetic.

  47. I stopped listening to mainstream news after reading Tim Ferris’ book, “The 4-Hour Work Week” and have never looked back. Not only is it a classic time waster, but it’s (for the most part) negatively geared and just puts you in a pessimistic mindset.

    Also, it’s quite amazing how much general social interaction keeps you up to date in any case. You don’t even have to engage in the conversations – overhearing them generally paints to satisfactory picture :)

  48. Good luck Matt! I have an hour drive to work and all I listen to is NPR. I am joining your challenge but I will limit myself to 20 minutes per day.

  49. Running a marathon is also still a dream for me, which will come true someday :)

  50. Craig

    Matt, do you know the name of the person who gave that TED talk? I’d love to watch a video of it but can’t seem to find it.

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