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Shiny Object Syndrome: How to Stay Focused on Top Business Priorities

Shiny object syndrome. It’s a thing. A thing you can avoid. How to stay on task with your plan, including resources and budgeting.

Shiny Object Syndrome: How to Stay Focused on Top Business Priorities

Summary: Focus on Top Business Priorities

Shiny object syndrome (SOS). It’s a thing. A thing you can avoid. You know all those apps and tools you bought on Black Friday? Do you know how you’re going to use them? How to stay on task with your plan, including resources and budgeting.

Words of Wisdom

It's 2 AM. You're tired. And all you want is a solution. That's when Shiny Object Syndrome rears its ugly head.

Have you ever been on social media and an ad comes up that is going to solve all of your problems magically.*

And it is really magical because it’s like it was just in your head thinking alongside you because you just had this thought about, “God, I wish I had a [insert shiny object here].” And then all of a sudden, there’s an ad for it.

* Sidebar: it's actually not magical. It's targeting based on search, but I digress. ... this episode is about pausing before buying that new thing you really don't need to solve your business problems. Learn more about focusing on top business priorities.

— Jen

Transcript: Focus on Top Business Priorities

Hello and welcome to the Third Paddle Podcast. I’m your host Jen McFarland. Today, Liz and I finish up our series on planning and priorities heading into 2019. You know all those apps and tools you bought on Black Friday? Do you know how you’re going to use them? Are you familiar with the saying “when something new comes into the house something old needs to leave”? We talk about how that applies to your business along with tons of other stuff this week on the Third Paddle.
[music] Welcome to the Third Paddle Podcast recorded at the Vandal lounge in beautiful southeast Portland, Oregon. Why the Third Paddle? Because even the most badass entrepreneurs get stuck up in business shit creek. Management consultant Jennifer McFarland is your third paddle helping you get unstuck.
Welcome back to the show. Hey, have you taken a minute to check out my buddy Paulette Rees-Denis’ podcast Heart and Hustle? I’ll be a guest on there just after Christmas. Be sure to check it out. Also, be sure to follow us on Twitter and Instagram at ThirdPaddle. And now back to the show. Welcome back to the show. Oh, is that you?
That’s me.
Oh, Liz is here, everybody. Check it out. So before we dive into the episode, Liz started talking about something that I have to admit I don’t know a lot about.
Uh-oh, what’s that?
The Oregon Trail game?
Oh, no, stop it. You don’t know about the Oregon Trail game?
No. So you used this whole analogy about how we need to work the plan and have resources and it was all great until you started mentioning the Oregon Trail game. And then I was like, “The what with the what? And you always die with the what?”
I told Jen that I always drowned in the river that I was needing to ford, fording the river. It’s like nine times out of ten where people die in that game. But you had to have played the game in maybe the late 80s, early 90s, mid-90s even–
So after the Commodore 64?
Yeah. But before a real full-fledged.
Oh, we’re having a fire over here. It’s December.
It’s a contained fire but it just made a loud popping sound.
Made a lot of popping sounds. Okay.
So Oregon Trail game, it’s what? Making sure you have the resources to actually cross to Oregon?
Yeah. Basically, I mean, it was this whole game on the computer and you had to load up your wagon with all the things that you needed in order to make it from Missouri to Oregon, without dying along the way. It’s kind of like a digital version of the game was that life game were like, “Oh, no, man, you got sick. You spent five days puking or whatever.” Because stuff happens. And so it sort of– it mimicked that experience that people had on the Oregon Trail. But you had to strategize and plan and think about the what-ifs, all the what-if situations that might occur. And then of course, nine times out of ten, you always died drowning in the river, because he had to go save the horse that got stuck in the river and then that’s the whole thing.
Okay, that makes sense to me.
I mean, I think it’s a really good analogy because what we’re talking about today is working your plan and making sure that you have all of the resources so that you don’t drown when you’re saving your horse. Only it’s not a horse, and there’s no river. It’s about setting up things, like Sandra had talked about, so all of your revenue goals for the year, the week, the month, the quarter, however you set them up. And one of the ways that you ensure that you achieve that is by having the proper tools in place to help you get there. And one of the things that we talked about a lot is shiny object syndrome.
What? What? Sorry, I just got distracted.
Are you still here?
Yeah, still here. Sorry.
Shiny object syndrome, which is when you– I like to think of it as when and you get really tired. And you’re really trying to make something work, and you hop on Facebook, which is always a bad idea.
Total bad idea.
Total bad idea. And then this ad comes up that is going to solve all of your problems magically. And it is really magical because it’s like it was just in your head thinking alongside you because you just had this thought about, “God, I wish I had a blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And then all of a sudden, there’s an ad for blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
For that exact thing.
