Episode 170 | 12 Strategies for Avoiding Shiny Object Syndrome

Episode 170 | 12 Strategies for Avoiding Shiny Object Syndrome

00:00 /

Show Notes

In the moment

  • Site blockers – Chrome extensions called StayFocused, ProductivityOwl
  • Pause your emailInboxPause –  same guys who make Boomerang
  • Use triggers to get in the zone – loop the same song or playlist and work. That playlist will become synonymous with getting into the zone. Rob mentioned he’s recently been looping Lonesome Dreams by Lord Huron, and he’s also been known to endlessly loop pop punk songs.
  • Pomodoro technique. Taking it even further: http://impossiblehq.com/workstation-popcorn 
  • RescueTime
  • Timeboxing – Marketing Monday


  • Make an annual plan. Then break it down by quarter. Then by month. If you say “yes” to anything not on the plan…realize that you are bumping something.
  • Weekly reflection on what you’re doing and why.
  • Mastermind group accountability
  • Focus on 1 thing at a time, and maybe (big maybe) a secondary, less important, side project. Anyone I’ve known who does more is chronically not completing things.
  • Learn the difference between productivity and entertainment – examples: HN, Seth Godin Books, Malcolm Gladwell Books
  • Temporary information diet


[00:00] Rob: In this episode of Startups for the Rest of Us, Mike and I discussed 12 strategies for avoiding shiny object syndrome. This is Startups for the Rest of Us: Episode 170.

[00:09] Music

[00:17] Welcome to Startups for the Rest of Us, the podcast that helps developers, designers and entrepreneurs be awesome at launching software products, whether you’ve built your first product or you’re just thinking about it. I’m Rob.

[00:26] Mike: And I’m Mike.

[000:27] Rob: And we’re here to share our experiences to help you avoid the same mistakes we’ve made. What’s the word this week, Mike?

[00:32] Mike: I was looking through some of the comments that are left on startupsfortherestofus.com and there’s a recent one there from Mark Studebaker who says another solid episode guys. One thing I do to help get myself going with just coding is to always leave or find something easy to do. Sit down. Knock it out, it puts me in gear.

[00:49] Rob: I find that if I have an easy task that it will be a good on ramp for me to kind of get working and get focused but I’ve never intentionally left an easy task at the end and I think that’s a pretty good tip. That was to assist with a question that we answered a couple of episodes ago about staying focused and being motivated.

[01:07] Mike: So what’s up with you this week?

[01:09] Rob: I’m still struggling with this having too much work to do and having too many simultaneous tasks on my plate and I think we’ll touch on that in this episode when we talk about shiny object syndrome. I’m looking to see how quickly I can get out from under these I think. The fact that MicroConf is hopefully the planning begins to wrap up here in the next month or so and then my never ending quest to revamp HitTail and get it working again at full capacity is probably still a week maybe two out but I’m making a lot of progress on that over the last couple of days.

[01:40] And if I can get those things off my plate, I will be a much happier person because right now I’m frankly not very pleasant to be around and so kind of just labeling it as the struggling me I’m not nearly as say happy with work like I was even six months ago.

[01:56] Mike: I think part of the problem is you tend to be distracted at all times as well because you can’t even just sit there and have dinner without your mind wandering to all the other things that you have to do. You can’t necessarily focus on whatever the task is that you’re currently working on just because your brain is constantly thinking about all the other things that you also have to do.

[02:14] Rob: That’s right. And there are people who live in that perpetually and I’m not one of them. Most of my time, I am focused in one or two tasks and in general I don’t feel this way. So when I get into this kind of chaos, this mental chaos, definitely a shock to the system and it’s something I want to get out of as soon as possible because I find it being frankly not that productive. And the sooner I can get out of it and kind of get back to the old more controlled way of doing I think the better off I am.

[02:42] So we have 325 worldwide iTunes reviews now across looks like about 18 countries and thanks to comment cast for giving us the ability to see that. But we have a review from Bar Assam he says great focused podcast on starting your own business without venture capital. I’ve learned a great deal by listening to all the episodes. And our other one is from ASDF0987 he says weekend, week out these guys deliver the gold. I love following along as they talk about their experiences developing their businesses. Thank you so much guys.

[03:12] So we really appreciate these reviews. If you have not logged in to iTunes, left us a five star review, we’d really appreciate it. It helps us out. It helps us grow our audience, we’d appreciate your help if you can.

