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How to Overcome Email FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)


fomo 2

FO·MO /fōmō/

(Acronym) Fear Of Missing Out
– the anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere
– being psychologically and physically compelled to open social networking or email applications at inappropriate times


You hear the word a lot these days. In fact, it was added to the Oxford dictionary in 2013.

This makes sense.

It is easier than ever to feel the fear of missing out (FOMO).

  • noticing a Facebook post about a fun gathering
  • seeing an Instagram picture of a trip you didn’t go on
  • reading an email update about a last minute change to an important project

Or hearing the words “you should have been there” can strike regret into the hearts of even the most present-minded, happy people.

FOMO seems to be a product of our times.

Google searches for FOMO

According to a Google Trends graph (below), FOMO has been on the rise.

Google Trends

It comes from a never-ending stream of potential choices and actions is fed to us via our computers, tablets and smartphones.

I would be interested in reading an entire book on the underlying psychology. “On FOMO” would have many chapters to be sure.

  • Instagram: Why Am I Not Going On An Exotic Vacation Every Other Week?
  • Facebook: I Didn’t Even Want To Go To That Party… Wait… Yes I Did. I’m So Lonely.
  • Office: Why Do Betty And George Not Invite Me To The Olive Garden On Fridays?
  • Family: My House Is Nice. But I Don’t Have A Pool Like My Brother.
  • Relationships: They Have Sex How Often?

The chapter I’d like to focus on today is:

  • Email: The Worry About What Might Be Happening In Your Inbox When You’re Not Looking.

Fear Of Missing Out is the primary reason why US workers spend 6.3 hours in their email a day. Mutiply that by 5 working days and you have over 31 hours of lost productivity.

Considering it takes on average 25-minutes to regain our focus after an interruption, this is an unbelievable drain on our productivity (not to mention our stress and happiness levels).

25 mins

Let’s have a quick self-diagnosis* to see if email FOMO is a problem for you.

Do you suffer from Email FOMO?

The amount of time you spend in your email inbox is one indicator of the disease.** Other symptoms include:

  • checking your email constantly, even if you know you shouldn’t be
  • having all the tools, but stilling worried about missing things
  • having “too many accounts” and feeling like you might miss something
  • being unable to decide whether things are important or not
  • scanning your inbox for things that are “urgent”
  • feel resistance when archiving email (scared to move it out of sight)
  • can’t resist looking at new emails when you get notifications
  • worried about missing flash deals or sales
  • feel scared to hit delete
  • you check email more times than you are consciously are aware of

If you feel any of these symptoms during the weekdays (or worse yet, the weekends), you’ve got the Email FOMO.

Yes. I’ve got full blown Email FOMO. Now what?

I’ve got some good news and some bad news. Let’s start with the bad news.

FOMO, in all its forms, is as much of an internal problem as an external problem.

The internal problem comes from a lack of confidence. If you lack confidence in an area, you’ll look to others to compare yourself with how they are doing.

Comparison isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Let’s say you are trying to improve a particular skill. It would make sense to:

  • notice the body positions of to the advanced yoga students in the class
  • watch YouTube videos of how to tune your guitar
  • make note of how the lead sales rep on your team follows up with his customers

This comparison becomes a problem when it’s being done not to learn, but to make sure you’re good enough. The fear at the root of FOMO is that what you are doing right now isn’t good enough.

Comparison becomes more malicious when you don’t feel ‘good enough’ in a major area of your life. Your romance, your finances, your relationship and — as is the case with most email FOMO — your work.

So that’s the bad news.

The good news, you can get this confidence back.


The following steps will give you back your workplace mojo so you can overcome your email FOMO.

So let’s get to it!


Sorry about that. Here are the steps.

Step 1: Get clear on your work roles and responsibilities.
Step 2: Set up an email system you can actually trust.

Let’s start with step one.

How do you produce value at your work?

Unless you are customer service representative, your job is not email.

So what do you do? What are your major roles? What projects are you in charge of? What results are you responsible for? What key performance indicators are you measured by?

One of my favorite conversations I’ve had on The Productivity Show was with an Asian Efficiency reader. Patrick Hart came on the show to talk about how he learned to say ‘NO’ at work.

Patrick Hart

Patrick’s story started with overwhelm. He’d been given a new project at work. He was excited about the project and wanted to do a good job. But he still had a list of old responsibilities that took up most of his time.

