Have you ever looked up at the end of the day and realized that it’s now 6 p.m., the office is vacant except for you and the cleaning crew, and you aren’t sure where the time went? I call this the “squirrel effect.” As an avid cyclist, I’ve witnessed the unpredictable and unfocused antics of a squirrel trying to avoid tangling with my wheel. Without a strategic focus or plan for the day, we end up looking and feeling like a squirrel running some kind of mysteriously frantic pattern to avoid being hit.
There’s an adage that wherever your eyes go, so go your wheels. In other words, whatever you pay attention to will take on larger importance and results in your life. Making the time to practice and reflect in order to be attentive and purposeful in what you choose to do is a challenge. Not doing this, conversely, results in the squirrel effect – running, hopping and scurrying this way and that, responding impulsively to fear and stimulus.
Here are a few tips if you want to tame your inner squirrel and focus some of that frenetic energy into a more productive practice of executing that will yield better outcomes for you:
- Notice what you pay attention to, and decide how you want to adjust where you are focused. What are you focused on that’s important to you and what you want to accomplish? What are you focused on that needs more or less of your attention? For example, you might have the goal of creating a spreadsheet that defines and assigns tasks with deadlines to help drive a team project, which you are convinced will create efficiencies and save time. Meanwhile, office drama keeps pulling your attention away from this goal, and because you are a good listener, the drama seems to keep finding you. Overloading your brain by splitting your attention between working on an important project and being in a conversation with a co-worker is self-defeating and ultimately leads to increased stress and compromised relationships.
- Make a decision about what your priorities are for today, and think about how you will discipline yourself and structure your day so you are able to focus on that list of the most important “few,” rather than the diluted “many.” Create a list of your Top 3 priorities for the next month/quarter/year, then decide what you want to accomplish each day that helps you work toward knocking out those priorities. If you link your daily activities to a bigger picture, it will help you make good choices and decisions in the moment.
- Make time for some creative daydreaming about where you are going. This quiet time to reflect and reframe what you are choosing to do and where you are choosing to go can be invaluable for refueling your commitments, as well as developing innovative ways to accomplish your goals.
If you find yourself feeling like a squirrel running crazy patterns to avoid the proverbial wheel, you might find daily reflection highly productive. And as a co-worker or direct report riding on a set of skinny wheels, I might appreciate not being flipped into the ditch along the way trying to anticipate your patterns.