Look Out for Bright Shiny Objects

It seems I hear the same thing over and over from clients, friends and acquaintances – there seems to be so much to do, so many tasks and responsibilities vying for our attention – and never enough time!  Can you spell O-V-E-R-W-H-E-L-M?

For lots of us, managing competing priorities and responsibilities, distractions and the like – seems to take up a fair amount of our day.  And checking in on Facebook?  Don’t even think about it – you may never be heard from again!  So much to see, hear, absorb, and do!   And just when you are about to get to that project that has been sitting on the floor beside your computer, there’s this really interesting headline that grabs your attention…….

It all points to something I’ve heard called “Bright Shiny Object Syndrome.”  And it can take up a lot of time and space in your day, and prevent you from ever getting to what is truly important.  Unless you have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which is an entirely different matter, Bright Shiny Object Syndrome is more a matter of setting priorities, managing distractions and focusing on follow through. And, let’s face it, everyday life presents ongoing opportunities for distractions these days – probably more than ever.  With cell phones and smart phones, the internet, social media, texts, Skype, regular old TV, you-name-it – the possibilities are endless.  This can leave us feeling frazzled, scrambling to get everything done, and feeling guilty because we didn’t.  And then – guess what – more overwhelm.  Is there any hope in today’s fast paced era of instant communication and entertainment?

Here are a few strategies, most of which I have used myself.  They absolutely work, when you work them.

  • If you’re the type that likes to get up and work out first thing in the morning, make sure it’s the first thing!  Checking email, texts, internet news or any social media is not your friend.  You will be drawn into the vortex of your curious and distractible mind and may not be heard from again for hours.  There goes the workout.
  • Set a timer.  Yes, a simple kitchen – or any timer – will do.  If you have a report to complete, or a project to finish, set a timer for 45 minutes and go to it. (There has been research that suggests 45 minutes is the optimal human limit for concentrating on a given task.)  Do not let anything – I mean anything (unless your hair catches fire) – take you away from your task.  You will be amazed at what you can do with 45 minutes of clear, focused time.  You may find yourself actually completing your task in one sitting – how cool is that?
  • Consciously practice mindfulness, which is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment (hard) and accepting it without judgment (harder.)  The good news is that it gets easier the more you do it, and one big benefit is that you will be more fully engaged in the activities you do pursue.  Long thought to be a way to enhance productivity and efficiency, newer research on multi-tasking demonstrates that we reduce our effectiveness and enjoyment of tasks by multi-tasking.  We’re not fully present for anything and something will suffer as a result.  Ever tried to watch a TV show and engage in a meaningful conversation with your child or spouse?  Isn’t going to happen.
  • Emails and junk e-mails can be an enormous time waster.  Unsubscribe to those you no longer find value in, or that have somehow simply “appeared” in your inbox.  Some people swear by setting a time limit for checking and answering email – say 30 minutes in the morning and 15 at night.  After the time is up, move on.

The bottom line here is to be aware – aware of your tendencies towards distraction and to take steps towards managing them.  An aside – sometimes distractions are our mind’s tricky little way of practicing avoidance or procrastination.  Could this be you? If that’s a possibility, it doesn’t call for much more than recognition and getting honest with yourself.  Then take steps to get on with it. A side benefit, I have found, is that life starts to feel a bit easier, simpler, and we gain found time – to do those things we find the most meaningful.

Coach’s action step:  This week, pay attention to your tendencies – do you get hooked by Bright Shiny Objects?  Choose one of the above ideas, or create one of your own, and see how it works for you.

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