Fear Of Burning Out Is The New Fear Of Missing Out

“People feel like they’re losing their autonomy.”

Image courtesy of Unsplash.

I have a tech blogger friend who, if I am three hours late to the newest meme, tells me in real life, or over Twitter DM, to “keep up!”

This inspires a fissure of FOMO, or fear of missing out — the emotional state, captured in any number of trend stories on millennials, in which we have the acute feeling of digital absence, of being disconnected from the brunches and vacations of Instagram and the bon mots and zingers of Twitter.

In order to avoid FOMO, you must keep up, refresh, regram, retweet. But according to a whole new class of trend story, what you should really be feeling is FOBO — fear of burning out.

So says Cal Newport, the thinking man’s productivity guru, author of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, and associate professor of computer science at Georgetown. As detailed in Fast Company, Newport is not on Twitter or Instagram; he doesn’t have a Facebook account. “As someone who has never used these services, I can tell you: You don’t have to use them,” he says. “Your life will still go on.”

Rather than being afraid of missing out, Newport says, we need to think more of the risks of burning out — of not having our time align with our goals.

The two acronyms are not unrelated, FOMO and FOBO. Because the more we try not to miss out, the more we risk burning out. “People feel like they’re losing their autonomy,” he says, as checking social media has become “somewhat compulsory,” sucking up almost two hours of the average user’s day. Time on phones is even more: according to data provided to Thrive Global from the app-tracking app Moment, users spend 222 minutes a day — over three and a half hours — on their iPhones.

“A lot of people feel very trapped and fed up with having to be on their phones and feel obligated, whereas others feel they have very important uses and get a lot of value out of it,” Newport tells FC. “It’s not about one thing being definitively bad and one thing being definitively good, but these technologies, if you’re not intentional, can take over your life.”

Indeed, self-report data from Moment finds that in the case of almost every app, the more you use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or whatever, the less happy you feel about your time use.

If the fear of burnout is the problem, digital minimalism is the solution. On his blog, Newport defines digital minimalism as:

a philosophy that helps you question what digital communication tools (and behaviors surrounding these tools) add the most value to your life. It is motivated by the belief that intentionally and aggressively clearing away low-value digital noise, and optimizing your use of the tools that really matter, can significantly improve your life.

It’s taking a Marie Kondo approach to the screens in your life: Does this TV really need to be on? Do you really want Instagram notifying you that your ninth grade classmate who you’re friends with on Facebook is also on Instagram? Do you really benefit from checking Twitter while brushing your teeth? If the answer is no, then turn these settings off. It’ll help you be the person in charge of your attention, rather than some engineer in Silicon Valley. Rather than keeping up, you can be opting out.

You’ll likely feel less busy. And, the research indicates, more creative.

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