Do you find yourself having to justify buying new things that you really don’t need?  Or do you find yourself getting easily bored and needing something to grab your attention?  Well, you’re not alone in this tendency to be distracted by new things, but you’ve also probably got shiny object syndrome.

Shiny object syndrome is the tendency to chase something new, be it a new idea, trend, goal, or anything else, rather than stay focused on what you’re doing or already have.  You’ve probably seen this with your children and animals, but don’t be fooled – adults are struggling with shiny object syndrome more than ever.

I’ve seen shiny object syndrome in action with my dogs all the time – they will be perfectly content taking a walk and sniffing the ground, but if a squirrel or another dog happens to be in the vicinity, they’re completely fixated on the distraction until something else grabs their attention.  The funny thing is that I remember using shiny object syndrome to my advantage when my kids were younger, offering them a distraction to stop them from crying or throwing a temper tantrum.

Unfortunately, as adults, we are just as prone to shiny object syndrome as our dogs and kids; however, we have more adult ways of justifying it.  Interestingly, we rarely see it in ourselves but can easily spot it in others.

For example, we’ll laugh about how a coworker always seems to be doing things at the last minute because they can’t seem to focus on one thing at a time, yet how often have we honestly looked at how focused we are?  Or we’ll get annoyed that our kids are always on their phones and not paying attention to us, yet how often do we check work email when we’re not at work or play Wordle any chance we get?

In the world of accounting, it’s rare to find someone who hasn’t fallen prey to shiny object syndrome.  There are just too many things vying for our attention these days, but unfortunately, I have found that time management is affected the most by shiny object syndrome.

While it’s amazing to have so many choices available to us, and so many options for things to do with our attention and our time, it’s also causing a problem for a lot of people, especially accountants.  There are just 24 hours in a day, and if you want to make the most out of those hours, you have to get better at managing shiny object syndrome.   

If you are someone who would love to create more time and be able to get more done in less time, this episode is going to be super helpful.  As I always like to share on this podcast, you must understand the cause to change the effect. 

This week I’m going to discuss what causes shiny object syndrome and how to manage it better.

 

What causes shiny object syndrome

 

If you’re not sure whether you have shiny object syndrome or not, see if any of these apply:

  • You have ideas, but nothing gets executed.
  • Your to-do list never seems to get done.
  • You constantly start new goals but never see them through to the end.
  • You listen and learn from different sources but never apply what you’ve learned.
  • You don’t constrain yourself to one goal at a time and take action until you have the desired result.
  • You sign up for things, but you don’t follow through.
  • You plan things on your calendar and then convince yourself it can wait.
  • You don’t have the results you want in your life, whether it’s personally or professionally.
  • You have a collection of plugins, tools, and apps, but you don’t use them.
  • You’re prone to procrastination.
  • You think that multitasking is how to get things done.


Do any of these sound familiar?  I can honestly say that most of them have applied to me at various times in my life, depending on where I’m at in my professional or personal development.

Here’s what I want you to know when it comes to shiny object syndrome – it’s nothing to be ashamed of because the reason you have it in the first place is due to the fact that you have a human brain.  Every human has some degree of shiny object syndrome because it’s unavoidable.

The truth is that your brain has a role in your body, just like your heart’s role is to pump blood and your lung’s role is to breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.  Your brain serves many functions, one of which is to constantly process, reconfigure, and reconnect trillions of connections even when resting.

You may think that when you go to bed, you’re just sleeping and allowing your brain to rest, but in fact, even the resting brain looks like planet Earth from space, with electrical storms lighting up different regions of the planet several times a second.  The point is that your brain is naturally very active, even when you’re not awake.

As I’ve shared in previous podcast episodes, as we have developed from the times of the earliest humans on the planet up until now, the primitive part of the human brain has stayed with us throughout the millennia.   The role of that part of the body, the primitive human brain, has always been to protect us from danger and keep us alive.

It can’t help but be distracted by things because that’s its job – to pay attention to the smallest things for our survival, even if that means picking up your phone to check email all the time or finishing one podcast episode and then listening to another without stopping to put what you learned into action.  It’s just doing its job; it’s carrying out its role.

All those signs of shiny object syndrome that I mentioned before are so common because we have human brains that are programmed to look for shiny objects.  Asking that part of the brain to stop doing what it’s programmed to do is like expecting your dog to meow – it’s just not going to happen.

And even if it’s frustrating that your primitive brain has shiny object syndrome, it’s also not all bad.  For example, that part of your brain makes you sit up when you hear a noise outside at 3 am, and it gives you that creepy feeling when someone seems untrustworthy.

The point is that you still need the primitive part of your brain to do a lot of the things you take for granted for you to function on a daily basis, but you also want to have a better way of managing shiny object syndrome so that you can get things done and achieve whatever goals you have.  Although the lower, primitive part of your brain means well, you should still work on getting a better sense of awareness and control when shiny object syndrome gets in the way of you having the results you want in your life.  