[03:23] Music

[03:27] This week are going to spend a whole episode answering a listener question. So listener Ryan Belong from Redding, California writes in and he says I’d love to hear some productivity or shiny object syndrome recovery tips on a podcast episode. As you know, entrepreneurs and startup folks are notorious for that especially in the tech space where not keeping up with the latest and greatest can cost you. So most of us have already formed bad habits that are counterproductive to building and growing a company.

[03:54] And when he says shiny object syndrome he just means seeing the next shiny object and basically walking away from what you’re doing now and putting too much on your plate. And as soon as you have 2, 4, 8 projects that you’re working on simultaneously, you can’t possibly be that efficient at it because you’re just splitting you time up too much and it becomes such a headache to manage.

[04:12] So today we’ve broken these 12 strategies for avoiding the shiny object syndrome into two sections. The first one is going to be in the moment. So it’s like how to get focused in the moment? And then the second half is going to be talking about longer term focus strategies, motivation strategies and that kind of stuff. And these are taken almost exclusively from our own experience. A couple of them have been referred to me and I don’t use them but I know they’re popular and a lot of people do. And so we’re going to kick it off with our first in the moment strategy and is to use a site blocker.

[04:46] So there are a ton of these out there. There are chrome extensions. There’s stay focused and productivity owl. There’s a bunch of them that are free but it allows you to block websites either at specific times or for specific durations. The notorious ones for us would probably be hacker news, Twitter, it might be your Twitter client. it might be Facebook. Anything, Reddit, anything that draws your attention away and allows you to accidentally wander. You click one link and you’re reading something for work and suddenly you spent 30 minutes watching a bunch of YouTube videos or reading a bunch of the latest post about how jQuery can do this and that.

[05:21] That’s bad. It really impacts your flow. It impacts your productivity and so the use of site blockers is something that I know is pretty prevalent and finding one and getting it in place if you have this issue of wandering off I think is something that can help with your focus.

[05:36] Mike: I’ve always thought that the idea of a site blocker would be helpful but the actual implementation of them, what I would like to see for them is just kind of like a warning that just pops up that says hey you’re about to do stuff that is probably not your best interest, are you sure you want to go on? So that way it’s more of like a click here to continue and it kind of disrupts your flow of going off into the weeds as opposed to just blatantly stopping. Maybe it’s more of a gentler way of saying hey, more on you’re doing things you shouldn’t be.

[06:05] One that I found recently that I just love this thing already, I barely used it and its called inbox pause and it allows you to pause the email that’s coming into your Gmail account. What it does is it takes all the incoming email and automatically sets it to a specific label. And then when you unpause, it will take all of those things and will put them back into your mail box says unread basically removing that label. And it comes from the same guys who make Boomerang.

[06:32] It’s just a little Gmail plug-in. You click pause and you can click unpause and your email has been queued up. It pops back to your mailbox. And to be perfectly honest, an email from me is probably a much bigger problem than going off to random websites because I really do need to be in my email and do a lot of stuff in there and it’s very distracting to know that there are emails that are probably still coming in that I have to deal with. So for me, to be able to just block my email for time periods of say a couple of hours, I know that if I go back and check my email, there’s not going to be anything there unless I go and unpause it.

[07:05] Rob: I like that one as well. I haven’t used it but it’s something I’ll be installing when we get done with the show. Next idea, and this is something I’ve used a lot and I’ve ramped it up and actually gotten better out of it over the years but it’s to use triggers to get you in the zone and to get you focused at the start of the day. About 5-6 years ago, I used to start everyday when I’d sit down to write code and I would turn on either a podcast or NPR, some type of talk radio and that always shifted my focus. It became synonymous with me starting to work.

[07:35] These days, since I’m doing a lot of stuff where I need the language center of my brain because I’m writing copy or writing emails, I need to do it via music. But what I found is that if I found a new song, if I hear a new song that I haven’t heard a bunch and I really like that song, I will sit down and loop that song, just that song, not a playlist but just that song over and over for a couple of hours while I work and I find that especially if I’m doing some coding or something and I can kind of get into a real heavy zone with, that song then becomes a trigger for me to get in the zone and it will last for weeks if not months depending on it. At a certain point you do just get sick of the song and you can’t listen to it anymore.

