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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Break Room

How to Survive a Workday When There's Exciting News Breaking in the Outside World

Earlier this week, Gawker Media imploded. As someone who lives and breathes the New York City media scene, I was captivated. Probably to an inappropriate degree considering that it in no way involved me. (Seriously, not one reporter reached out to me for comment.)

But that’s neither here nor there right now. The point is that I couldn’t get enough of everything going down.

There was only one problem: This all went down on Monday morning. Which isn’t exactly prime time for ignoring your to-do list in favor of following the latest updates on Twitter and responding to your friends’ “puh-lease tell me you’re paying attention to what’s happening” Gchats.

So, what’s a curious professional to do when there’s exciting news happening in the world and you’re stuck “doing your job” in the office? (And no one from HR seems to be drafting an email reassuring you that outside drama’s a reasonable excuse to go home early?)

Well, as someone who easily gets distracted by this very thing, I’ve learned a few tips and tricks along the way. This has gotten me through such insane events as: Amy Poehler and Will Arnett’s separation, a handful of trial verdicts, HBO finales, and most recently, The Watcher.

Best part? You’ll be so efficient that your boss will be none the wiser. (Unless, well, you’re me and your boss edits your articles.)

1. Revise Your To-Do List

It’s time to be realistic with yourself: There’s no way you’re going to power through any non-urgent work today, even if’s been sitting on your schedule for weeks. No, instead you need to write down the tasks that absolutely must get completed before the end of the day. Whether that list has three items or 10 items is up to you—because only you know what you’re responsible for every day.

Expert tip: You still need to do enough work that you’re not screwing yourself over for the rest of the week. That means your list should have more on it than answer time-sensitive emails, keep Excel spreadsheet handy in case your boss walks by, and loudly blurt out, “Now, that’s what I call synergy!” every few hours.

2. Schedule Breaks for Yourself

Breaking news waits for no one, least of all someone who really has to power through several (suddenly) mundane tasks in just a few short hours. And if you’re anything like me, scrolling through the news at 6 PM and seeing everything you’ve missed stresses you out. Even if it has absolutely nothing to do with what usually interests you. What? New photos of Pluto! I can’t believe someone didn’t bring this to my attention sooner.

So, with that in mind, you need to build a few breaks into your schedule. Take a moment and look at that neat little to-do list you just created. Now, plan on taking a 10-minute breather between each item to catch up on what’s happening. And here’s the tricky part: You have to hold yourself to it just being 10 minutes.

Struggling to get back to work after this? Set an alarm on your phone. I assure you that after the first time it goes off and your whole office does the “C’mon, who has their sound on?” evil-eye-chair-swivel, you’ll be certain to keep a close watch on the countdown during your next break. Lest you incur the wrath of your colleagues who for some weird reason aren’t as into what’s happening as you are.

3. Disconnect From Everything

Put your phone in a bag. Zip that bag up. Or, place it in your drawer. Better yet, hide it in your co-worker’s drawer. Long story short: Just get it out of direct reach. Seriously, if you can still touch it, you’re ruining this step and defeating the entire point of reading this article—you might as well be looking at cat fail videos.

Next: Sign off Gchat, Twitter, Facebook and whatever other medium distracts you with updates. Now, you can’t just X out, you actually have to sign out. It’s much harder to “just look at what’s happening for a hot sec” if you have to stand up and grab your phone, or log back into Twitter, or get back on Gchat. (Bonus points on this step if you don’t have your passwords saved in your browser and can’t remember them.)

Oh, also, you haven’t seen annoyed until you’ve seen your co-worker’s face when you ask to get in her drawer for the ninth time in two hours.

4. Don’t Read All the Articles Now

Yes, you’re allowed to have breaks that allow you to catch up on the latest. However, this is most definitely not the time to dive into a 2,000-word hot take. Not only will that take up your entire break (plus some), but it’ll also lead you down a rabbit hole of reading comments, sharing the link, and looking for hot take responses to the hot take. As the Internet Gods always say, “So many reactions, so little time.”

Instead, this is a great opportunity to start using Pocket, favoriting Tweets, and saving Facebook links. All of these great reads will be waiting for you at the end of the day. And you’ll be able to actually enjoy them since you won’t be rushing through trying to find the most outrageous quotables.

And there you have it: a no-brainer guide to getting through a breaking news day at work. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some Twitter interactions I need to stalk.

Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.