The issue, though, is that while it’s natural for your primitive brain to get distracted with shiny objects, there are just TOO MANY shiny objects in our lives that are overloading that part of the brain.  Our protective primitive brain was initially used to notice the rustling of a bush as a possible danger, not to deal with this tech-centric, data-driven world that we now live in.  

As I mentioned, there’s no other area where you will want to get a better handle on shiny object syndrome than your time management.  Managing shiny object syndrome is incredibly important if you want to get more work done in less time and create more hours in the day. 

Thankfully, once you understand the cause of shiny object syndrome, it will make it easier to manage.

 

How to manage it better

 

As I said before, while it’s perfectly normal to experience shiny object syndrome because you have a human brain, it’s also not helpful to allow that primitive part of your brain to run your life, especially your time.  If you want to have a balanced life, reach certain professional and personal goals, and have more control over your life, you need to manage shiny object syndrome better.

The first way I suggest for managing it better is to use the higher, executive functioning part of your brain to make better decisions, plan, and follow the plan.  One of the most common things I see with my better time management coaching clients is that they know how to block time on a calendar, but they’re not clear about their “why.”

It might sound like a silly question to ask when you’re managing your time, but if you want to override your primitive brain’s tendency to give into shiny object syndrome, you have to know why you’re planning to do or not do something, and most importantly, you must like your reason.  Too often, we don’t stop to make sure we like our reason.

It’s important to understand that you will easily give in to distractions if you don’t have a strong enough “why” to help you overcome your primitive brain’s natural attraction to shiny objects.  You need a “why” that matters enough that your higher brain can help you focus on whatever the task is at hand.

For example, I manage shiny object syndrome at work because when I have scheduled blocks of time to get various client work done, and my goal is to be done by 3:15 pm every single day, I know my “why.”  I will make sure I’m done by 3:15 pm because I put myself into focus mode, I don’t allow distractions to derail me, and I work productively and efficiently because I WILL be leaving at 3:15 pm.

I have trained my brain to know that 3:15 pm is it – everything gets turned off, and we get to go home.  We are not staying until 3:30, we are not allowing other things to distract us and steal our time, and we are going home—end of story.

So here’s what I suggest – you need to know your “why,” and then you must set aside a little time to plan your time.  Many accountants just want to dive right into whatever they believe they have to get done, but I promise you that as little as 10 minutes spent creating a plan is going to save you hours in the long run because you’ll be a lot less likely to give into shiny object syndrome.  

The second way to manage shiny object syndrome is to have clear, measurable personal or professional goals.  Without a destination in mind, your brain will absolutely give in to the temptation to veer off here, turn right there, and spin you around aimlessly.

Knowing your “why” is again essential when it comes to goals because otherwise, your primitive brain will easily give into shiny object syndrome whenever something is challenging.  Besides being programmed to give in to distractions, that part of your brain also doesn’t like to expend mental energy.

The truth is that when you’re dealing with a goal to get a big project done at work in less time or a goal to spend more time with your family and less time at work, unless you have a strong “why,” your natural inclination will be to give into something that’s less challenging and takes less mental energy.

By spending a little time on setting clear, measurable goals for yourself and getting clear on “why” those goals matter, you’ll have a much better chance of managing shiny object syndrome when it inevitably appears.  Again, the time you spend deciding and planning your goals will always be well spent in the long run.

The last way to manage shiny object syndrome is to have someone you speak about your goals to, who can help hold you accountable when your primitive brain wants to give in.  It’s always important to be accountable to yourself first and foremost, but when it comes to the natural programming of your primitive brain, it’s always helpful to get some additional support.

Having someone to remind you of your goals, your plan, and the reason why you don’t want to give into shiny object syndrome can be invaluable as you are trying to manage it all.  Oftentimes trying to manage shiny object syndrome with the brain that’s creating it in the first place can be challenging; therefore, getting someone else to help you is essential.

Remember what I said in the beginning – it’s easier to spot shiny object syndrome in someone else?  Well, let someone else spot it in you and vice versa.  Two focused brains are better than one, so ask someone to hold you accountable for managing your brain better.

I’m, of course, partial to working with a coach because I’ve worked with my own coach on managing shiny object syndrome and have seen a huge improvement.  I’m much better able to constrain and have control, not getting derailed from my goals by various shiny objects that want to grab my attention. 

Hopefully, you now see the cause of shiny object syndrome, that it’s not your fault if you have it, but that you can also do things to take back control.  I promise you that if you learn how to manage it better, you’ll be amazed at how much time you create in your life for the things and the people you love.

 

Summary  

 

  • Unfortunately, as adults, we are just as prone to shiny object syndrome as our dogs and kids; however, we have more adult ways of justifying it.
  • While it’s amazing to have so many choices available to us, and so many options for things to do with our attention and our time, it’s also causing a problem for a lot of people, especially accountants.
  • Our protective primitive brain was initially used to notice the rustling of a bush as a possible danger, not to deal with this tech-centric world that we now live in.