[08:12] but taking a new song and using it in that fashion will trigger parts of your brain that will allow you almost instantly to go into work mode. And I ran into some issues where I did this with a couple of songs. There’s a really good song called lonesome dreams by Lord Huron that I did it with and I probably listen to this song 600 or 700 times in a course of a few weeks. And we were at a friend’s house hanging out listening to Pandora and the song came on and I no joke totally started thinking about work and my to-do list came up in my head and it just triggered even though we’re sitting around having drinks and chatting. So use this one with caution for sure.

[08:46] I’ve also found this works with certain playlist of the music is all of the similar style. So I’ll put songs back to back to back with heavy driving drum beats or heavy driving guitar. You can have different playlists of these things and loop these. I find that it’s not as powerful as that single song but it does last longer because that playlist won’t burn itself out because you have a little more variety.

[09:08] Mike: Yeah. In iTunes I have a specific playlist called programming music and it just allows me to get into the zone and just really focus on whatever it is that I’m working on. I can use it for just about anything where I need to really think in depth about a particular problem. I feel like it works much better for things that are I’ll say not as creative because with creative stuff I kind of need to not be as driven. So if I’m doing coding, I’m actively thinking about a very specific problem that probably has a very specific solution versus being a little bit more creative with creating emails and stuff where that tempo has to be turned much further down so it doesn’t help me as much for those types of tasks. But for program it works really, really well.

[09:50] Rob: I’d agree with that. Yeah my playlist, I have a couple of them but I call them working.

[09:55] Mike: So the fourth one is using the pomodoro technique and I’ve talked about this a little bit before and the pomodoro technique there’s a lot of different iPhone apps that you can use or there’s even probably desktop apps or chrome plug-in that you can leverage but it’s really just a matter of picking one and it sets aside a time block for you to really get in the zone. And then after 25 minutes or so, and you can adjust the time a little bit but the default is typically 25 minutes you work and for 25 minutes then you take a 5 minute break and you work for 25 minutes, take another 5 minute break.

[10:26]And then after four of them, you take a much longer break which is usually 15 or 20 minutes and then you kind of go back into that so that way you’re doing blocks of work and about two hours at a time but you’re trying to squeeze as much as you can into these 25 minute increments called pomodoros. And I found that it works really well.

[10:43] Rob: Yeah and there’s a bunch of website tomato-dashtimer.com is a free one and it has just a 25 minute time where you can stop and start with a space bar. There’s plenty of options here for that. I’m seeing an interesting article. It’s actually just on hacker news right now. It’s on impossiblehq.com and he kind of takes this even further where he talks about how to become uber productive while working for yourself and he sits down at the beginning of a day and he breaks things up into three equal chunks of about 2 or 2.5 hours a piece and then he finds three locations to work from.

[11:16] So then he goes to this really killer coffee shop. He works there, just sprints for that 2.5 hours and I’m trying to see if he actually does pomodoro and just does 30 minute sprints or if he does the whole 2.5 but either way he gets that group done, then he puts on his iPod and he cranks up loud music and he goes to the next station. He says it’s ideal if you have to walk, ride a bike, do something physical to get do that next place that it’s actually not just another seat in the same coffee shop but it’s another coffee shop block or two up the road. And then he does that three times and he says it’s just incredibly productive for him.

[11:53] I’ve never tried this but I’m really interested to try this. I have accidentally or kind of just by virtue of schedule I have needed to bounce around to different work locations the same day a few times and I have found that it does make my mind not get stock in a rut. It adds to like the creativity or at least the ability to kind of see problems with a new view and not get stuck in the demotivational thing of sitting in the same bedroom for 8 hours straight.

[12:20] Mike: So the next one on our list is rescue time and rescue time is a Saas application that you can install and you put it on your desktop or your laptop and essentially what it does is it looks at the processes that are running on your machine and it will figure out what it is you’re doing and what you’re spending your time on. And then at the end of the week it will email you a report and will show you essentially where you’ve spent your time throughout the course of the week. So if you’ve spent a lot of time in visual studio, it will show you that. If you spent a lot of time on hacker news it will show you that as well.

