I’m on a quest, right now, to do less, but better. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our culture doesn’t support it. Neither does our brain chemistry. Most of us have a natural, and totally understandable, tendency to not want to miss out on the good stuff. We also have a tendency to be attracted to things that look fun, or interesting, or lucrative. And therein lies (a big) part of the problem. Fear of missing out meets shiny object syndrome.
When we fear missing out, we try and do ALL the things. When we check out every shiny object, we accumulate more things that need to be done, or at least researched, before abandoned. This leads to over-stuffed to-do lists that have us tearing our hair out and ignoring a simple truth. We wrote those to-do lists, and we chose what to include.
We have a love/hate relationship with that long to-do list, because it overwhelms us, but also validates us. We live in a world that respects volume, worships long hours, and sanctifies busyness. Our culture glorifies doing more, so that’s what we do, whether we want to or not.
If someone else writes your to-do list and it’s too long, that’s their fault, and you need to address it with them. But if you’re self-employed and your to-do list is too long, that’s your issue to address. The same goes if your personal to-do list is too long.
There’s a reason the lists we write have too much stuff on them, and it’s more sophisticated than ‘there’s a lot to do’. Insurmountable to-do lists relate to an inability to prioritise, delegate or recognise futile and unnecessary activities. They also relate to those two separate but closely linked concepts: FOMO and Shiny Object Syndrome.
We’ve always had a fear of missing out on what others are enjoying, although it’s only in fairly recent history we’ve given the concept an acronym, and a hashtag. #FOMO brought up 375,388 posts on Instagram the day I wrote this. And if you’re genuinely anxious that you’re missing out, know what you’re going to try and do? More. More networking. More climbing the corporate ladder. More socialising. More work. More billable hours. More of everything.
The fact that #FOMO is a heavily-used hashtag is indicative of how social media, and technology in general, pulls our attention from what we’re doing to what we could be doing instead. As our tech distracts us more and more, our thought patterns become like a troupe of monkeys. Jumping back and forth, swinging from one thing to another, never really sitting still and getting something worthwhile done.
Shiny object syndrome has also always been a thing, but it works in perfect harmony with the high tech world, and in particular with online algorithms. Search for (or click on) one work-at-home opportunity, dating site, or writing prompt app, and you’ll suddenly have a lot more thrown in front of you, in the form of carefully targeted online ads.
Whatever you express an interest in, online, will slide you neatly into a target market for future advertising. So you end up signing up for four online courses, dating apps, or multi-level marketing opportunities, instead of putting your time and energy into the best or most appropriate one for you right now.
So how do we tame the FOMO, train the monkeys, and filter the shiny objects? How do we stop chasing the next idea or opportunity, or maybe the next relationship or social gathering? How do we focus on what we’re doing, not what we’re missing? How do we make our to-do lists a delight? There are a few steps you can take.
Get off the social sites
Try banishing FOMO by staying off social media as much as possible, and being intentional when you do use it. It is perhaps the height of irony, but you may need to use technology to help you stop using technology. There are apps to help you limit your time on social sites, and if they work for you, great, but I prefer rewards to restrictions.
If that sounds like you, try Forest. It’s an app that grows a virtual tree while you focus on your work. If you leave the app, the tree dies. It’s very visual and oddly satisfying to see your tree, standing strong and healthy because you actually focussed for an hour or so.
Ignore the ads
And consider installing ad blocker. When you fall off the wagon and start Googling all kinds of shiny objects, it can help you avoid a dozen ads a day for them.
Decide each month what you’re going to focus on
Pick the main thing that will have an impact, at work (or at least any part of your work that you directly control) and in your personal life, for the next 30 (ish) days. Pick the thing that matters. The thing that’s vitally important to you right now. Focus on that. Other things occur to you? Write them down. Then ignore them. Don’t get pulled off course by them. Maybe you can make them the focus of your next 30 days.
Edit your to-do list
Be ruthless. Look at every item and assess why it’s there. Is it a result of FOMO? Is it a shiny object? Were you persuaded to add it by a social media ad on online algorithm? Or did you intentionally choose it for reasons that speak to your heart? What’s on there that isn’t important, doesn’t need to be done, or that you just plain don’t want to do?
Yep, I know the trip to the dentist might fall into this category, and there’s not much you can do about that. But there will be other things that you neither want nor need to do. Triple D (Do, Delegate, Delete) as much as you can. You should be left with things that you are deeply looking forward to and/or you know are vitally important. You should be left with a to-do list that’s (mostly) a delight. If not, edit again.