My black lab, Kingsley, is like many of his breed in that he has Squirrel Moments. He’ll be doing one thing, and then a squirrel runs across the top of the fence. Seeing this out of the corner of his eye, Kingsley runs for all he is worth, convinced that this he’ll actually catch the critter. But, alas, the squirrel is always faster and craftier, and Kingsley is left to glare and bark his fiercest of barks. Once the squirrel is out of sight, Kingsley rarely returns to what he was doing before, no matter how interesting it may have been. The distraction, the Squirrel Moment, disrupted his memory and momentum.
While humans are much, much smarter than my goofy, yet lovable lab, we too have our Squirrel Moments. Even when we’re engaged in the most important of projects or tasks, something else, our “squirrels,” grabs our attention. It could be a call that would have been better to have let go to voicemail, the co-worker whose interruption could have waited, or that email chime or alert that ends up being a message that was much less important than the task at hand. Once we lose focus, we lose momentum. Work takes longer, and quality often suffers.
Multitasking is a myth, as we are incapable of effectively doing more than one thing at a time. Some may dismiss this, but take a moment to observe someone who claims to be multitasking. Watch long enough, and you’ll see that the individual may move from one thing to another every few seconds, but at no point in time is he or she really effectively doing multiple things at once.
The solution for Squirrel Moments simply requires better habits, including:
- Singletasking, a dedicated focus on the task at hand.
- Maintaining boundaries to minimize distractions that are almost always less important than the task at hand.
- Avoiding drive-by leadership and, instead, meeting with employees once or twice daily to disseminate important information.
Squirrels are referred to as pests for a reason. Sure they’re cute, but they can be awfully destructive, burrowing into places where they cause distraction and even harm. Better that we leave the squirrels to the Kingsley’s of the world so we can stay focused on the real work that brings home his dinner.