I was planning on doing an update on my “Full Life Project” today. However, as I read through my initial post on that topic and my April follow-up, I realized there is another subject I’d like to explore first. As you might remember, the words I selected as my theme for 2014 were “simplicity” and “joy.” Unfortunately, I don’t feel I’m doing very well in manifesting that reality for myself and there is one big reason for that.
In today’s post, I explore two topics that have been adversely impacting my life for a long time, fear of missing out (FOMO) and information overload. I know that I am not alone in this struggle, and I understand that FOMO is often a big driver of compulsive shopping behavior. I don’t have all the answers and am still very much in the midst of the fog, but I hope that writing about my battle will help shed some light on it for both myself and others.
First, a Bit of History
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a thirst for knowledge. Even as a young child, my head was always buried in a book, and my mother recently told me that my favorite outing was going to the library. I begged her to take me there every day so I could dive into the wealth of information that was housed within. This love of information only intensified as I grew older. Not only did I love school, but I developed a number of interests that ranged beyond the topics I studied in my classes.
While it may seem like my passion for information has been a blessing – and in many ways, it has – it has also become a curse. In addition to my overshopping for clothes, I also bought far too many books, especially since Amazon.com makes it so easy to order with a single mouse click. Over the years, my bookshelves became more and more overloaded with books I wanted to read. Even as my queue grew longer, I continued to purchase more tomes to add to the mix. As if that was not enough, I also subscribed to a plethora of magazines. With subscriptions going for as little as $12 per year, it seemed like a no-brainer to say yes to all of the offers that were sent my way.
As the information age exploded, the range of data at my fingertips became virtually limitless. With the ease of RSS readers, I added countless blogs to my feed, and my web browser always has at least twenty open tabs (I just counted now and there are 37!). Then I learned about a new app called Pocket which allows me to save online articles to read later. Although I didn’t have time to read all of the articles when I first saw them, I didn’t want to miss out on potentially life-changing information. So I saved it for later when I hoped I’d have more time to sit back and enjoy the inflow of knowledge into my sponge of a brain.
Simplicity, This is Not!
I have to admit that I feel tired just from typing the abridged history recounted above. I’m overwhelmed from all of the information I’ve allowed to enter my home – and my brain – and it definitely is not in line with my simplicity theme for the year. What’s more, the overflowing knowledge bank I’ve built does not lead me to feel at all joyous!
While this discussion is a bit off the beaten path of the topics usually discussed on this blog, there are some strong parallels to the way in which many of us approach our wardrobes. We don’t want to miss out on great deals, new trends, and fabulous clothing, shoes, and accessories. We hate to think that the magical garment that will make us feel breathtakingly beautiful will slip out of our grasp when we’re not paying attention. So we subscribe to email updates from our favorite retailers, stalk the new offerings on e-commerce sites, and head out to the mall every weekend to see what’s new.
FOMO and Unhappiness
I’m convinced that fear of missing out (FOMO) is a big cause of unhappiness for far too many people in modern society. FOMO leads us to feel like what we have – and who we are – isn’t good enough. It’s what’s next that matters rather than what is in the here and now. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know that I’ve become anxious, restless, and miserable as a result of my feverish attempt to stay on top of things. While I’ve made some good progress in paring down my wardrobe and cutting back on my shopping habit, I still feel a distinct lack of inner peace. What’s more, as I’ve shopped less, my FOMO has intensified in the realm of information.
Something’s got to give, as I can’t take the status quo anymore. Perhaps I’m just more aware of what FOMO is costing me and it isn’t really worse than it was in the past. But, bottom line, I know I have to change or I’ll never feel the sense of calm and flow I so desperately crave. I realize the depth of my information addiction as I’ve been typing this post, as I stopped to check my email several times. What exactly do I think is so urgent that it needs to be attended to every few minutes? I shake my head at, excuse my call-back to a recent post, the folly of it all.