And it’s 2:00 in the morning and you’re frustrated and you go ahead and buy it. So what we want to talk about today is one way of avoiding that very situation. And that is when you sit down and you write out your plan for what you want to do, your goals and your priorities, you need to have another column over there for resources because if there’s one thing that I can tell you for sure, running a business isn’t free. And I guess the other thing that comes along with it is buying things the last minute without doing a little bit of research and putting thought into it is the quickest way to overspend and not get what you want.
I have no idea if this analogy is going to be any use whatsoever, but I liken that to when you have to put dinner together– or something like a dinner party together and you forgot the wine, and so you go to the worst liquor store ever and get the cheapest wine in the store. And then you bring it back to the table and A, it doesn’t go with the food at all and B, it makes people not like it. And then you’re just sitting there with this wine that nobody’s drinking because nobody actually likes it because you didn’t think about what wine you got to put with your food. I don’t know if that’s a good analogy, but I like it because then you’re left over with this wine that you’re not using. Nobody’s drinking it.
I mean, it’s foreign to me because usually, wine is pretty much–
It goes away.
–at the top of the list, and–
Yeah. That’s fair.
–it’s not an afterthought. But yes, it’s like that. So one of the first things that I think people need to do when you’re going through and planning and thinking about your priorities, think of it as taking an inventory of what you have. Many businesses have an inventory already of the products they have or all the tools they need to build the products that they sell, right? So think of a store, they have so many cans of soup and so much meat. Well, you also have so many tools that are already in your tool belt, things that you have bought that maybe you never use or things that you use all the time, right? If you have an accountant, they can tell you what your monthly expenses are for everything. And so if you have an accountant or quick books, a good place to start is to look for things that are itemized as software, apps, or tools and just get a print out of that. And then you can go through it. And I can almost guarantee you that when you go through it, you’ll be like, “What’s that? I don’t know what that is,” or, “I remember I bought that, but I didn’t know it was being charged 10 or 20 bucks a month for it–“
For the last six months.
“–for the last six months.” And so the first step is to look at all of the things like that, put them in the yes, no, definitely no category [laughter]. And then think about if you have two or three different things that maybe do the same thing or do mostly the same thing, and then look at those two and compare them. And if you’re not really technical or somebody helped you put that together, reach out to them and make sure that you understand what they are before you get rid of anything, first of all, because you don’t know what you don’t know. But then if one of them is something that you’re sure you’re not using, then I really encourage you to get rid of things, lighten the load.
Let it go.
Let it go. And I actually encourage people to do this activity quarterly. And if you’re not doing it quarterly, then half-yearly would be good, but definitely yearly. And I think that before you start really working your goals for Q1, Q2, wherever you’re at on your business planning trajectory, whatever you’re going to be working on over the next few months, the first thing that you can do is go through and eliminate some of your expenses. Right?
This is just like smart budgeting, this sounds like really smart budgeting. Kind of like, I cancelled a couple of subscriptions that I forgot I was still being charged for and I was, “But I don’t use them. So why am I paying for them?”
Yeah. I mean, I’m using it in the context of tools and apps, but it could totally be things like if you have a subscription for, I don’t know, Fast Company or something. It doesn’t even have to be technical. It can be anything that you’re using that is just charging your card month after month. I mean, I got rid of cable, which is a huge thing, not really a business expense, but you can– to do this, this translates into every area of your life where you can just get rid of some of the things. So that’s the first step, right? Go through everything you’re spending your money on. Be clear about how you’re using it, if you’re using it, and then most people can save at least a couple hundred bucks.
If not per month, per quarter or per year.
So that’s the first thing, right? Just get clear, get rid of some things.
That’s smart.
The second step is then look at the list of your goals. What is it that you’re going to do? And how much money are you planning to make? And then think about how you’re going to do it. It may actually already be in your plan.
I may already have certain tools at my fingertips.
Right. Or maybe you have everything, right?
But part of being smart about things so that you’re not as susceptible to things like shiny object syndrome, one of the really key things is when you decide I’m going to do this, then it’s what resources is it going to take for that to happen? Alongside when is it? What’s the deadline? Or what’s the goal or when, right?
And so you might find for a lot of things, you already have everything that you need.
I feel like– can I get an example?
You need an example? Okay.
Can we make this concrete? So let’s make this concrete.
So an example would be, so let’s say someone is a business coach and they’ve been doing a lot of public speaking and a lot of networking. And they have a lot of clients. And now they’re like, “Oh, well, I kind of know what’s working. Now I want to have an online course so that I can make some money and I don’t have to be in front of people all the time.”
