Gerbils on a Wheel – Making that Wheel Roll Forward

“Gerbils on a wheel.”  I use this expression frequently when talking with audiences about how we feel after busting hump all day and feeling like nothing got done.  Wouldn’t it be nice to feel like the wheel actually moved forward once in a while?

Breaking Free from the Frame

Like most wheels, the wheel we each run on during the day is held in place on either side of its hub by forks.  Imagine looking down on a bicycle wheel to where the forks attach to the hub.  The wheel spins at the hub and the forks keep the wheel in place.  That’s good on a bicycle because everything works together so that the spinning wheels assist in making the bike move forward.

The gerbil’s wheel is similarly secured but its forks are fixed to the bottom of the cage.  Thus, no amount of spinning will move the wheel forward.  The wheel must break free from the forks for it to roll forward.

Enough Analogizing, Get to the Point

  • We are the gerbils.
  • The wheel is our career (or workload if the more granular view suits us).
  • Moving the wheel forward is progress and the sense of accomplishment progress brings.
  • The forks are the internal and external “noise” – interruptions and distractions – that keep us in place and prevent us from making significant forward progress.

Reducing External Noise – Eliminating Distractions from Without

There are dozens of suggestions for reducing the number of interruptions and distractions we suffer from the outside world.  Here’s an off-the-cuff list:

  • Turn new e-mail alerts off – it’s coming, that’s the problem with e-mail, so why do we need this?
  • Close the door to your office – only as long as necessary.
  • Close your door MOST of the way – they can SEE you’re working so they are less likely to interrupt.
  • Face away from the hallway and its passers-by – to remove the effects of looking up.
  • Set your phone on do-not-disturb – for as long as necessary.
  • Go to an empty office or conference room to work – escape the fray, then get back to it.
  • Wear headphones playing quiet, melodic music – again, non-distracting music.

Reducing Internal Noise – Eliminating Distractions from Within

Most people suffer from a constant running dialog in their head – chatter.  Quieting down the chatter greatly increases focus.  Focus is where productivity occurs.  Here’s an off-the-cuff list for reducing chatter:

  • De-clutter your workspace – visual chatter.
  • Develop a queuing system for what you need to see when – mental quiet from knowing everything is well ordered. (Note, QuietSpacing works, as does the GTD system.)
  • Set regular times throughout the day to process all that has arrived in the interim – knowing it will be attended to means you can relax now.
  • Work during high concentration periods, administrate during lower energy periods, collaborate during periods of mental availability – these periods vary among people, but the point is to optimize the energy-to-function relationship.

A Quieter World – Physical and Mental – Means More Done

The constant stream of demands on our time have caused us to run on the wheel faster and faster.  The unfortunate result is that we end each day where we started, only we feel more exhausted. Seeking ways to quiet down both our physical and mental worlds results in greater focus and more productivity.  The wheel breaks free from the forks and rolls forward.

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