[12:51] And then based on the type of takes that you are performing, it will assign a score to the task that you are doing because there are certain tasks that are considered very much work oriented. So for example, sitting in your compiler is probably very, very much work oriented. You’re not doing that too much outside of things you’re supposed to be doing. And then there’s things that you’re doing for example inside of a web browser that it could go either way. So being in your compiler might be worth say 2 points per minute and being in your web browser on a programming website might be 1 point, might 2 points, it kind of depends on the website.

[13:24] And then there are other websites where if you’re on that website its very, very bad and its definitely not work related. So things like YouTube are probably minus 2 for example. Hacker news I probably minus 2 but if your job is to do social media for example you might spend a lot of time on hacker news because you have to as part of your job and that’s you’re trying to get social traction on your website and different stories that you’re trying to promote. So you can customize it a little bit but what I found was it tended to be a little bit of work for me because of all the different things that I do I ended up kind of adjusting the different point values quite a bit based on the weeks that I was working just.

[14:07] Because some weeks I would be doing a lot of promotion so if I‘m doing those types of things then I have to bump up to the points that lean on those different websites as work. And then if you’re doing things like Facebook ads for example being on Facebook should theoretically be minus 2 but at the same time if you’re doing Facebook ads, you kind of have to be on Facebook in order to run them. So it can be a little bit of a struggle or a challenge in some of those cases but for the most part, if you’re really looking for a good cross section of where you currently spend your time, rescue time is definitely a good place to start looking because it will give you that snapshot.

[14:38] Rob: Our next strategy for avoiding shiny object syndrome is time boxing and I actually just did one of these. I had a task that I thought was going to take me an hour and I sat down 30 minutes before you and I had a deadline to talk and I just cranked on this thing and did it very fast like way faster than I thought. I’m pretty pleased with getting it done.

[14:59] And there’s other ways to do this time boxing. You can time box on a calendar. You can just look at 4 to 5 things you need to get done in a day, the larger picture things and put in 30-45 minutes, 1 hour for each of them. You do a quick estimate and you just pack out your calendar for the day and you only give yourself that much time to do it. Unless it’s absolutely critical that it be at a certain level of quality, I mean you crank until the time is up and then you send it off. I’ve used this for just success. I don’t use it all the time. I use it when I feel like I’m bloating my tasks and when I feel like I‘m in that rut and I am losing focus. I will resort to basically one or most of these tactics that we’ve named so far.

[15:41] Mike: One of the time boxing techniques that I’ve talked about in the past is using marketing Monday and just dedicating all of your marketing tasks for one specific day of the week. I think that helps a lot of people just because of the fact that a lot of the marketing tasks take time to see the results so if you kind of box all those in to one particular day of the week and then you don’t come back to it for another week, then by that time you’ll have presumably started to see some of the results and you can act on those the following week. But marketing Monday is definitely an example of one of the time boxing techniques.

[16:15] Rob: Now we’re going to take a look at a handful of more longer term ways to avoid shiny object syndrome and to stay focused. The first one that I‘m going to talk about is something that I’ve done every year for the past 3 or 4 years and it’s to make an annual plan. Look out at the next year and figure out what is it that you want to accomplish. What handful of things high level big picture goals do you want to accomplish? Then break it down by quarter and then if possible, if necessary, break it down by month.

[16:44] What this does is makes you realize that your year is packed with really interesting stuff that you chose at the beginning of the year. And it’s not that you can’t change from this. It’s not that you can’t say yes to something else but if you say yes to anything that’s not on that plan, you need to realize that you’re going to be bumping something else on your list and that becomes a deliberate decision because I see a lot of folks who especially us, founders and entrepreneurs, we start doing one task. We start doing one project and then either we hear about a new technology or someone brings an offer to hey, you want to be a cofounder of this? You want to just help me out? You want to do some consulting?

[17:19] These things come up and if you don’t have any type of say a time boxed year or any type of annual plan where you’re really trying to get stuff done that’s going to move your forward, you will wander all over the place. That’s just our tendency. And so making this annual plan is something I think is very important. It’s something I think a lot of people do not do and think it’s been a big mover for me to take – I typically look back at the previous year. I look at what I enjoy doing, what I didn’t enjoy. I look at what revenue it was. How much it grew, where I wanted to be in next year and then how I’m going to make that happen, try to make it as realistic as possible.