He knew he needed a change. So was wrote down all the different projects and outcomes he was responsible for. Then he added all the various meetings and time commitments he had during the week.

The picture was not pretty.

His meetings and administrative tasks were eating up most of his time, energy and attention.

After rehearsing saying no with his 9-year-old son and a few family friends, he set a meeting with his boss and laid it all out there.

Patrick let his manager know that he wanted to the major project he’d been assigned to be a success, but didn’t have the bandwidth to give it justice unless other recurring tasks were cut.

That one meeting 10-minute meeting freed up hours in his week.

Just over a year after that podcast was released, I met up with Patrick. He took my girlfriend and I out to a nice little Co-Op for a salad and a coffee.

After talking about the newly released Pokémon Go app, we chatted about work. The project that he gave space to, went exceedingly well. Patrick is once again happy and confident in his work. He also has no problem shutting off his email to:

  • focus on his important work
  • recover in the evening and on the weekends (when he gives his attention to his Pokémon catching family)

To address your email FOMO, follow in Patrick’s footsteps. Get clear on what you are responsible for from week-to-week. Then have a conversation with the people you need to about your roles and responsibilities. This conversation could be with your manager, coworkers, clients or yourself.

The talks may be amazing and clarifying, like Patrick’s case. The talks may be clarifying but not so amazing. You may discover some of your fears were founded in truth and you are falling short in key areas.

It’ll likely be somewhere in between. I’d lean toward amazing. Most Asian Efficiency readers are :-)

Even if your ego gets a bit of knock when you are told you need to step it up in a certain area, you’re better off than before the meeting. You now have new information. This information will let you know where you can focus your attention. Instead of puppy guarding your inbox, you’ll be able to find ways to improve your skills or systems to up your workplace performance.

But don’t book that meeting yet.

Part of the conversation will be about the role email plays. So let’s move on to step two of overcoming email FOMO. Setting up a system you can actually trust.

Get your email system in place.


Your ideal email system will have order. You’ll know where everything is. You’ll also be able to send and receive the information you need to do your work. And you’ll be able to do this in the shortest amount of time possible.

Remember, unless you are in customer support, email is not your job.

When you have a system you can trust, it’ll free up your cognitive resources. Instead of searching, sorting, sifting, forwarding and bcc-ing, you’ll be able to focus on the important work you’ve just identified.

You also won’t have to stress about what you might have forgotten or what might be hiding in the thousands of unread messages in your inbox because you have a plan for processing all those messages so they don’t pile up in the first place.

The system we suggest was first given a name in 2006 by technologist and productivity expert Merlin Mann. It’s called Inbox Zero.

Here comes another fancy dictionary definition.

Inbox Zero

Inbox Zero /inbox zɪ́ro/
– A rigorous approach to email management aimed at keeping the inbox empty — or almost empty.

Many, if not most, people keep emails in their inbox as a reminder to take action on something. When you do this, you are using your email as your to-do list.

Stop using your email as your to-do list.

Email is a to-do list other people can write on.

Your email is filled with other people’s to-do list items. And if someone has your address, they can add to that list whenever they want. Leaving your action items in your inbox is a recipe for poor focus and stress because:

  • your emails are shown in order of date, not in order of priority
  • new emails are always flowing in

So where do you put your action items?

Your task manager.

There’s a slew of good ones on the market. A key feature you’ll want to look out for is email integration. The question you should ask is, “how quickly can I turn this email into a task?”

Fast email processing hinges upon the speed at which you can send your tasks to your task manager, so whether the applications does this job through:

It needs to be easy to do. In our upcoming online course on email, we have a whole section just dedicated to this because it’s that important (and a huge friction point for most AE readers).

Once you’ve selected your task manager, here’s a simple system we use to get you in and out of your inbox efficiently.


You can read more about how to use the Touch-It-Once and 2-Minute rules to achieve Inbox Zero here.

You can also learn how to take an overstuffed email inbox and get it to zero with our 5-Day Inbox Zero challenge here.

If those resources don’t convince you to give the Inbox Zero approach a shot, I’d suggest a 30-Day challenge so you can get efficient with the process and tools.

How an AE reader overcame FOMO

Meet Lisa.


Lisa reports to 12 executives in a big corporation where the primary communication medium is email. Think of her as the glue person that allows every executive to do their best work possible. Whether it’s preparing board meetings, prepping financial reports or anything else one of the executives need to get their job done – Lisa is the person that empowers them (that usually you never hear about).

