What to do when a New, Shiny Idea Pops Up and Distracts You?
Photo courtesy of Andriano Agullo.

What to do when a New, Shiny Idea Pops Up and Distracts You?

Written by Emilie

Topics: Productivity

During our Productivity Huddle the other day, we talked a lot about focus. What do you do when you’re working on one project and suddenly get the urge to explore something else? When do you hold your focus, and when do you try out that new fascination?

Many multipotentialites have been bitten by the delightful idea bug. This is a good thing. We’re talking about the same idea bug that brings you all of that wonderful creativity and makes your work so brilliant. The problem is that sometimes the idea bug has bad timing…

So what do you do when you’re working away on some project, and you suddenly get the urge to go research timber framing or hypnosis, or some equally intriguing concept?

What were you working on before the new idea hit?

Chances are you were working on one of your more long term projects. The new and shiny ideas tend to pop up when we’re working on something more long term, something we feel we “should” be working on, which has maybe lost a bit of the luster after working on it day-in-day-out or is just big and overwhelming.

I used to struggle with this. Often I would follow this new thread and abandon the project I’d been working on, only to feel guilty about not getting anything done.

I now have a really simple strategy for dealing with this scenario.

Step 1: Write down the idea and get it out of your head, but don’t entertain it any further

Jot down the new idea that you want to explore in your notebook, in whatever detail that requires. If this takes a minute or two to get all the ideas out, then so be it. Just get it out of your head, but don’t entertain the idea any further. No Googling, no brainstorming, just get it out.

Step 2: Return to the project you were working on

If that first project no longer feels inspiring, try to get in touch with the emotion behind your goal. Why are you working on this project? How will it feel once you’ve accomplished it? What drew you to it in the first place?

Take a look at the wall by your desk where you hang reminders of your priority projects, and try to embody how the attainment of this goal will feel. The more you practice inspiring yourself like this, the faster the process will become. I do it every morning to help motivate myself. It’s important to inspire, not just the rational side of your mind, but the emotional side as well.

Once that inspiration has been reignited, shift gears, stop thinking of the big picture, and become short-sighted. What is the action step right in front of you, right now?

Turn “Pro”

Jump back in. You’re a professional, right? If you’re building a business, being a professional means that your job is to hustle. If you’re writing a novel, being a professional means that your job is to write. Take your work seriously.

If more new ideas pop up and distract you, continue to jot them down in your notebook without entertaining them, and then get back to your work.

Step 3: When your work is done, stop and give yourself a serious pat on the back

How do you define the end of your work period? Work time that isn’t well defined will make you feel unproductive every time. There will always be “more” you could be doing.

Every day, before you start working, define your goal for that work period. This might consist of completing one small action step, like writing a blog post or setting up your online shop. Whatever it is, once it’s done, stop and congratulate yourself.

If your project is more ongoing in nature, and those small action steps are harder to define, use a time period to define your end point. When I was writing my spec script, I used to set a morning goal of writing till I either finished one full scene or I’d been working for 40 minutes, whichever came first. This way, no matter what, I felt productive.

Step 4: Shift into “scanning mode” and explore your new fascination to your heart’s content

Once you’ve reached the end point for your long term project, feel free to switch to scanning mode and explore the new idea (or take a break and do it later. Remember, you don’t have to do everything RIGHT NOW).

You can also view indulging your new idea as a reward for completing your work.

This technique eliminates the guilt of feeling unproductive

By dumping the new ideas out of your head, and finishing what you’d been working on first, you’ll begin to feel much better about yourself. Now, you’ll be able to fully enjoy this new fascination of yours. You won’t be wracked with guilt about not being productive that day.

Your Turn

How do you handle focus when it comes to new, shiny ideas, versus long term projects?


Reminder: The registration period for Productivity for Multipotentialites closes at midnight on Sunday, February 5. The course will be packed full of insightful techniques to help you focus on many projects at once and still be really productive.


  1. this is so true. I love my Scanner Daybook!

  2. Denise says:

    Honestly, your approach is the same I use. I didn’t always do that, but for the last year, I’ve been good at recording ideas. I keep a notebook by my desk/bed and I always have my phone on me, and I record a ton of ideas there. From experience, I can tell ya – it really works! It takes the stress off that comes with being overwhelmed with “too many” ideas.

  3. Tim says:

    Wow. Thanks for linking to my story. Love your post. Love your blog. Love your mindfulness. I look forward to reading you.

  4. Josh says:

    Yeah, if I get an idea or a goal I just remembered I need to do I jot it down in notepad.

