Shiny Object Syndrome
This post is a reblog, originally published in the Tool Box Journal Newsletter, Issue 22-11-342 on November 23, 2022. It is reposted with permission from the author.
Imagine you’re building a house. You’ve poured cement for the basement, you spent weeks constructing the walls, and just as you’re starting to work on the roof… you decide to remodel a shiny new condo down the road instead.
Is investing in the condo a bad decision? Hard to say, but quickly switching your focus to exciting new projects can interfere with the completion of existing tasks. Shifting your attention to something new may be a good idea in the long run, but that doesn’t change the fact that your house is missing a roof, and sooner or later it’s going to rain.
The fall T&I conference season always brings new ideas and inspiration, but the many expert suggestions can also be confusing. Should you try your hand at a completely new specialization? The glowing recommendations can make a new field seem like the promised land — clients who can’t wait to pay your rates, mountains of work, and unlimited opportunities… The same goes for new work systems and software packages — so many choices and opinions! For some people, continuous fascination with fresh options can turn into an endless pursuit of ideas that aren’t ever fully developed. The new ideas that hold so much promise are also known as “shiny objects.”
There is of course nothing wrong with considering other professional options. It takes grit and effort to successfully make the switch to a new specialization or to add valuable expertise to your existing practice, but shiny object syndrome isn’t about making one meaningful change. The term refers to frequent shifts in attention to something new and current, typically at the expense of existing activities. In business, shiny object syndrome can take the form of randomly pursuing new strategies or innovative systems for a short while.
We’re probably all guilty of chasing shiny objects at times. Brilliant new ideas — even if they interfere with our current tasks or aren’t sustainable in the long run — just seem so much less tedious and somehow, more manageable than the old stuff. The new idea, which can be anything from an additional qualification to a completely new business venture, can suddenly become the center of our attention, consuming a lot of energy. As we pour our enthusiasm into excited conversations, internet research, purchasing supplies, or planning, we use up a good chunk of our available time and energy. Less exciting tasks and projects (what about that website?) are neglected or completely shoved aside.
Here are a few tips if you often get sidetracked by new ideas that don’t come to fruition:
“Pie in the Sky” Time
The attraction of a new project or business activity may be rooted in frustration with tedious chores or hitting a wall with your current business. It is great fun to explore new concepts as a hypothetical new business path. Allow yourself to think through all aspects of the idea, but set up a waiting period before you start pursuing it in earnest. Several days of deliberation will not only help you avoid impulse spending, but will also give you time to determine what may be bothering you about your current business. Talk the idea over with someone you trust, and consider why it seems so attractive to you. Is your fascination with the new project associated with boredom or frustration that you may be experiencing with your other tasks?
Make a Tradeoff
If you still feel that pursuing the new venture is a good idea, consider trading off at least one finished task as a condition to get involved with the shiny object.
Identify what you would need to do to make room in your schedule. Overbooking yourself to complete your new and previous work can affect the overall quality of both — potentially leaving you with a roofless house AND a condo with leaky plumbing.
It’s important to consider the ultimate impact of the shiny object on time management and productivity. Although it may seem refreshing and exciting, that doesn’t change the fact that there are only so many hours in a day.
Once you’ve considered the other factors, take the time to imagine where you want to be in five years. Where will the shiny object be then, and what will have become of your other business activities and ideas?
What do you want to be known for? An endless cycle of enthusiastic pursuits, however exciting they may seem in the moment, cannot help you build up a solid brand or reputation. From a strategic perspective, the projects you choose should be a good fit for your brand, values, and long-term goals.
About the Author
Dorothee Racette, CT has been a full-time freelance GER < > EN translator for over 25 years. She served as ATA President from 2011 to 2013. In 2014, she established her own coaching business, Take Back My Day, to help individuals and organizations solve problems related to workflow and time management. As a certified productivity coach (CPC), she now divides her time between translating and coaching. Her book Complete What You Started (2020) provides a blueprint for carrying big projects across the finish line. You can read her blog at takebackmyday.com/blog.
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