Laying It All Out on the Table
Now I’m not one to want to vent ad nauseum, but it does feel good to get some of this out into the open. I’d like to make some powerful changes in my addiction to information, as I feel it’s an important key to increasing my happiness and having a fuller life. But before I can change it, I need to get real about the current state of affairs. Here are the sources of information overload in my life:
- Articles I’ve cut out from previous magazines
- Current blog articles in my feed
- Blog articles I’ve saved for later
- Articles I’ve saved to the Pocket app
- Open web tabs
- Social media (I often peruse Facebook and Twitter and find more articles to read – those get opened in web tabs!)
Just making the list above made me tired, so you see the bind I’m in. Perhaps some of you can relate to my current dilemma. Part of me just wants to get rid of everything and start over (Courtney Carver recommended killing the “read later” folder in this recent blog post), but that’s a bit too scary for me to contemplate at present. Yet that doesn’t mean I can’t make a positive impact on the situation in the near term.
Taking Powerful Action to Address Information Overload
I was originally going to publish this post on Tuesday. I started typing out a plan for addressing my information overload, but decided to immediately start taking action instead. As a result, I feel this post is more powerful, as I’m already “walking my talk.”
Here are the actions I’ve already taken this week to lighten my load and bring more simplicity and joy into my life:
- Cleared out over 400 articles in my Pocket app (there are only 18 articles left at the time of this writing)!
- Cleared out close to 200 articles that I had “saved for later” in my Feedly RSS reader (there are now only 19 remaining).
- Deleted about half of my blog subscriptions (there are still probably too many, but I made a good start).
- Threw close to half of the articles in my physical “to read” file into the recycle bin.
- Deleted approximately 125 emails from the “Read_Watch” folder in my email program (only 18 remain).
The above five actions took me close to four hours to do, but I feel it was time well spent. I decided to strike while the iron was hot, so to speak, as I was definitely ready to make a positive dent in my state of information overload. I have to be honest, though, and tell you that I did feel FOMO kicking in as I hit the delete key or threw an article into the recycle pile. Part of me wondered if I would miss out on an information nugget that would somehow transform my life. Happily, though, my desire for freedom (one of my highest values) triumphed over my fears.
Reclaiming My Time and My Life – Next Steps
Of course, there is still work to be done. I need to continue the momentum that I’ve started and take more steps to release myself from the bondage that is information overload. Here is my plan:
1. Cancel all of my magazine subscriptions.
I recently learned of an app called Next Issue which will allow me to view magazines via my tablet device of choice (not surprisingly, there are three of them in my small home!). This way, I won’t have piles of unread magazines begging to be read and I won’t feel any guilt if I opt not to peruse a given issue.
I first lamented the lack of a bookmark feature within Next Issue, but I now feel it’s a good thing for me. I can’t save articles to read later, so I either need to read something when I see it or remember to go back to it (which I usually won’t do).
Of course, having electronic access to a large number of magazines can be problematic, so I have set a limit for myself. I have selected twelve magazines to view via Next Issue. If I want to add another subscription to my list, I have to eliminate an existing one. I know that twelve still seems like a high number and I will likely elect to reduce it down the road. But I probably have twice that number of subscriptions at present, so I’m happy to have sliced my load in half.
My next step is to cancel all of my physical magazine subscriptions and I commit to doing that within the next week. The good news is that I will save some money in the process, as Next Issue costs between $10 and $15 per month (depending upon which publications you wish to access) and I was spending far more than $120-180 per year on my magazine subscriptions.
2. Eliminate the current backlog.
Although I managed to pare down my information backlog considerably, I still have some work to do. Since my read later queues in Feedly (blogs), Pocket (articles), and email are all under 20, I should be able to knock those down to zero by the end of the week. I will also close out all of the extra web tabs (I leave a few open that relate to the blog) by week’s end, too.
It will take a bit longer to pare down the physical article file, but I have a plan in place for that task. I will read five articles per day (typically during my morning session on the elliptical trainer – I read blogs then, too) until they’re all gone, which will likely take a few weeks. Then, since I’ll be accessing all my magazines online, this queue can be completely eliminated for good!
