Overcoming Squirrels & Other Distractions

“Squirrel!” If you’ve seen the Academy Award-winning animated movie “Up”, you’ve watched “Dug” the talking dog and his talking dog colleagues get immediately and completely distracted by the sight or sound of squirrels. It doesn’t matter what they are doing, Dug and his companions get sight of a squirrel and everything momentarily stops. In some instances, they can’t regain their focus or have completely gotten off track because of their squirrel distraction.

Does this sound familiar? While you might not get distracted by squirrels in the literal sense, many leaders are tempted by ‘squirrels’ that go by other names. Your ‘squirrels’ may be exciting new ideas or possibilities, the next invitation, the new job advertisement or the continual stream of e-communication. Whatever your ‘squirrels’ are, they temporarily capture your attention, distract you from the important, blur focus, take up emotional RAM and sometimes get you completely off track.

Here are three practical tools to keep you focused in the midst of possible distractions:

1. The Parking Lot

If you or others around you enjoy generating ideas, the ‘parking lot’ is a simple but extremely helpful tool to ensure that the good ideas aren’t lost AND you don’t get sidetracked off your main focus or agenda. For example, if you are in a meeting and someone raises an important topic or idea that is tangential or not directly applicable to your discussion, then ‘park’ it in the ‘parking lot’.  Practically, this means acknowledging the value of the topic or idea raised and noting it on a whiteboard, flip chart or in the meeting minutes for discussion at a later and more appropriate time.

You can also establish a personal ‘parking lot’ through the use of a journal. When you have an idea, simply write it in your journal and then return to your prior focus. Using a journal like this can give you confidence that you haven’t lost the new idea while keeping you focused at the same time.

2. The 24 Hour Rule

Rather than acting on your latest idea or opportunity, why not employ the 24 hour rule?  Let the ‘new’ simmer for 24 hours. Set it aside or put in the ‘parking lot’ for some reflection. Sleep on it.  Pray over it. Get input from others. If it’s really worthwhile, it will still be worthwhile in 24 hours.  If it’s not really worthwhile, then you’ve likely saved yourself, your team and others greatly in time, energy and resources.

3. Filters

When you are processing ideas, opportunities and invitations, filters can provide valuable discernment and safeguard your time and energy. Here are some simple filter ideas:

  • Use your mission, vision and values as an objective grid to evaluate possibilities. When Simon went to find Jesus for more ministry, Jesus knew that he needed to say no and press on – “Let us go somewhere else – to the nearby villages – so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” (Mark 1:38)  Jesus was prayerfully sensitive to the Spirit’s in what may have appeared to be interruptions or detours AND he was very clear and committed to executing his mission.
  • With some clear parameters and guidelines, a well-trained administrative assistant can also be a helpful filter of between priority items and distractions.
  • Sitting down with your spouse or close team members or a more formal advisory committee can provide great counsel, feedback and clarity. See Proverbs 15:22 –  “Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed.”