    However I’m primarily a songwriter and when a song comes sometimes I have to drop everything I’m doing to focus on that sometimes most of the day. It hasn’t happened much lately, but when it does I gotta follow the muse. It’s not wasted time, because that’s a major purpose for my life.

    And then there’s texts from girls… sheesh, how can I focus with that.

    • Emilie says:

      I used to be big time into songwriting so I know what you mean. Carrying around an audio recorder of some sort helps. But yeah, with songwriting it’s worth following the muse. But that’s different because your music IS your priority project. It’s not merely a distraction. Follow that muse.

      Haha I got a text from a girl right as the Productivity Huddle was starting, but I didn’t want to seem unprofessional so I ignored my phone and didn’t check it for the whole hour and a half! So it can be done. ;)

  5. Josh says:

    Hey Emilee, I think Fred needs to take your class.

  6. Vina says:

    Hi Emilie!

    Spot on. I totally hit this roadblock every.single.time. But duh, why didn’t I think of this strategy before? I instead scan to my heart’s delight until I’m hopelessly lost from the task at hand! I really need to take your class methinks.

    I need to re-read most posts and learn more about the productivity huddle. (Oh, did you by the way get my email about the Renaissance Business? I lost the link! Thanks!)

    • Emilie says:

      Hi Vina,

      Yup, my inbox is a little backlogged right now (big week). I’ll get back to you soon though!

      And I’m glad you found this stuff useful. Let me know how the technique works for you. :)

  7. matthew says:

    Hey Emilie,

    thanks for this one – it really helps. I find it so easy to get distracted and think that I should be working on new ideas. I find it hard from time to time to keep myself focused on tasks that I’m already working on. I’ll keep these tips in mind to help me focus.


  8. Interesting article Emily.

    I think it’s easy to follow everything shiny, and ultimately get very little done.

    What helps me is to evaluate how much effort a new project wil take and whether there’s something else I can put on hold while I explore the new shiny prospect.

    Often, I can squeeze things in, but I think it’s really helpful to look at the bigger picture and see how things will be impacted.

  9. I LOVE this post!!! It’s like a Godsend for me as I am having one of those “moments” right now. I have struggled with this all my life, been labeled ADD, been criticized, joked about etc etc. anyway, thank you for writing this. It truly helps & relieves the tremendous anxiety this has caused me!:-)

  10. Callista says:

    Oh my goodness, I just found this site. I am eagerly reading every post. It is like you are reading my mind and explaining all my difficulties and challenges (and some of the solutions I’ve come up with too – along with others I hadn’t thought of!) that I have been dealing with my whole life. Even the box above asking for my website – I was like, which one? I’m so happy, there is nothing wrong with me!! Yippee!! I soooo look forward to connecting with this community, and I hope to very soon book a coaching session to figure out what to do with all my projects and ideas. I have what I call my “idea fountain” and was actually thinking of starting a website like this for people who, like me, are interested in *everything* (well it seems that way) and good at *lots* of stuff. And scared of committing to one “field” or title/label. Then I found this place, and I’m hooked! Yayy! I suffer from this exact “shiny object syndrome.” And it *totally* happens exactly how you described – all set (and excited) to work on one big project and then all of a sudden an idea pops in my head and before I know it, I’ve spent 6 hours researching and studying how to build an iPhone app (and actually beginning to code!)… as one example. I find that writing the idea down really helps, but that I also don’t celebrate my (small) successes often enough, and do tend to put myself down for not “accomplishing” as much as I’d like or as fast as I’d like. This new perspective I’m learning here of being OK with that and learning as much as I’m meant to are great! I’ve always been warned not to be a “Jack of all trades, master of none,” and lately I’ve been more accepting of myself and even tell myself “Jack of all trades, master of *some*”! I can’t thank you enough for this blog. I feel as though I’ve been freed! I will mark Tuesday, August 12, 2014 (the day I found the site) as the day I fully accepted this part of myself and the day that I knew I would be a success – because now I can re-define what success means to me. This is the day I finally had a label that describes me and instead of pigeon-holing me, actually *empowers* me. (Love your label discussion too, btw.) Thank you.

  11. Ashley Ching says:

    Thanks for breaking this down. I definitely agree with this process. After all, interruptions can cut productivity *so* much.

  12. Miguel says:

    I’m not religious, but, OH. MY. GOD.
    I almost feel like weeping after reading this post. Thank you for doing this. It is exactly the help I have been looking all my life.

    Thank you!

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