You’ve done it again. You’re in the middle of a project, and you’re focused and making it happen, when suddenly….
Like Dug in the film “Up”, your head swivels round, distracted, ready to dash off in the direction of a squirrel. A new, better project. Something more exciting, newer. None of this tired old current-project stuff, which was getting kind of dull anyway.
It could be the latest SEO trend. A new app which is absolutely going to turn your sales process around. A book or podcast “everyone” is talking about.
Maybe there is a real squirrel to chase; maybe there isn’t. But you rush off anyway, sometimes running round in circles for a while before you slowly make your way back to where you were, trying to stir up enthusiasm for a project you are no longer enthused about.
As a result, instead of steadily finishing the good things you’ve already started, you find yourself rushing around in circles, making lots of progress and stirring up activity, but not quite arriving where you want to.
What’s appealing to us (especially as business owners) about the new shiny thing?
New things are always exciting. It’s the middle bit which is hardest – like the “Two Towers” part of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In the first part it’s all very exciting, and the journey is beginning, and they’re off with the ring. In the last part it’s all very exciting because the journey has come together, and there’s a battle, and it’s a fierce ending. But the middle is basically two hobbits walking for a long time and getting tired.
Getting things over the line requires the greatest amount of energy. That last part – the 10% – is the hardest of all, because you want to give up and some things haven’t worked out and everyone else is tired too…so you have to dig deep into the reserves of your energy and motivation.
It feels like progress. When you’re “stuck” with one project – you’ve written all the content and are waiting for the book to be published or the website to be launched – you look around for another so you can feel like you’re still moving forward.
Someone else is doing it so it must be good. Ah, it’s our old friend the Comparison Game! This other business owner did this and posted a video on LinkedIn and had hundreds of comments and thousands of shares so surely, surely that is the way forward. So we drop what we had been doing, and create a video just like that so we can get the results they got.
We want the quick win. If I do this thing TODAY I will get results TODAY, our excited, energised, motivated self tells us. Buy the video equipment! Start recording! It is all happening!! …And then we realise we’ve simply started another journey, and all of them have a two-towers bit which requires a lot of walking and climbing, and we start glancing around again.
It helps us avoid something else. The appeal of the new shiny project for our business can be a helpful warning sign for us. It could point out there’s something we’re avoiding:
- The project we aren’t finishing
- Something personal in our life we don’t want to deal with
- A bigger issue in the company we don’t want to face
- A fear or worry which keeps cropping up
Ways to approach Squirrels when they appear
So how might we approach the “Squirrel!” when it appears?
- Priority check: Go back to the plan. What did we say was a priority? Is that still the priority? What actions could I be working on from that?
- The “Cost of doing this” check: Take 10 minutes to rationally write out exactly how much time this might take (instead of jumping on it and saying “it will be done in an hour!” but we know fine well it won’t). If it really will take 10 minutes, you’ll have it done once you start evaluating the time. If it won’t, you’ll see it’s more like 2-3 hours a day for the next five days, which is not ten minutes. What is the cost of spending those hours, and what project could you actually finish if you pressed on with it instead of leaping to the new shiny one?
- The “Cost of NOT doing this” check: It is possible this is actually an important urgent thing, which is worth jumping on now or you might miss out on a big opportunity. Again, take a few minutes to rationally evaluate it. What is that opportunity? Where did it come from? Why did I not know about it or have it listed in my priorities? The opportunity might be genuine – like an opportunity to be a speaker at an upcoming event, or to apply for an award you didn’t know existed. If it’s a genuinely good opportunity which came as a surprise, it’s also worth asking yourself…could you have known about it? Can you schedule it for next year so it doesn’t surprise you again (such as award applications, speaker invites, certain events)?
- Get a second opinion: Run it past someone else who knows you well – a business coach, mentor, marketing director, your manager on the PF team. Does this seem like a good use of your time?
- Look back at past squirrels: What “squirrel” things have you done in the past few months, or in the past year? Which ones were great and you’re glad you did them? Which ones were a colossal waste of time and you wish you’d stayed focused on your priorities?
It’s the consistency in the same direction which gets results, always. With marketing, with healthy food choices, with exercise targets, with book writing, with sales videos. All of it requires starting out, and keeping going in the same direction, day after day, and doing your darndest not to race after every squirrel which crosses your path.