[17:55] Because I do this during typically a two day retreat that I take away from the family and it allows me to purely focus, I don’t check email during this time. I try to do paper and pen. Sometimes I use my iPad for things but in general I spend the days at coffee shops walking, thinking, I have a list of questions I’m trying to answer for myself, looking backwards and at the coming year. By the time I come out of that, I tend to have a really tight vision of what the next year is going to look like, what I want out of it, I say no to a lot of things after that. You might think oh that locks you in not taking advantage of opportunity. That’s not true. I have taken advantage of opportunity and you still can but that opportunity better be really, really good that one of the other 4 or 5 things that you have on that annual plan is going to get bumped and that it’s worth it to you to do that.

[18:42] Mike: But when you do that, do you kind of assign time blocks to each of those things that you kind of estimate that it’s going to take or do you just kind of wing it in terms of ball park like oh I think this will take about one quarter to finish. How far down do you go in terms of blocking it out or trying to make sure that the time estimates for a lot of those things are accurate?

[19:02] Rob: I don’t go that deep into the time estimates. What I do is I know that certain things like MicroConf have a tight deadline. It’s a definite deadline and then other things I will say – you know last year I said I want to get Drip out in the spring and I think I even said it was like by April 1 because MicroConf was at the end of April. And so I’ll throw that out as a deadline and realize whoa, suddenly I’m planning MicroConf and building Drip and I was still growing HitTail and realized that’s a lot. I really can’t take on anything else.

[19:28] Now Drip was pushed out. I didn’t launched ‘til quarter 3 that’s okay. I can live with that. I mean there are other reasons it didn’t launch. It wasn’t because I lost focus. it was just coz there’s a lot of work to do. But I’m in the same position again this year. I have four things going on right now and that’s not really not ideal but I’m seeing that two of them hopefully will be off my plate in the next couple of months and that it should free me up for the remainder for the year.

[19:53] But when I say month by month, I do try to plan which month something’s going to be done and then the month to month typically is if I’m talking about revenue goals, there’s a few other goals that I do break down and it just helps to not say I want to be at $50,000 a month by the end of the year. But it helps to break it down into how fast do I need to grow in order to get to that $50,000 goal.

[20:11] Mike: I think an approach that I’ve kind of gravitated towards is doing kind of a weekly reflection of what it is that you’re doing and why. And at the end of any given week, maybe this is more of a reactive strategy than a preventive strategy. I kind of look back at the previous week and previous month at the end of each week and say is this what I’m supposed to be doing? is this actually helping me? Is this moving things forward? And if it’s not, look at the things that need to be done in order to change that. I think it was Steve Jobs who at one point basically said I look in the mirror everyday and decide if today was the last day of my life, would I be happy doing what I’m doing today? And if there’s too many days in a row where the answer is no, then something’s got to change.

[20:56] Rob: Our next strategy for avoiding shiny object syndrome is mastermind group accountability. It’s having other people who are invested in your story who you’re talking with fairly frequently, keeping you accountable to not wandering around and not jumping on other ideas and objects. I got to be honest. I’ve had several points over the past say 3.5 years since I’ve been part of mastermind groups where I have had to convince the other people in my mastermind group that I was going to do something and that they pushed back and said why are you doing this? Give me a reason. And I did and I was able to – it helped me think it through. It helped them understand really why I had to do that. Why I wasn’t just going to sit there and work on that singe app for the next 10 years like other folks had.

[21:41] Mike: I think the mastermind group accountability, I think this really, really helps when you’ve got things going on that are not necessarily obviously to the average lay person because 1) you just can’t divulge certain types of information. In a mastermind group, you can. You can lay down all your cards on the table and you could say this is why I’m doing X, Y and Z and although it doesn’t make sense why I’m doing Z right now when I get done with X and Y then its going to make sense.

[22:10] The next one is to focus on one thing at a time. If you have a smaller secondary or less important side projects then you might want to take those and push them to the side a lot more and focus on your primary project. If you have a salary and a side project then you could kind of couple those together if you’re doing consulting or you’re building a product. There’s lots of different ways to combine kind of like your primary source of income and then something else that you’re building on the side or doing on the side but if they are competing too much with one another, one of them has got to give. And it’s okay to set aside your full time job in favor of a side project that you’re working to build up in an effort to supplant your full time job but you have to do that as a conscious effort.

