Keeping The Squirrel’s Tamed – Staying Focused

As I was reading my 500th email the other day, I came across this blog http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2012/04/coping-with-email-overload.html by Peter Bergman the author of 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done.  I did like I usually do and stopped everything to not only read his interesting tips for how to better manage my daily glut of emails, but also to read the first chapter of his book and download it to my iPad. While doing this I kept on reading other emails that had piled up since I shut down the evening before at 10 p.m. and did I mention that I also had started to read my emails from home at breakfast at 6 a.m. that morning?

Don’t we all love this information age where we are inundated with so much valuable information that we can’t get anything done? As I was doing all of this triple tasking, (did I tell you I was working on a project at the same time?) I came across another blog that talked about Agile Development – we use this here at Sage – and the need for the teams to be able to stay focused. In this second blog, I noticed a section headed “Squirrel” that immediately caught my eye. Right about now you’re probably asking yourself what the heck is she leading up to and why can’t she stay focused? Well, that’s because every email that comes in dings and for me that is just like yelling “Squirrel!” at your dog. You know, when you are out for a walk and he sees one of these bushy-tailed creatures and he immediately breaks from his “heel” and goes nuts trying to catch that pesky critter.

The light came on for me, not only was I responding to that email ding like my beloved dog responds to squirrels, but I was also guilty of shouting “squirrel!” to the team during our sprint reviews. For those of you not familiar with Agile, a sprint review is conducted after a pre-defined period of intense work. For us, this is every three weeks. The sprint review is where the team gathers to show what they have accomplished and celebrate meeting their goals. As it would happen, my epiphany came on a Monday morning right before we had our Product Owner/Managers meeting – another Agile driven meeting – and this gave me the opportunity to ask for feedback and explain that I thought I probably was guilty of getting the teams distracted by yelling squirrel. They of course were very nice to me, but did give me some great feedback — in my heart I know I am guilty of the squirrel gig. What we worked out was a process for me to give the feedback at the right time to the right person so that the team would not be distracted.

Now it’s time for you to do some introspective thinking. When have you yelled “squirrel” to your team? When have you jumped up and responded to the squirrel call? Both are equally bad as the first distracts others and the second is personally worse because it keeps you from being focused and productive.

I would encourage you to read Mr. Bergman’s blog and put his suggestions to the test. As for yelling “squirrel!,” make sure that if you do it is because he is really as dangerous as the picture at the top of this post.

Be on the lookout for next week’s post. In it I will give you some examples where being too focused might limit your creativity and at the same time let you know what scotch tape, sand paper, golf clubs, and smart phones have in common.  For those of you who are creative types and have the answer to this feel free to comment here on your thoughts about the commonality.

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2 thoughts on “Keeping The Squirrel’s Tamed – Staying Focused

  1. This really hit home for me. Maybe it is the multi-tasker in me that feels like I am failing if I cannot stay on point (heel) AND chase the squirrel. It is hard to admit that somethings cannot / should not be done at the same time. I have to learn when I am taking the hair dryer into the bath tub!

  2. I can never resist a challenge and the introduction to your next post tugged at my competitive side. My guess is that all of these items are 3M innovations. I was introduced to this type of thought process in my masters class when we discussed the folly of come companies to stay to closely focused on doing things the same way and not thinking outside of the the box they were in when things were going well only to find themselves left in the dust.

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