20th September, 2017

The term ‘Goldfishing’ – referring to the common human characteristic of doing what is right in front of you rather than completing work in order of priority – is a little bit demeaning for Goldfish.  Recent Canadian research into the attention spans of 2112 individuals found that the average human attention span is currently around 8 seconds, whereas Goldfish are believed to have an attention span of an impressive 9 seconds.[1] That's a whole blog about something different and very scary! 

The problem with consistent work goldfish is that they may have the best of intentions to get organised but they struggle. It's a vicious circle, if you are so busy dealing with whoever is shouting loudest or the last thing to arrive in the inbox and don't force yourself to step back, you'll never stop firefighting. Mostly this is because of overwhelm and volume of work but I do know some people who seem to just be built this way. We all know one! You know there's no point emailing them as it will go into a black hole and never be seen again unless you by sheer fluke pick the right moment. You need to see them in person or phone them to have any trust that the message has got through. 

The important thing to remember when it comes to your daily task list ‘plan of attack’, is that you clearly define important deadlines for all your work – and stick to them! Even if a long and complicated internal task is broken into more manageable chunks of activity it still needs to be done. The famous Urgent /Important box diagram I find can help if I'm struggling to separate what is business critical versus what just needs doing. 

One thing to watch out for, though, is getting unduly distracted by a client telephone call or email on a day that has already been given over to the completion of an important task. Turning off interruptions, notifications and ringers is so important to be able to focus on the task at hand. Inbox "pause" is well worth looking up! 

But of course, priorities can change really quickly when you work with a number of different clients. Lead-times when you have multiple clients can be an issue so I cover it in my client onboarding process.  There are times when everyone will need their work dealing with urgently and they will want to be my top priority. Sometimes they can be, but sometimes, given my unique understanding and overview of all of the work in my in-tray, this cannot be the case unless I have a Harry Potter time turner!  To try and avoid this issue, I encourage my clients to provide me with specific deadlines so that work can be scheduled in to my week. 

Occasionally, work can come in that is urgent, important and unexpected and I will give them a realistic timescale that I can work to.  Sometimes I can shift things around to accommodate them, but sometimes I can't – it is the nature of my role working in support of numerous businesses that means that some months there just aren’t enough hours in the day to complete new and/or unexpected tasks.  For me, honouring the agreements that I have in place already is the most important thing, as sacrificing one client to carry out additional and ad-hoc work for another is not a habit that I want to get in to!

So next time you veer away from your planned to-do list – make sure that you’ve got your deadlines sorted to come back to (and try not to be a goldfish!). 

[1] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/03/12/humans-have-shorter-attention-span-than-goldfish-thanks-to-smart/

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