[22:53] And when you start taking on more than one or two major tasks at a time, something’s got to give. So as you start going down the road where you’re building two side projects or three side projects, it’s ultimately going to end up a scenario where some thing’s going to fall on the floor because you can’t reasonably sub stand those for too lengthy a period of time before things just start to fall apart.

[23:18] Rob: Everyone I know who takes on more than one major project plus a small side winds up chronically not completing things. They just have a bunch of stuff sitting around that never gets done, never gets launched and winds up being a huge waste of time. If you abandon something because it’s not a good idea, then that’s okay. That’s justified. But if you abandon stuff because you just don’t have time because you just wander from one thing to the next, you’re never going to make any progress towards your goal. It’s pretty sad to be honest because I know some talented people who aren’t getting there and it’s not because they couldn’t get there if they focused but it’s because they’re just taking on too many fun things frankly.

[23:59] Next strategy we’re going to talk about is learning the difference between productivity and entertainment. I think there’s a lot of confusion. Some people think that let’s say being on hacker news is actually being productive or reading Seth Godin books, Purple Cow, Linchpin, love all these books. they’re not productivity though. you’re not actually moving your business forward. You may be learning something, maybe learning a lesson but I never once kidded myself that I was being productive while I was listening to it or pushing my business forward or even learning a lesson that was really going to make that much of a difference in my business.

[24:32] You might learn something ancillary but it’s so different than either sitting down to write some copy, to make a cold call, to setup a new ad campaign, to build out SEO, those are the things that push your business forward or even learning about those things in a very specific and defied way. Jeremy from the internet business mastery podcast calls this just in time learning. I’ve always liked that phrase. When I sit down, let’s say I’m going to take on a new ad network or I’m going to try a new SEO technique. That moment, that’s when I’m going to learn that technique.

[25:04] I have stopped listening to highly tactical podcast or reading highly technical blog articles that I’m not going to put into use in maybe the next week, maybe two because I can always find them later. Search engines are pretty good these days and what I found is that I was consuming so much information about putting 1/10th of it to use and by the time I put it to use, I had forgotten what I had read anyway because I had put so much information in my head.

[25:30] So I think the bottom line for this one is to not consume tactical information until you’re ready to use that tactic and to really learn that difference between productivity and entertainment and its okay to do entertainment. I listen to a lot of podcasts but I know that I’m doing it for fun and I read a lot of business books and I know that business books are not going to push my business forward. It’s much more of a form of entertainment than of actually being productive and driving my business forward.

[25:56] Mike: One of the things that I’ve found that kind of helps me differentiate and draw solid line between productively and entertainment is to gravitate more towards books that are clearly not productivity. I don’t tend to read business books anymore. I used to. I used to read a lot of them and then I got to the point where I realized that a lot of these things are more entertainment than education. So it’s not helping me move my business forward so why am I spending my time on that? Why don’t I spend my time doing stuff that for example would help me sleep at night? So what I’ll do is I’ll read science fiction novels at night on my kindle.

[26:31] And what it does is it actually helps me sleep better because then I’m reading stuff that is – I’ll say in some ways mindless because it’s not like I will think a lot about it. It’s not like I’ll try and glean some lesson from the story that I’ll try to apply to my business. if it’s just some science fiction novel that I’m reading, I can close a chapter and go to bed and I’m not dwelling on it a lot.

[26:52] Another strategy you can use is going on a temporary information diet and kind of like the difference between knowing what is productive versus what is entertainment, you can take a look at the website you’re reading whether its hacker news or Twitter pruning down your RSS lists, pruning down your podcast list. I’ve actually pruned my podcast list down to about half a dozen and I will alternate back and forth between them because quite frankly I don’t necessarily get a lot out of most of them anymore. So there’s only so many lessons that you can learn. There’s so many different ways that you can hear a specific piece of information before you’ve kind of really understand it.

[27:28] If you need to prune back on that stuff especially if you’re doing it temporarily because you really need to buckle down, then put a hard limit on what your RSS looks like or your podcast looks like. Maybe it’s a 5, maybe it’s a 10 maybe it’s a 20 but make sure that you put a limit on there so that you don’t feel like you have to go listen to them. And then one of the things that you’ll find is when you start limiting these types of things, part of the reason you want to put a hard limit on those is coz you’re going to start to feel pressure if you just let them build up. And this happens especially with RSS feeds. I found that this happened to me when I started to neglect my RSS feeds and not mark things as red and not actually go through them.

