My biggest personal productivity shortcoming – and trust me, I have a few – is probably my ability to get easily distracted. It used be procrastination, but I gradually managed to get that at least a little under control. But focus is definitely an issue. I guess part of it is that I have something of a butterfly mind, (oops…just flicked away briefly from here because a Skype message popped up) and I probably do have a low boredom threshold.
There’s a saying ‘Started is half done’ which I think I’ve misunderstood and turned in to ‘Started is finished, it just needs tidying up, and tidying up can wait…’. The number of half finished projects around here is still pretty big – but again, not as big as it used to be, thank goodness.
I call my moments of lost focus and distractedness ‘Oooh….squirrel’ moments. Let me share the reason for this. Many years ago, our neighbours over the back wall used to have a gigantic tree in their garden. I was huge – thicker than a telegraph pole, visible from a mile and a half away, and as far as I was concerned it was poised to come crashing down through our back bedroom every winter. When the wind blew, the tree added it’s own ‘Dodgy Horror Film’ sound effects, and it blotted out half the sky.
But the one benefit of this tree was squirrels. Dozens of the times a day we’d see squirrels running up and down it, popping on to the bird table, running around the garden, chasing our cats (Marvin, I’m talking about you….) On at least one occasion one popped up on the back window ledge and looked in whilst I was working at the dining room table.
Whenever one of these little chaps came in to view, I’d take a look. There were occasions when my wife and I would be talking and the person with the view of the yard would suddenly stop what they were saying and doing and utter the words ‘Oooh….squirrel!’ to indicate that a ‘tree-rat’ was doing something cute. OK – or to indicate that a squirrel was doing something….squirrelish.
It eventually became something of a code-word in household conversations for when one of us became momentarily distracted and lost the thread.
The tree was eventually removed – I love not having it there but miss the squirrels enormously, although in the last year the odd one has shown up on the edge of the garden near other trees. But the phrase has stayed with us.
And it’s now become the code word for one of us being distracted, or losing focus. In fact, I now use it deliberately when I can feel my attention slipping – no squirrel in sight; just uttering the words makes me at least aware that I’ve temporarily lost the plot. It’s become something of a standing joke in Pritchard towers, and I even have a daft expression on my face – a sort of quizzical look.
It’s become a helpful tool in my attempts to stay on focus. As soon as I say ‘Oooh…squirrel’, I tend to stop what I’m attempting to do and deliberately break from it. I look around the room and my head for the squirrel; was it an outside distraction, social media, boredom? When I’ve acknowledged my squirrel I’ll often review what I’m doing to see whether I’ve totally blown it in some way, but more often than not I can soon get back to the planned activity with that ‘mind break’ done.
Just admitting the presence in the room of that virtual squirrel acknowledges that I’ve been distracted, and I’ve dealt with it.
Of course, sometimes the squirrel just sits there being cute and I have to break off what I’m doing altogether – that’s often when I know I’m bored or distracted beyond saving and need to go and mentally watch the cute little bugger do what it will for a while.
And on that note…ooooh….SQUIRREL!