Why FOMO Keeps Us from Being Productive

5 Steps for Choosing the Right Opportunities

The fear of missing out isn’t worth much, but FOMO costs us a lot. That’s especially true when it comes to our productivity. It’s like a powerful undertow, invisible on the surface of our work, which can pull us away in the current.

Right after I left as CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers, an online periodical approached me about serving on their advisory board. I was busy building a revenue portfolio, and the role seemed like a good fit. Plus, it would garner me a lot of free exposure, which I figured would help the rest of my business.

Not so much.

Dead-End Opportunities

First, I had to hound the team for payment. I spent hours every month trying to collect. And that nebulous opportunity for greater exposure never really materialized. After a few months, I was done. We parted ways, and I was no further ahead for all the wasted time and effort.

Another time a tech company offered me stock options for board involvement. I had friends with similar arrangements who raked in the cash when their companies sold. The product seemed excellent, and the board was filled with topnotch people.

But despite my initial impression, it was a bad fit for me. It gobbled up tons of time, kept me from other more important projects, and ended up going nowhere.

The problem in both cases was that I let FOMO drive my yes, rather than what was truly best for my business. Maybe you can identify.

The Fear Motive

This is a recurring struggle for me. Someone has an opportunity, and I feel like I’m going to miss something if I don’t jump on it. It’s important to remember what Steve Jobs said:

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

That’s true for success in most of life. But fear can turn it inside out. Suddenly success looks like saying yes to 1,000 things. And if we don’t, we worry we’ll fail.

This is why we’re so deathly afraid of passing up an invitation. We sweat missing an opportunity so we say yes to every one that comes along:

  • to new clients because we fear missing out on income opportunities.
  • to your boss because we fear missing out on praise or leadership.
  • to new training because we fear missing out on learning a new skill.
  • to lunch invites because we fear missing out on key networking.

FOMO is also why we don’t close the office door, turn off push notifications, or exit Facebook. We’re so busy saying yes to the vague possibility that something is more valuable than our work that we never get around to actually working on what matters.

A Bad Gamble

Our schedules tell the tragic story—no boundaries, no focus, no clarity. Like that undertow, we’re dragged through the week by external offers and requests that may never pan out.

And deep down, we know.

Time is fixed. Until physicists figure out something better, we’re free to use 168 hours a week, no more. That means every yes is a tradeoff.

So when we pencil in another chance for improved income, status, or relational equity, we do it at the expense of focused time for high-leverage projects and margin for rejuvenation and our most important relationships.

Focus and margin are proven. New opportunities are a gamble. And the more of them we commit to, the less likely our fractured focus can even make good on any of them.

Thankfully, there’s a way out.

5 Steps to Overcome FOMO

To keep FOMO from killing my productivity, I follow these five steps:

  1. Set strong, specific goals. Clarity is key. If your priorities are clear, you can play your game instead of everyone else’s. Goals filter incoming invitations. Does the opportunity help you achieve your goal? Great. If not, see ya.

  2. Know the high-leverage tasks needed to hit those goals. There’s only so many hours in a day. Once you chunk down your goals into tasks, you give them priority on your schedule.

  3. Recognize the tradeoffs. When you feel like saying yes, count the cost. Ask, “What am I giving up to say yes to this, and is that worth it? Will it benefit me more than my clearly articulated, preexisting goals?” Probably not, if you’re honest.

  4. Become a no ninja. Remember, an opportunity with a yes attached is an obligation. Too many obligations is an obstacle. Give yourself permission to turn something down today. The more you do it, the more confident you’ll become.

  5. Cultivate a mindset of abundance. FOMO thrives on scarcity. “An opportunity like this will probably never come along again,” you might rationalize, “so I have to say ‘yes’ now.” But, no you don’t. As a mentor once told me, there’s always another deal. I’ve never seen him proved wrong.

If we operate with focus from a place of abundance, filtering out opportunities becomes simple. The question is whether you’re confident enough in your goals to pass on all the distractions.

What’s one opportunity you wished you had never said yes to?

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