[28:07] I actually felt pressure to go in and read those because it almost felt like my to-do list was expanding. And it was in a weird way it was kind of stressful because I’m like oh, I’ve got all these things that I’ve subscribed to. I really should be reading these things and instead of letting those things build up, just trim them. Just get rid of them completely so that they’re not there and contributing to your to-do list.

[28:28] Rob: Yeah. I’m a big fan of information diets and when I’m on a big push like this quarter as an example, I backed way off on the amount of stuff I consume. And then at other times like let’s say I have a quarter later in the year that’s more relaxing and I hope to get there and intentionally make it just a more relaxed three months, I will push in and I’ll lean in to the stuff that’s coming out through my RSS feed and my podcast list and anything else. I’ll listen to a lot more books and such because I feel like that’s the time when I’m going to recharge and get new ideas and new concepts into my mind but I see it as an ebb and flow. So I like the concept that it’s a temporary information diet. I don’t feel like I need a permanent one.

[29:07] The other thing is I’m a little different than you with the podcast subscriptions. You have six and that’s pretty impressive. I probably have somewhere in the neighbor of between 50 and 80 that I subscribe to. But I’m listening to them every day at different times when I’m making dinner and doing dishes and such and anything that doesn’t look interesting or anything that’s not keeping my attention, I’m deleting. And so my actual queue of unlistened to episodes tends to be less than 5 because I keep that thing really prune. And even if I go away for a few days and don’t listen, I’ll come back. And the longer shows that are really just more entertaining I’ll just nuke those things and I’ll just keep the ones that I really want to follow the story of. Those are the two ways. It depends on your personality I believe.

[29:50] I’m able to kind of manage it and go in. now, I don’t do that with RSS though. RSS I just want to keep the list small and I pretty much ready everything that comes through. But with podcast I feel like I’m picking kind of the gems, the diamonds in the rough that may come through in this big swarm of new episodes just coming out every day.

[30:08] Mike: Yeah. I’m completely opposite when it comes to podcast. I feel like I’d rather stick with a couple that I really enjoy versus trying to sift through them and figure out which episodes I want to keep and which ones I don’t. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell. I feel like there’s certain episodes that you may very well get a lot out of but it’s hard to know until you’ve already listened to it I guess.

[30:28] Rob: I can typically tell. Assuming it’s going to be a single topic, it’s not a new show that’s going to bounce around, I’ll give some 3-5 minutes and that’s at time and a half speed. And if I’m in doubt, I delete it. The odds of me missing some gem that’s just going to change my business is very, very low. Typically I’m listening to it to figure out the continuity of the story and to hear some news and that kind of stuff. So I think either way will work and it’s just about knowing yourself and knowing what works best for you.

[30:56] So to recap, our 12 strategies for avoiding shiny object syndrome are to use site blockers, to pause your email, to use triggers to get in the zone, using the pomodoro technique, using rescue time, and time boxing. And our long term strategies are to make an annual plan, have weekly reflection on what you’re doing and why, have mastermind group accountability, focus on thing at a time, learn the difference between productivity and entertainment and go on a temporary information diet.

[31:25] Mike: If you have question for us, you can call it in to our voice mail number at 1-888-801-9690 or email it to us at question questions@startupsfortherestofus.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from “We’re Outta Control” by MoOt used under Creative Commons. You can subscribe to us in iTunes by searching for startups or via RSS at startupsfortherestofus.com where you’ll also find a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening. We’ll see you next time.

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9 Responses to “Episode 170 | 12 Strategies for Avoiding Shiny Object Syndrome”

  1. Jake says:

    I totally agree with the music thing. Try High Energy Protons by Juno Reactor and the whole Transmissions album itself.

    Trigger songs are great.

  2. Andrew Cox says:

    Hi Rob and Mike,

    Listening on 1.5 in a second pass to note things that caught my attention the first time around.

    I have heard you Rob refer to these retreats, and other presenters of bootstrapping podcasts mention your name with respect to the yearly retreat idea (possibly What Now, Bootstrapped With Kids, Bootstrapped, or Techzing) a few times now and I am planning to give it a go.

