How to Deal With Squirrels

David TFTU

How many times a day does your brain shout 'Squirrel'? Do you find yourself wondering how you got sidetracked from a task at hand? Do you wish you could get back on track and and stay more?   We face distractions every day. Our brains are wired to notice things that are out of the ordinary and will divert our attention to these things immediately. It is difficult to get into the flow or the zone (as some athletes call it). Once you do, you find that your brain is getting enough stimulation from the task at hand. The distractions and 'squirrels' that complete for your attention and want to play just don't seem as important any longer.

Some years ago, I read a book titled "Getting Things Done" by David Allen. One of the points I remember was about offloading and delegating tasks to a paper based organizer. The organizer becomes an extension of your brain in a sense. Say, for example, you have to bring your car to the garage, clean your office, make a dentist appointment, pick up your child after school, buy tickets for a show, vote and  mow the lawn. All  these 'things to do' float around in your thoughts . At times they overwhelm your ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand.  Why? Because they are all competing for your attention.  They all need to get done so they end up cycling  through your thoughts.  

So how do you reduce this brain chatter?  Start by making a list of all the things that need to get done. Don't stop until you run out.  Even if it is something that you could take care of in 5 minutes, write it down.  In a short time, you will have pretty much everything added to your your list. Perhaps a few stragglers will still come in.  Can you see a pattern with some of them? Can you see the ones that keep floating in your thoughts? Don't worry. All those new ones you've added won't start nagging you.  Take a closer look at that list. Can you spot the ones that have a date and time associated to them? Pay your driver's license fee by October 15? Attend your son's school concert on Nov 1. These are easy to take care of.  You can either buy a paper calendar for marking date and time oriented tasks or use an online calendar. I prefer a paper one even though I am a software developer and am at my computer for hours every day. There's something satisfying about writing it on paper. Perhaps it is just the way my brain is particularly wired.  

Transfer all those date and time oriented 'things to do' to your planner on the date they need to get done. Cross out those tasks from that master list you created. Perhaps you can see those items that are more general . Tasks like lose weight, reorganize your office or garage, paint your daughter's room are tasks that need some planning. These likely have preparatory steps that have to be completed first. So think about those for a bit. They may not be date or time driven but they still are important enough that they are floating in your thoughts a lot. So let's take one and see what we can do about it.

Painting your daughter's room room could be done any time but let's think about it for a moment. It would be easier if she was away at camp or spending a weekend with the grand parents or something along those lines. Is there a date in the distant future where this is likely?  If so, you could set that as a doable task beginning on the first day she is away.  Perhaps she wants to pick out the colors?  Then book a date to have that done. Go to the paint store and choose the colors with her. That could be a new task that you add to your list and while you are at it, check to see what painting supplies you need.  Now you have another task to add. Check your supplies and shop for those items you need. Do you see a pattern here? Break down the larger tasks into concrete smaller tasks. Set practical dates and times to do them in your planner.  

What emerges from this exercise is that you have a lot more tasks. The good thing is that they are all off loaded to your agenda/calendar. Your brain doesn't have that responsibility for reminding you any longer. It knows that the paper extension of your brain has the task to remind you. I do it for paying bills as well. Rather than have all those bills floating in my thoughts, I get the bank to pay them by scheduling  auto payments on their specific due dates. The bank pays them every month on time and I do not have to think about those bills any longer.  I still look them over just to ensure we haven't been overusing our water or electricity etc.  For variable  bills, I mark on my calendar the amount due. I pick a date about a week before if I am paying by check and a day before if I am paying online.  

This exercise of offloading tasks to your calendar or organizer does work. Your mind will stop bothering you with all the things you need to do. You will find that concentrating on work or tasks at hand much easier. Before I forget , if there are tasks on your list that can get done in 5 minutes or less, do them! Immediately!  Get them off your list. When a task comes your way and it can be handled in less than five minutes, just do it! That task will never end up floating around in your thoughts.

Do you see where I am intending to go with this?  Imagine  your mind  free of distractions. The squirrels are  no longer clamoring for attention and begging you to play with them. You will find it so much easier to get into the flow or the zone as I referred to earlier.  Think about how much easier it would be to meditate, to visualize and to live in the moment. Imagine this process allowing your thoughts to be more focused and clear. Think about how much more energy and emotion you could apply to your thoughts -- especially if they were free from distractions. No system is perfect but I have found this an excellent way to be more organized in your day-to-day life. The benefits of having less clutter in your mind and thoughts is so worth it. Give it a shot! I would love to hear how this works for you and if you have variations of this, please share!

comments powered by Disqus