How to keep ‘squirrel chasing’ at bay

Just like pop ups on websites are annoying, so are those creative or nagging to do’s that pop up in our minds when we’re in the middle of a project.

What are you supposed to do? Do you stop what you’re doing to complete the other task or keep going and hope you remember what you thought of?

How do you protect your time, prevent anything from falling through the cracks and keep your focus dialed in?

Follow these six guidelines to help you when those pop up thoughts and distractions threaten to take you off track.

Embrace a mantra. This mantra sounds so basic and it is.

The nice thing about strategies that are really basic or easy is that we don’t have to work too hard to turn them into habits. I say, the easier the better.

So, the next time you feel your mind ready to wander, say to yourself, “Right now I am…”

Fill in the blank. “Right now I am writing a report.” “Right now I am sending emails.” “Right now I am making phone calls.”

You get the picture. Giving your brain a reminder about what you’re working on will help you stay focused.

Know when to say when. The more projects, activities and roles that you take on, the more tasks you have to complete.

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, but you should be careful to balance how much you put on your plate.

When you say yes to an abundance of opportunities, it can lead to burnout, mistakes, and too many ideas and to do’s buzzing around in your head.

Consider that when you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else.

Make sure you maintain a health balance of activities to help quiet the monkey mind chatter churning in your head.

Time for business. Make sure that you do your best to carve out business hours and only perform business tasks during that time.

It’s very easy to have pop ups sneak into our minds. We all need to write grocery lists, make social phone calls, throw in loads of laundry or take the dog for a walk.

At the very least, use these activities during break times to rest your mind instead of allowing them to pull you away from work.

Prioritize. It’s a lot easier to keep squirrel chasing at bay if you’re well-aware of the urgency of the tasks at hand.

Look at your to-do list and create a way to make the high priority tasks stand out. High priority tasks could include any of the following elements:

  • A deadline.
  • A financial consequence.
  • Someone is waiting for something from you before the project can move forward.
  • An activity that is close to your revenue line. Could this task generate income?

Do you need to make phone calls to schedule clients? Are you creating a product that you can sell? Do you need to send out invoices?

It’s much easier to prevent pop up thoughts from creating distractions when your focus is on high priority or income generating activities.

Jot it as you think it. When we have those thoughts that creep in while we’re working, they’re very powerful. They pull us away from our work like magnets. We have a lot on our minds and if we dismiss that thing we remember we need to do, we fear we may lose it.

That’s reason enough to jot it down to ease your mind.

Your brain can let it go when it you’ve created a dependable way to get chatter tasks out of your head by creating a reminder.

Use whatever system works for you. If you think you will get to the task as soon as you finish what you’re doing, then just put it on a scrap of paper or a sticky note next to your work space.

As soon as you’re done with the task at hand, you can grab your reminder note so you can cross the next item off of your list.

If you feel like the task may be completed at a later date, don’t use a scrap of paper, use a more reliable system that you’re less likely to lose. Just a few of the many options include legal pad, Word document or online options like Evernote, Simplenote or Todoist.

Use a system that works the way you’re most comfortable working. Don’t feel pressure to use an app if you feel that pen and paper is faster and easier for you. It’s your system and you’re the one who needs to feel comfortable so you’ll use it consistently.

Do it. We’re all familiar with the slogan that motivated millions to move. Sometimes the best strategy really is to just get something done and get over it. Follow these guidelines to decide if you should table it or do it.

  • If you have the time because you’re not up against a deadline on another project.
  • If writing it down and waiting until later is going to cause a great deal of stress.
  • If you can get it done in five minutes or less.
  • If your brain needs a break from the current task and this one won’t take you off track.

None of us should try to stay focused and work non-stop all day long. We crave variety, we need brain breaks, and we need shifts in our focus.

Don’t let pop up chatter derail you. Instead, embrace the fact that our brains toss things out to us when we least expect it and we’re more than capable of capturing and completing them.

Monika Kristofferson is a professional organizer and productivity consultant who owns Efficient Organization NW in Lake Stevens. Reach her at 425-220-8905 or

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