    Have you ever written-up a guide to how to do one of these? I normally get a bit sad travelling alone … Isn’t it lonely? Where do you go? Another city? The seaside? I could imagine hiking alone but maybe that is too distracting. Should I be wandering between coffee shops writing? if you are on pen and paper, don’t you have a lot of your plans and ideas in electronic form, so do you print a bunch out to take with you? Do you get a hotel room somewhere? I assume you wouldn’t sit in that room or do tourist things when you do go out.

    Do you have a checklist of all the things that you need to get through during the trip? Like:
    * Go over your ideas lists and prioritise them.
    * Evaluate your current project and see if they are worth continuing or it is time to drop some.
    * Think five years out and how you will get to where you want to be. Which projects lead in that direction.
    * Analyse risks and distractions in the year ahead.

    What is your actual plan like as apposed to my imaginings?

    Thanks a lot for another great interesting and actionable podcast episode.


  3. Tariehk says:

    Thanks guys, I decide to go ahead and download the Pomodoro app after listening to this podcast. Also, I have always listen to music, but I will try to listen to more music to keep me going.

  4. Great show!
    My wife and I will come up with cool ideas. I used to run down the idea to check its viability. I try to resist that urge. Now my wife and I will email each other with the subject line of “Shiny!” and keep those ideas in a hopper. I’ll either get to one idea or not, but doing the email gets them out of the system.
    I do have my 2014 largely mapped out (popularizing a car site, fostering / developing a property management SaaS, and doing social media for an local mayoral campaign). When I got “The Plan” down on paper it was liberating. That said, I still do fire out those “Shiny” emails from time to time.

  5. Jim Munro says:

    Guys, great show. Definitely something I struggle with, my problem is books.

    I currently have a huge backlog of books I *intend* to read. I am sure I’ll get to half of them, but I buy them anyway. Addict.

    One thing that helps me with online content that seems actionable, or tactical as you say, is using the Evernote web clipper. I have a Pro evernote account with does all the OCR and saving content you can want.

    With this I not only have a bookmark of it, I can also file it into a specific folder and it saves the entire webpage in case the article goes offline for some reason.

    I may never get back to the article but it gives me some satisfaction knowing it’s saved and it reduces the temptation to read it in the moment. Use early and often it will reduce wasted time on things I feel I *should* be reading.

    Best of luck!

  6. Wolf Scott says:

    Hey Guys,

    You are hereby receiving my very FIRST comment to a podcast – EVER – I’m a podcast commenter virgin so to speak. Feel honored; it’s well deserved though.

    I’ve been listening to your podcast for, well, heck, a LONG time and enjoy every episode — you guys rock!

    Okay, now for the comment —

    DANG! I thought I was totally WEIRD, odd and goofy for looping a song for hours on end – I’d start a song, sometimes takes a few moments to find the right one, after I get that out of the way, hours pass … usually tingling feet or bio pressures snap me back to the real world. I’ve told some co-workers about this “trick to focus” and received the usual “it’s cuz you’re weird, wolf” reply — Now I am validated and it’s all because of you guys. Bet that wasn’t on your podcast list of objectives …

    Validate Wolf as NOT weird, Check!

    Thanks again, guys for a great show — drip and shark on!


    P.S., I’m a long time software imagineer, goofball and inventor of things; some even good … (in case you were wondering) 🙂

  7. Paul Arden says:

    Great show as always.

    While Inbox Pause appealed to me I don’t use the Gmail webmail interface and have multiple mailboxes which I usually check with Mail.app. Yes, I still use a desktop app 🙂 So I knocked up a quick AppleScript to replicate the Inbox Pause functionality for Mail.app in case anyone is interested:

    tell application “Mail”
    set _title to “Inbox Pause”
    set _current to (get fetches automatically)
    set fetches automatically to (not _current)
    if (not _current) then
    display notification “Inbox Unpaused” with title _title
    display notification “Inbox Paused” with title _title
    end if
    end tell

    If you have AppleScript on your menu bar you can just save the script in your scripts folder and access it from the menu bar. You could take it much further but this was enough for me.

  8. James says:

    I also have looped single songs for hours at at time as well for days while working. I thought I was kinda of weird also so it’s great to know others do this as well. I think why it’s effective is that you enjoy the melody if it’s a great song, however you don’t have any brain cycles processing the content since you’ve heard it over and over. So it’s pleasing while productive. When I listen to new songs while working, part of my brain is thinking about the content of the song and it can be distracting.


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