Even when we embark on a project we are passionate about we can sometimes become diverted. After all, we live in a world full of endless potential opportunities and endless potential distractions.
During their keynote presentation at the All American Laughter Yoga Conference in 2011, Jill and Dan Johnson alluded to this phenomenon by first exclaiming “squirrel!” What they meant is that sometimes when we are concentrating we can get distracted by something as simple as a squirrel that we spy outside our window.
The effects of being distracted by one thing can be compounded when it leads to more distractions. For example, say Carol is happily working on a painting. She is elated because she feels that this is her best piece yet. Suddenly (wouldn’t you know it), she sees a squirrel running outside her window. Watching the squirrel gets her thinking about how she used to romp around with her grade school friend Shelly trying to find where the squirrels kept their acorns. On impulse, she finds Shelly on Facebook. They message back and forth for the next three hours. They have much to catch-up on because they lost track of each other twenty years ago. Inspired, Carol is now booking a ticket to fly across country for a joy-filled reunion with Shelly….
Six months later Carol notices the painting that she was initially so excited about. It’s one quarter done and gathering dust. By this time, the passion she had for this project has evaporated. She has forgotten the amazing creative ideas she had for finishing the piece. Carol sighs. She is on to five other projects now and wouldn’t have time to work on the painting even if she wanted to. She says somewhat melodramatically, “Another Mona Lisa down the drain!”
I like to think of a “SQUIRREL” as anything that distracts us during the time we have set aside to work on our projects. The confusing thing about many “SQUIRRELS” is that they are so friendly. After all, a “SQUIRREL” led Carol to joyfully reunite with her friend.
Darn squirrels! “SQUIRRELS” can indeed be very disruptive even to projects we are passionate about. So what is there to do about ““SQUIRRELS”?
What if we could concentrate on the projects we love AND also make use of the inspiration that “SQUIRRELS” provide us? We can! I like to think of this process as Taming Your “SQUIRRELS.”
Here are three ideas for Taming Your “SQUIRRELS”:
1. When you are working on a project and feel your attention distracted by something that has nothing to do with the project, label your distraction by exclaiming, “SQUIRREL”! Once a “SQUIRREL” is noticed it is much more manageable. You can then recognize and be fully aware that you are drifting off topic, instead of just distractedly drifting off topic.
2. Save your “SQUIRRELS.” (If they are worth saving.)
Even though following a “SQUIRREL” during the time you have set aside for your project can be distracting and disruptive to your project, at another time your “SQUIRREL” could be a grand opportunity.
If you have a hunch that the “SQUIRREL” that is suddenly distracting you from your project could be a great opportunity, quickly write down your “SQUIRREL” idea. Then you can even schedule a time to consider acting on your “SQUIRREL” idea and put it in your calendar.
For example, Carol could have written a note that she had an idea to look Shelly up on Facebook and get back in touch. Then she could have put a note on her calendar to remind her to give this idea full consideration at 3:30 next Saturday.
(Scheduling a time to think about your “SQUIRREL” idea might seem like a little much, but I find it highly useful in practice because you have a time set when you will give your “SQUIRREL” full attention so that your “SQUIRREL” isn’t distracting you before this time. In addition, scheduling a time helps you keep track of your “SQUIRREL ” idea so you don’t lose it.
3. A statement of the purpose of your project can help you to refocus when “SQUIRRELS” distract you. This statement of purpose is important because it’s your “SQUIRREL” Taming Statement
For example, Carol could have created her project purpose to be, “I’m excited to complete this painting because it will be the best I have ever created and bring joy to others.” She could have written this out and posted it by the painting she was working on. When distracted by “SQUIRRELS,” she could have refocused by reading this “SQUIRREL” Taming Statement.
Happy “Squirrel” Taming!
Game of a Day
Notice the next time a “SQUIRREL” distracts you from a project you are working on. Figure out a way to tame your “SQUIRREL” and refocus on your project.
Jason Freeman is a professional writer, and a one-of-a-kind public speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Heroic Yes! Productions. Jason has an MFA in Poetry from the University of Nebraska. He knows the pain of perceiving one’s life through a lens of limitation and also the thrill of moving beyond that mindset. For more information on Jason’s powerful message, or to book him to present to your organization, go to www.HeroicYesProductions.com.