by Carrie Jurney, DVM DACVIM
Dr. Phil Zeltzman recently admitted to the room at the Uncharted Veterinary Conference that he suffers from a chronic condition with severe and repetitive flair ups: S.O.S, which of course stands for Shiny Object Syndrome. Phil went on to explain to the room a great and important goal setting strategy that he uses to manage this terrible burden.
I too suffer from S.O.S. I would argue that S.O.S. is a highly contagious disease. Many of you who attended this conference with me are likely at this point incubating a nasty case, if not already manifesting symptoms. I would like to share my own personal management strategy. To add any new project to my already full plate, it must pass three tests:
- Double Check
My brain is run by an ADHD squirrel who lives on caffeine and sugar. She’s addicted to sparkle and gives no thought to consequences of time and effort. And when that squirrel latches on to a new shiny target, when my eyes go wide and the synapses start to fire with all that possibility, I let it overtake me. I mentally roll around in all of that delicious, dangerous sparkle for just a moment. I write the idea down on a list I keep on my phone. This list grew easily four pages at Uncharted this year. And after an item makes the list, I walk away from it for a while. The more excited I am about a subject, the bigger and shinier the idea, the longer I make myself wait. Usually, a day or two of waiting will do. I have some ideas on the list that I make myself sit on for six months.
I do this because I want to approach these ideas from a place of calm and strategy. The blinding light of a new shiny idea is a high, a drug that numbs the critical thinking centers of my brain. And let’s all just admit we don’t always make the best decisions when we are under the influence. I commit to too much, stretch too high, and divide my attention too far, which leads to burn out.
And sometimes when I’m not sitting in a highly contagious environment under the influence of sparkle, the enthusiasm passes and the squirrel moves on. Those ideas die on the vine early, and are deleted from the list.
If I’m still excited about an idea after time has passed, I move on to step two.
Does this this goal fit in to my current long term goals? Does it fit with the trajectory I’ve picked for myself? If it’s similar enough to another target, should we replace that goal with this one or can we merge them? If it doesn’t fit with my current path, is it a good enough idea to change course or take time away from my current projects?
What will it take to achieve this goal? What resources will I need? What time will it require?
What will I have to give up to add this in to an already aggressive schedule? Am I willing to give something up? Perhaps that other thing is less shiny, as it has some wear and tear on it – but is it truly less important?
The S.M.A.R.T. goal system, where you write down your goals as specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and time constrained goals, is helpful in step 2, but it’s the end of the process of reflection for me, rather than the beginning. I find that I really need to marinate on things before I can distill it down to S.M.A.R.T. goals.
And once I feel like I’ve taken the time to be properly introspective, I go to step 3.
3. Double Check:
Because of the severe nature of my condition, I need other people to make sure that I’m not still under the influence of enthusiasm. Call it a sobriety test for my idea. I take this fragile new idea to be examined by people who believe in me, but also know my weakness for sparkly, big-dream projects, and my tendency to over-commit. I explain to these three people all of my reflections and then I ask them what they think. This is not me asking for a casual opinion. I do not want platitudes of “yeah that sounds great” and “you can do anything”. I’ve picked each one of these people for a certain skill set.
I check in with my husband, Chris. He’s a much calmer creature than me. His brain is controlled by precision Swiss-made robots, rather than a twitchy rodent on a sugar high, so he is a good balance point for me. He is also deeply invested in making sure I don’t burn out. He would like to spend time with his wife, and suffers the consequences when I’m over committed. He is invested in my success and is my biggest fan, but knows my bad habits and my tendency to gloss over details when I’m excited.
He makes me do the ugly work for my goal, the stuff I really don’t want to do. He doesn’t do this out of malice, but he knows it makes me plan for it and really prove that it matters to me. I think of it as an advanced squirrel management system. When I wanted to start my mobile neurology practice, even though we had enough in the bank to finance it, he made me write a business plan and pitch him like he was an investor. When I wanted to build a seven-foot-tall, flame-throwing alligator sculpture for Burning Man this year, he left me alone to learn a CAD program and draw the structural design. He could run that program with his eyes closed, but he made me do it because I wasn’t articulating my vision well enough. When I considered going back to school for a masters degree in Organizational Psychology, he made me do more than online research. He made me talk to people in the field to see if it fit with my goals. Turns out on that one he was right – it didn’t fit, it wasn’t necessary, it took too many resources, and because of all of that, it hit the cutting room floor. The point of this exercise is clear: if I won’t do these unattractive steps up front, there is no way that I will follow through with the actions that will be required to conquer this new project. It’s a test, and it’s a good one.
I also check in with my friend Kelly, who is a product manager at Facebook. She’s got a fairly severe case of S.O.S. herself, but is a master at practical strategy. After all, she manages brilliant people on big projects in her day job. She encourages my enthusiasm – after all, S.O.S. is contagious – but she also checks my homework. She makes sure I’ve set something that makes me stretch but is still attainable. She shares my love of goal setting, of logistics, and of spreadsheets. This is the woman who taught me about pivot tables and inbox management – which believe me are priceless skills. She makes sure I set a schedule, and she checks in periodically to see how it’s going.
Finally, I check in with my friend Glen, who is a therapist. Glen is thoughtful. Glen is good at maintaining perspective and places priority on being happy and having balance. She’s incredibly supportive, and I don’t mean that she is a cheerleader for whatever crazy idea I have this week. I mean that she supports me as a whole person by reminding me that it’s important to take breaks. Glen is the person who schedules spa appointments for the two of us, and when we are sinking in to the hot tub, she reminds me that I am already busy enough without this crazy new thing, and that it is not necessary to my happiness. If my idea cannot survive that reminder, then it’s not worth my time.
Who these people are in your own life will depend of course on your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you are already a detail oriented thinker, and don’t need someone like my husband. Maybe you don’t need a spreadsheet ninja like Kelly to check your work. I would however argue that anyone that suffers from S.O.S. is unlikely to be naturally good at balance, and you should find your Glen.
So, my friends, go forth and fill your lists with shiny. Let that list be a glitter bomb of creativity and enthusiasm. Just don’t let those shiny objects in to your life until they pass the tests and prove they are worthy of your most precious resources: your time, your energy, and your passion.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Unchartedvet.com editorial team.
“Carrie likes to refer to herself as a “”tragic extrovert.”” She brings enthusiasm to anything that she takes on.
As a passionate speaker about mental health, she brings this energy and humor to what otherwise can be a rather challenging and somber topic. Because of her work as the Director of Forum Moderators for the board of NOMV, she's sought extensive continuing education in crisis counseling and suicide prevention. She brings this knowledge, and her experience doing peer to peer interventions with members of our group, to her lectures.
When she's not managing the day to day activities of the NOMV forum, she is a practicing veterinary neurologist, wife to Chris and zoo keeper of three rambunctious cats. “