3. Prevent future backlogs.
Of course, I want to make sure I don’t recreate the same situation again in a few months’ time, so I have a plan for that, too. Any blogs that I haven’t read by Sunday evening each week will be deleted. As for the “read later” queues, they will be deleted at the end of each month, regardless of whether or not the articles within have been read. I often save articles in either Feedly or Pocket to include in my monthly useful links posts for the blog, so I’ll zero those queues out after I’ve written the post. In regards to web tabs, I will make sure to pare those down by Sunday evening, too, so I can start each week fresh.
4. Manage email overload.
I’ve already removed myself from a number of mailing lists, but I will continue to streamline the information that enters my in-box. As I read my email (will aim to only do this two to three times per day instead of continuously!), I will ask myself the following question about all list memberships:
Does this add value to my life?”
If the answer is no, or if I hem and haw, I will click on “unsubscribe” and reclaim a slice of time for myself. No need to keep receiving information that serves little purpose in my life.
5. Dealing with the rest.
You’ll notice I didn’t really mention my books and social media. While both of those areas used to be big problems for me, they have since been superseded by magazines, blogs, and online articles. I’ve been gradually paring down my book collection and haven’t been buying nearly as many books as in the past. When I do buy books these days, more often than not, they’re e-books. Still, I don’t want to go crazy there, either. I currently have 22 e-books in my Kindle app, but close to half of those are either cookbooks (that I reference on occasion) or books I’ve already read. I need to make an effort to read the current books before I add new ones to the mix.
I’d like to start reading books more often and should be able to do so now that I’m dealing with the rest of my information backlog. My plan is to read books while on my elliptical trainer (which I use for 45 minutes Monday through Friday mornings) every other day and peruse magazines and blogs on the alternate days. That way, I’ll be able to enjoy various forms of information without spending too much time on any one type. I also want to start reading more books in the evenings instead of surfing the internet or watching TV, as I feel that will be more rewarding for me overall.
In regards to social media, I plan to spend time there more deliberately instead of haphazardly. While I don’t wish to create too many rules for myself, perhaps having a social media half-hour time block each day would be a good practice. I’m going to give that a try, see how it goes, and make adjustments as needed.
While the above plan won’t necessarily solve all of my problems, I feel like it’s an excellent start. I think we need to be ready to make changes and once we are, it often isn’t as difficult as we think it will be. Some of us are able to pare down our wardrobes in very short order once we become present to how much our overstuffed closets are costing us. Although I haven’t decreased the number of garments I own as quickly as some of you, I’ve been able to do so slowly and steadily once I made the decision to do it .
Likewise, I needed to become acutely aware of the damage that my information overload was doing to my psyche and my life. Achieving that awareness enabled me to make a significant dent in the problem in just a single afternoon. Sometimes we just need to get mad as hell such that we decide we don’t want to take it anymore (to quote the great line from “Network”).
I’m sure FOMO is still going to grab me by the throat at times and leave me breathless and trembling. And I may experience some ups and downs along the path toward freedom. That’s to be expected, but I feel I’ve reached a powerful turning point. I have no plans to go back to the way things were just days ago. It didn’t make me happy and it didn’t even really make me smarter or more prepared to face the challenges of life. It just made me tired and overwhelmed, and added clutter to my home, computer, and brain. No more! Just as I want to trade my full closet for a full life, I also wish to swap my overloaded hard drive for a more robust experience in the real world.
Your Thoughts and Experiences?
Now it’s your turn to chime in. I’d love to hear about your experiences with fear of missing out (FOMO) and information overload, whether you’re still struggling or you’ve somehow managed to conquer these issues. If you are now on the other side of the abyss and can offer any words of wisdom to those of us still mired in the morass, please share. I always learn so much from your comments and I know others benefit, too. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and can help each other improve in various ways. If you have anything you’d like to share, please click here to leave a comment.