Tired of Chasing Squirrels?

Have you ever watched a dog laying casually in the yard when suddenly, something catches his attention? A squirrel! He’s no longer interested in basking in the sunlight because he’s going to GET THAT SQUIRREL! He stops what he was doing and chases the squirrel. And most often he doesn’t catch it. Still, he stands at the bottom of the tree for a good amount of time, wondering (I’m guessing here) if he can climb the tree…or hoping the squirrel will magically slip off the branch and fall into his mouth.

How many of us do this at work? You are concentrating on a task and you hear a conversation in the copy room, your cell phone lights up, or you get an email. Then, the task on hand is forgotten and you are off to answer a text or jump in the conversation in the copy room. Or maybe you’re in a meeting going over the agenda, and someone has a random comment unrelated to the topic…and the next person is off chasing squirrels.

All of us are guilty of being “squirrel chasers.” But some people have a harder time getting back to the task or subject on hand. In fact, according to a recent study, 84% of workers say it takes them 30 minutes to get back on track after a “squirrel” or a distraction. Think about that for a minute. If one person has two distractions per day, that’s one hour worth of wasted time per day. If 8 people in your organization fall victim to that same pattern, that’s one full work week (40 hours) wasted in just five days.

No matter where you work, there will always be squirrels. But it’s up to you to decide whether or not to chase them. So how do you minimize the time you spend chasing squirrels?

  1. Find your power hour. We all have our highs and lows throughout the day. Sometimes, people are more productive in the morning; others are more productive after lunch. Whatever your time is, block it on your calendar and use it for the tasks that require the most brain power.
  2. Never be afraid to protect your time. Notice, we said above, “Block it on your calendar.” If you have a shared calendar in your office, this will let others know that you are busy, and will help cut down on unwanted squirrels. If you do get interrupted, let the person know that you will get back with them at a later time.
  3. In meetings, remember to speak up. It happens in most meetings. Someone goes off topic; and the more people in the meeting, the more likely it is to happen. When a squirrel appears in a meeting, speak up. That doesn’t mean you have to turn down new ideas, but speak up, get back to the agenda, and let the person know you can discuss their idea at a later scheduled time.
  4. Remind yourself that just because something is new or fun, that doesn’t make it high payoff. We’ve all spent hours looking at a potential new software, chasing a new ideas, or focusing on something because it’s more fun than what we actually need to be doing. If the squirrel doesn’t help you accomplish your overall goal in some way, it’s probably not a high payoff activity.

The list of techniques can go on and on. This is just a short snippet of some things you can start doing today. For more on reducing interruptions, learning to stop chasing squirrels, or managing your time, click here.