They just email her with a request and she’ll get the job done, quick. The executives love her because she’s Asian Efficient but as time passed this actually became a problem. Because Lisa was so good at getting stuff done quickly, they started to expect instant responses and quick turnarounds from her. This was fine with just a couple executives but as the executive team grew, that became problematic.

She was now glued to her inbox to keep up. When I met Lisa just a few short weeks ago, she had the email FOMO and she had it bad. Notifications were popping up one after the next during our Skype conversation.

She freely admitted that, when she wasn’t in meetings, she checked her email every 5-minutes and spent 7 to 8 hours in her email inbox most working days.

I asked her what happened to her inbox when she was in a meeting, I could see a lightbulb go off. She excitedly answered:

“Nothing. Nothing went wrong. Maybe I could schedule my work the same way I schedule my meetings and I could get to my email after I’ve completed my work.”

I wanted to cry. I’ve never heard better words on a coaching call. And I’ll probably never hear three more beautiful sentences the rest of my productivity coaching career.

Lisa’s insight was correct.

Here’s an email Lisa sent me yesterday.

Lisa's email success

Thank you so much for asking me to be a part of this course.***  I can’t tell you how transformative this has been for me and-and how much I’ve learned.  I’ve gone from constantly having email open on one monitor and working on the other monitor, to only checking email three times a day at work and then checking my personal email again once more in the evening.  I’m now spending less than one hour per day TOTAL in email.  Wow.  What a difference!  The difference for me was changing how I process email and having an action for every email (delete, archive, reference, task).  I’ve been able to stick with it and now I don’t even think about email.  I’m not worried about what’s in “Waiting” or which emails are still in “Action”.  It’s freeing. :)

Attached was this screenshot of her email inbox.

Lisa's zero-ed inbox

Lisa’s inbox obsession was more a result of a poor email culture at her work than a lack of confidence in her abilities. But the same rules applied.

  1. Get clear on your roles and responsibilities.
  2. Get an email system in place.

She chose our inbox zero approach. Her time in email went from 7 to 8 hours to less than ONE.

If my podcaster mic didn’t cost $300, I’d drop it.

What’s next?

The key to happiness and success lies in your attention.

We all have goals we’d like to achieve. They come faster when we can focus our full attention on the actions that help us attain them.

To change your results you must withdraw your attention from the areas that aren’t serving you and shift it to the areas that do.

Email is rarely the path to happiness and success. The progress is an illusion. Archiving 20 emails may make you feel accomplished but it hasn’t brought you any closer to your goals. Getting clear on what you want to get done and creating an efficient email system you can trust will help you redirect your limited attention onto the things that really matter.

Compulsively checking email can be a way of regaining control lost by not making tough personal choices about where your attention is most needed.

Once you’ve determined your priorities, the fear of missing out will dissipate.

I promise.

After that, it’s about making some of the easy environmental tweaks.

Turn off the notifications. Most apps have been designed in a way to trigger your dopamine receptors. It becomes like a game. Don’t let that game tempt you with a red badge telling you how many moles you have to whack or a vibration letting you know that there’s something new you’re missing out on.

Be selective about the newsletters you subscribe to. Flash sale sites and other internet marketers know all the tricks to steal your attention. They’ll pique your curiosity. They’ll artificially limit time or supplies. They’ll make you feel bad about yourself. They’ll make you feel good about yourself. If you’re feeling manipulated, unsubscribe. If they are sending you multiple emails a day, unsubscribe. And think twice before giving up that email address in the first place.

Day 3 of AE’s Inbox Zero challenge will show you a neat hack for identifying these email offenders.

Move your phone away from your nightstand. Waking up and checking email sets a bad tone for the rest of the day. Placing your phone in another room will help you resist the temptation. Creating a morning ritual that will fill you with gratitude and energy rather than overwhelm is even better.

Now it’s your turn.

What are you going to do to reduce email FOMO in your life? I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments below.

More Email Tips

If you want more tips and hacks for dealing with email, make sure you subscribe for updates on the Escape Your Email. We have an email system that allows you to spend only 30 minutes a day on email. Sign up here and we’ll let you know when it’s available.


* Self. The best kind of diagnosis.  
** I’m teasing a bit. But I don’t consider the word disease too far off the mark. Email FOMO is causing a lack of mental ease. 

*** Lisa’s referring to an email course that she beta-tested for us.

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