Oh Look! A squirrel. And other things I need to know about myself to not waste my entire day

March 5, 2011

I am a classic scatterbrain. I am the epitome of “Oh Look! A squirrel.” Take me out for a walk on a sunny day and one moment I am strolling along talking with you, then I am paused to study some lichen on a brick wall, then I am marveling at the pattern of shadows made by the chain-link fence around a vacant lot, and then I am again listening to you–until I interrupt to suggest we find some lemonade somewhere (a squirrel!).

I move through my life like I am a Slinky on a staircase–all the moves are connected yet disjointed …

My tendencies annoy other people.

My tendencies annoy ME. My tendencies make it difficult to stay on task, to finish anything. Not finishing anything, makes it hard to feel accomplishment. Not feeling accomplishment, is distressing. And so on.

Like so much of what we do, what works for one person, doesn’t necessarily fit for another. I’ve had to find my own ways to keep from chasing squirrels all day. About four years ago I read about Leo Babauta’s Big Rocks. I have modified Babauta’s ideas to suit my ways, but his principles hold, as follows.

The essence of Big Rocks is, if we think of our day as a bucket, and we fill it first with little pebbles and bits of sand, there will be no way left to get the big rocks in. So, the wise approach is to get the big rocks in first, then add the smaller (less important) bits of gravel and dirt.

So my day begins with identifying three big rocks. I confess, I rarely attend to all my big rocks, but this gives me a clearly defined launching pad for the day. And when I get off-track (all 312 times a day), I can correct my course by reviewing my morning’s notes. Below are today’s Three Big Rocks, plus some of the important pebbles.

Three Big Rocks for March 5, 2011

Sometimes the notes are much more simple.

Planning the day using three big rocks

Here’s another one with a mess of pebbles. Jotting down the pesky pebbles, frequently helps my planning for the entire day.

a complex day of three big rocks

I love to use my watercolour crayons to make my rocks. There’s a flow that comes as I move the wet crayon across the page, it’s tactile, and feels encouraging. And, I love having a little interjection of “art & creativity” first thing for my day.

Now the point of the Rocks is to get me focused on the important things, the things I want to accomplish. But focus is not action! Action requires parts Two and Three, which are The List and The Timer.

Remember my whole Look A Squirrel problem? The List is a written break-down of the things I need to do, a chipping away at the Big Rock. Honestly, I will write down the minutiae, in sequence, and carry it around with me to refer to and help me stay away from squirrels.

  • Check remaining quantities of meds
  • Call Doctor’s office for appointment
  • Look up YouTube URL for my Happy Birthday video
  • Send Olivia a Happy Birthday text [with video link]
  • Draft client’s brochure

When I finish up one list, if there is any day remaining, I make another. Frequently my day changes direction on me at some point, so there’s little point in making a long list for the entire day.

Now, inevitably there are things on the list that I would rather not do. The Timer is how I tackle those. It’s simple. Pick a number between 1 and 60 and set the timer. Stay on task for that amount of time. When the time is up, I can do whatever I want. Snack. Facebook. Play with the dog. And then I’ll often set the timer again, and get back to what I was previously working on.

The Timer is stupid simple. But for me it works. It gives me a sense that the chore will go on for only X amount of time, not ForEVER. This I can do. And when I veer, I remind myself that this is a “timed exercise” and I get my patootie back on task.

The Big Rocks, The List, and The Timer have brought me a sense of accomplishment. I rarely get everything done that I’ve set out to, but I do get things done. Things that I planned/intended/wanted to get done. And that’s damned good for a girl who loves to chase after the random squirrels.


These are the watercolour crayons I love to use. Bold, vivid, easy to carry, easy to use. And not too precious to share with others.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kymberlee March 18, 2011 at 12:53 pm

This is wonderful, Leila. Being the intensely creative and feminine creature that I am, I can easily get side-tracked (mostly by beauty and pleasure). I have seen the big rock idea before but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the visual, creative approach. I also love the timer. I am going to try this. Thanks for being so fabulous, love!

Casz March 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm

This is a wonderful idea. The watercolor crayons are going on my *want* list.
What kind of timer do you use? I like this idea as well. I have so many ideas, all that are possible, but I need to focus and prioritize. I think your ideas are fabulous. Thanks for sharing!

Leila March 19, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Kymberlee, sometimes living with/as the muse is so distracting, eh? :)

Leila March 19, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Casz, my first watercolor crayons came to me as gift from someone who didn’t like them … go figure! They are very long-lasting; you could even have a set and break them all in half to share with someone else :)

My type of timer depends on type of task, and where I am. I love a good old timey kitchen timer, for its tickety tickety and resounding DING. But I also tend toward the built-in timer on my iPhone, which I have set to the sound of cricket chirps … a sweet sound to interrupt me …

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