I go to bed every night with a plan to run in the morning and/or do yoga. I wake up in the 5 o’clock hour to make that happen. And it will- it 100% percent will- as long as I stay away from my email. If I pick up my pretty little silver computer and check things out, there is a 50% chance that some overnight email will feel urgent enough that I get sucked into it (and what it spurs me to do: edit the Circle de Luz annual report, comfort a friend going through a tough time, offer input on an idea or essay or whatever). And the truth is that, far too often, because of a heightened to the point of ridiculousness sense of responsibility, if people are waiting for me, it feels urgent and then, depending on how long it takes to be responsive and helpful, my chance of getting my workout in is diminished.
No? Then your bright, shiny object syndrome might look a little different from mine. It might look like this instead.
At work, you have been assigned a big project. You plug away, putting in hours everyday to get Thingamajig X to launch. But then you get an email asking you if you might coordinate the company’s staff retreat that will take place in December 2014. And, well, even though you are just hours away from finishing Thingamajig X, you just need to write a whole bunch of code or something else that sounds really businessy and smart that I don’t understand, you spend the rest of the week searching retreat locations and their food options. When your boss asks you how Thingamajig X is coming, you are no closer but, boy, do you know the best fish taco within a five mile radius of your top three retreat site locations.
Nope? Not you either? Well, then, maybe your bright shiny object syndrome looks like this.
You are plugging away at a paper or report, pounding out word after word and absolutely certain you will have this bad boy done by lunchtime. Then, an email pops up. It is your favorite store and they are having a 40% off sale. There was a dress you saw last week and maybe they still have it in your size so you hop over there to order it. They have it, you order it, and then you think, “Oh, my friends would want to know about this sale” and so you head over to Facebook to post it and fall into the bunny hole that I hear status updates are (since I don’t have a personal Facebook page because I know my own problem with bright and shiny objects, I don’t know if I am referencing this right) and, well, you look up not ten minutes later and darn if it isn’t actually lunchtime. Where did the time go?
If this doesn’t sound like you either then I have good news for you, I don’t think you have bright, shiny object syndrome which is awesome. For the rest of us (me too), it is time to cook up a home remedy for our distractibility.
Identify how your bright, shiny object syndrome presents. Put directly, how do your best formed plans get upended? Spell it out. Make sure you know what exactly is your undoing. For me, it is a malignant feeling of responsibility that causes me, if left unchecked, to absolutely and immediately over-engage in situations. For you, it might be that things get boring after you work on them for a bit and you are distracted from finishing because you are looking for something new and fresh to get you excited again. Or it could be that holding your attention to one place is hard and so you thread hop, taking little jumps from stone to stone (status update to status update, website to website). Whatever it is, figure out what your challenge is.
Discern what the most drastic thing you can do to fix it is. Alright, let’s go ahead and rip the band-aid off. What is the most epic thing you can do to fix this problem. If you are me, it is putting my laptop in a different room over night (so I cannot instantly reach for it when I wake up) and not looking at my email when I go out for a run, even though all those messages are right there on my phone waiting for me. For you, it might be absolutely insisting that you cannot even look up one retreat location to whet your appetite while you finish Thingamajig of that you are putting a self-control app on your computer to keep you from websurfing while writing your report or essay.
Discern the more moderate thing you can do to alleviate your symptoms. What if you didn’t have to go so all or nothing with your solution? What would the more moderate thing to do be? For me, it is still putting my computer in the other room overnight, waking up and doing my yoga in the bedroom first thing, and then grabbing my phone for my run (the music!) and maybe browsing my emails while I warm up (I walk five minutes before I start running so I can just appreciate the outdoors, get my head in the right space, etc) but not answering anything until my work day starts. Maybe I even tell people when they can expect to hear back from me with a direct email or a message line in my own emails so I am not so racked with guilt over not emailing a response as soon as I have heard from someone.
(Check out this fabulous one that my friend Nikki Moore of Food Love has in her emails: Office Hours: Monday-Friday 8:30 am-4:30 pm. I’m heating things up in the kitchen most days and away from my desk. For this reason, please note that all calls and emails before, during and after business hours will be returned within 1-2 working days. Thank you for your patience.)
Remember this is a chronic condition. Now that you know your tendencies and your solutions, remember that bright and shiny object syndrome is part of your natural tendencies. You can reduce the tendency but it may not ever fully go away. The good news is you can plan for it and moderate it. With every single situation, decide your treatment plan. Does the situation call for drastic measures (Thingamajig is being launched tomorrow you HAVE to get it done) or moderate measures and then act accordingly.
Do you have bright, shiny object syndrome? How does it show up in your life? How do you deal with it? What advice do you have for others (me, me, me) who deal with it?