How FOMO Hurts Attorneys

The acronym FOMO – the Fear of Missing Out – refers to a type of social anxiety in which a person feels that they’re missing an important experience or opportunity. The term was coined about 15 years ago by a marketing consultant, Dan Herman, who was studying the implications of the as-yet unnamed phenomenon for advertisers.

In the last five years or so, FOMO is most often discussed in the context of social media. Not surprisingly, the more time a person spends with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc, reading about what other people are doing, the more likely it is that they’ll experience some degree of FOMO 

Now, setting aside the question of whether the time you’re spending on social media is having a net positive, negative, or neutral impact on your practice (and your life), there’s another type of FOMO-driven danger attorneys need to watch out for: loss of focus.

In my work doing time management and marketing coaching for lawyers, I often see FOMO-induced loss of focus showing up in two main ways.

First, I see too many lawyers who refuse to protect their thinking time and overall effectiveness by putting their phones on do-not-disturb and by turning off their email and text alerts.  When pressed, they invariably say that they need to be accessible to clients or colleagues or referral sources at all times in case they’re needed or in case that huge new matter comes calling out of nowhere. 

But here’s the impact in dollars of the time you allow yourself to be pulled off focus:

  • The average interruption in a “knowledge” environment (as distinct from manufacturing or retail) is three minutes
  • But it takes, on average, another 8 minutes to get back to the place of concentration and action you were at the moment before the interruption occurred, whether it’s an email, phone call or person walking into your office
  • You probably experience 20 to 50 of these interruptions per day
  • To make the point, let’s say it’s only 15 per day
  • 15 interruptions x 11 minutes = 2.75 hour a day that you’re thrown off your focus
  • 2.75 hours x 240 work days = 660 hours per year
  • Let’s say your effective hourly realization rate (what you ultimate collect per hour of time) is $350
  • 660 hours x $350 = $231,000

Of course, some of those interruptions are justifiable and lead to collected revenue.  But the vast majority do not.  So the question is this: to what degree is FOMO keeping you from protecting your time and focus?  What is the likelihood that you’re going to earn $231K because you took all those calls and responded immediately to all those email and text alerts?

The second way FOMO can throw you off is when you take cases that are outside of your current ability to handle effectively – i.e., profitably.  The two most common rationales go like this: “The revenue looks promising and I need it,” or “this will lead to other work from the client or the referral source.”  In both cases, the operative dynamic is the fear of missing out on a benefit of some kind.  (Lest you think I’m being unreasonable or harsh, remember that the threshold criterion is whether you can do the work profitably.) 

To be sure, it takes a great deal of discipline to maximize your focus both hour by hour, and with regard to the work you accept.  Yet, I regularly see clients benefit from growing that focus in both areas.  They find it paradoxical that they get what they want more rapidly (greater effectiveness, enjoyment and revenue) by becoming conscious of – and pushing back on – their FOMO. 

About the Author

Bill Jawitz, Law Firm Coach and Consultant

Bill Jawitz has been coaching lawyers to become more profitable and enjoy a higher quality of life since 2002.

He can be reached at or at 203.806.1300.

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