Squirrels and Shiny Objects

August 13, 2010 Leave a comment


|Photo by exfordy|http://www.flickr.com/photos/exfordy/1184487050|

Had you visited the IISC Cambridge offices a couple of weeks ago, prior to our staff putting all of our belongings in boxes and pink (yes pink) crates in preparation for our move, you would have seen a piece of paper on my computer stand with the following word in bold letters:


This has been my mantra for the past year, and there is is increased urgency around it these days, not simply because that paper is now sealed in some box on its way to Boston’s Seaport.  With so much in flux (including our move), with so many possibilities and so much to be done out there, with so much information flowing through the various channels into which I am tuned, I can easily find myself getting distracted – “Oh Look, A Squirrel!”.  And I know I am not alone.

A conversation with a colleague last week was very revealing with respect to this shared challenge and the extent to which we can both be sidetracked by interesting stimuli that take us off course from what matters most to us, from our core purpose.  I have witnessed this time and again in individuals, organizations and collaborative efforts that attempt to, amidst shiny and alluring possibilities, focus their efforts through planning and direction setting and are ultimately hard pressed to slim down the possibilities to a few high leverage, on point and on purpose options to actually implement.

So what are some steps to take to ensure focus on what matters most?

Manage stimuli – On a personal level, I have found that having a discipline around when I check email (and how often) and how I manage the flow of social media and other sources of information can make a big difference in my ability to stay focused.  I have decided to turn off the continuous flow of Twitter and Yammer feeds to my laptop so that I can choose when I would like to see what new things have come across my screen.  And I am making an ongoing effort to de-clutter the various spaces I occupy.

Get support/connect with community – Connecting with peers through co-coaching, communities of practice, convening a clearness committee and the like can help us to access what matters most and keep our eyes and energy on that prize.

Remind ourselves each day what is most important – I find not simply having a vision statement or mission statement but reading it on a regular basis helps me stay grounded in my ultimate aims.

Cultivate mindfulness – There is real power in taking intention and bringing it into alignment with our autonomic responses.  While I am not a disciplined meditator, I am working with some practices suggested by Dan Siegel and his mindsight approach.  As those much wiser than I have long known, by engaging in mindful breathing it is possible to create separation from knee jerk reactions, achieve greater perspective on ourselves and situations, and exercise more intention in our actions.

Learn to say no – This is the hardest of all of these for yours truly.  Life at IISC is often like being a kid in a candy shop, with so many worthy efforts to support, interesting people to connect with, and endless amounts to learn.  AND there is only so much time in a day, week, year, and lifetime.  So thanks, but no thanks.  I need to stay on purpose, and may the force be with you!

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