We’re so plugged in to our networks, so used to the constant stream of information and updates that we become anxious when we’re away from them.
When was the last time you went a day without checking them? A day without having that inexplicable urge to flick and scroll?
FOMO stands for fear of missing out. A definition: “apprehension that one is not in-the-know or one is out of touch with some social events, experiences, and interactions.”
I’ll give you a personal example. Here’s a tweet from Ramit Sethi:
“If you find yourself skimming an email newsletter or not really reading them…just unsubscribe. There’s nothing wrong with moving on.”
It’s not uncommon for the “To Read” folder in my email to swell to one hundred plus articles, essays, podcasts and videos.
Here’s a sample of updates I was signed up to (until yesterday):
Blog posts from Steven Pressfield, Seth Godin, James Altucher, Shawn Coyne, Ramit Sethi, Charlie Hoehn. Weekly newsletters from Farnam Street, BrainPickings as well as Dan John’s Wandering Weights and Dave Pell’s daily NextDraft. Newsletters from Austin Kleon and reading lists from Ryan Holiday. Podcasts and a weekly newsletter from Tim Ferriss. FoundersGrid. Jonathan Goodman’s PTDC newsletter.
All of this along with the normal updates from social networks and newsletters from many other sites I’m signed up to.
The result? I skim or skip most of it.
Well, no more. After a week of procrastination, I decided to clean out my subscriptions.
One way to determine the worth of something is to ask yourself, “would it matter if it wasn’t there anymore?”
I use a variation when editing my writing: “would it matter if I deleted that word/paragraph/section?” You can use it to prioritise work too: “would it matter if I just didn’t do this anymore?”
After asking it of each email subscription, the answer was usually a no. So I did three things.
I used the 80/20 rule, which means that of the twenty plus subscriptions I had, I could only keep three or four.
To determine which to keep I asked which provided the most, enjoyment, excitement, variety and value.
Then I started to cut.
I left myself with BrainPickings, the Farnam Street newsletter and Ryan Holiday’s Reading List. Everything else is gone.
And here’s where FOMO comes in. I know I’m gonna be missing out on some incredible writing and thought provoking content. I find this unsettling.
But as I’ve said before, the benefit of missing out is that I don’t have to keep up. It’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for now.
I can free myself from the Red Queen race that is remaining up to date and focus on doing the work that matters.
It also opens up another possibility. Because I am being less spoon-fed, I’ll have more time and energy to explore. I could spend a week reading all of Kevin Kelly’s previous articles. Or I could find someone interesting on Quora and read everything they’ve written.
Some people can handle and categorise vast amounts of incoming information. Whether this is a evidence of a lively mind, a certain skillset, or a consequence of sophisticated systems and filters, I don’t know. My suspicion is it’s a blend of them all.
One of the main reasons that people cite (and I use to justify) insane amounts of incoming information is that they need to “keep their fingers on the pulse of the industry”.
References are made to generals that frequented the front lines and how up-to-date information is often the deciding factor in strategy.
But they’re missing the point.
When Erwin Rommel was tearing around the deserts of Northern Africa, he wasn’t receiving reports. He was talking with his staff. He was seeing with his eyes. He was using and relying on human connection not information.
Information is given an aura. It’s considered imperative to have data analysts and be able to spot trends. But we forget that information is toxic in large amounts, as Taleb demonstrates in Antifragile.
So what is the antidote to this toxicity, how can we stay up to date without exposing ourselves to torrents of information and data?
Good relationships with a variety of people in a number of different places will give you much more insight into forthcoming trends and changes than any report or newsletter ever will.
Choose to miss out and you free up some of your energy.
Energy that you can use to build relationships. Energy that you can use to make better decisions. Energy that you can use to make yourself better. Energy that you can use to help others.
That sounds better than the dread of having to catch up on hundreds of emails.