Sure. Because that’s like, “I don’t want to be traveling as much, or I already have the client base I want to work with. I know where my clients are coming from. So let’s level up. Let’s level up.”
Okay. So that’s an example. Right? So you might say, “Okay, I want to have an online course by the end of the second quarter in 2019.” Just as an example. And then you start thinking about all of the things that you need for that like you need a curriculum. You probably want it to have some videos and some handouts, and you want to do some marketing to make sure that you can get it out to people, all of those kinds of things. So think about the high level of what you need to make that happen. And then you certainly need a platform to host it on, right? Because you’re not going to be in front of people. So you need to have a place where people can go–
A digital place.
–to register, a digital place, and they have to be able to pay for it because you’re not going to give it away. So do you see where I’m going with that?
So you need to make the list of all of those things, and then think about what it’s going to take for that to happen. And if you have it or not, if you already take online payments, make sure that that’s how you take payments for the course.
Bam. Yeah, [inaudible].
And then people think, “Oh, I’m just going to do what all my friends do for the course.” But maybe your course is different than there.
See, and that’s the part where it’s good to look at what you’re already paying for, what do you have in your toolbox, in your tool belt. Because sometimes, that can be where you get inspiration for how you’re going to get to your goals. If your goal is an online course, sometimes you think, “Well, my friend over here did it. But I don’t know, I don’t quite want to do it the way she did it. So I’m going to actually look through my toolbox. Oh, I remember buying that thing, and this thing, this app, oh, that could be actually a really easy way for me to do the marketing for this thing. So that I don’t have to create wheels from scratch. I don’t want to have to redo–“
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel, right?
No, I don’t.
I mean, for me, if I want to have an online course, I’d be like, “Oh, okay. Well, I have a webcam. And I have microphones so I know I’m going to sound good and I’m going to look good. So I just have to figure what I’m going to say. And then I have to have a place to host it.” And based on what that curriculum is, there are different platforms that work well, based on what you need. And, for example, the course that I’m building kind of goes through what some of these different tools would be and why you would choose what you would choose. So my point is that if you do this stuff up front, and you really think about it, then you know who you need to talk to to help you decide which platform works if you’re too overwhelmed to figure it out on your own. Because it’s not everybody’s wheelhouse, right? And it also makes you less susceptible to things like shiny object syndrome, because you’re like, “Oh, no, I already thought about that.” See, the whole point is that if you’ve already thought about it and you’ve identified the things that you’re going to need, then you’re less likely to just say, “Oh, I’m going to get this. I’m going to get this and I’m going to get this,” because you’ve already planned it out. So the way that we get into trouble with overspending is we don’t know what we don’t know so then we just start swatting flies with a sledgehammer and poking holes in all the walls. Whereas if we plan it out a little bit– and I am totally guilty of this myself at times, I think everybody has done it. If you plan it out, then you’re less likely to do that. Because you have it written down and you’re like, “Okay.” It’s like a grocery store list. Have you ever gone to the grocery store hungry?
Yes, bad idea.
Without a list?
Bad idea. Oh my God. I come home with mac and cheese, hot dogs, potato chips, guacamole. And maybe I want to [and?] eat those things together but maybe not [laughter]. But nowhere in there is anything like healthy [laughter]. You know what I sometimes do? I’ll be like, “Oh, red curry paste.” But I don’t buy any of the other things.
Chicken, rice.
Yeah. To actually eat the red curry paste with, like coconut milk. I forget to buy all the other stuff. So then there’s just red curry paste hanging out in my fridge.
And then you’re still hungry. So you go back to the store [laughter] and you buy a ton of other crap.
More hot dogs, more mac and cheese, yeah.
And you come back and you’re like, “I still can’t make red curry [laughter].” And now you’re in the life of [inaudible]. Except, I don’t buy red curry paste; I buy cinnamon bears. But it’s the same principle.
We each have our thing. It’s the same principle of– if you go into a grocery store, hungry, without a list, you’re going to come out with not exactly a planned out meal [laughter] or meals for the rest of the week. You’re going to come away with a bunch of hodgepodge that doesn’t actually work together.
Which is exactly what happens if you don’t think through your plans. You’re going to the grocery store hungry, and that’s just a recipe for disaster or hot dogs and mac and cheese.
I mean, they kind of go together [laughter].
I mean, I think they kind of do too, but–
I think they do too [laughter]. Maybe only for camping [laughter]. That’s not what I want to eat on a regular day basis but anyway.
So getting back to what we were talking about [laughter]. So after you decide the tools that you need in general, it’s just a generalization, you [sort of?] picked out specific tools, then you want to think about your budget because all this shit cost money–
It costs money.
None of this stuff is free. So you need to set out a budget. And it can be rough, right? But it can be like, I don’t want to spend any more than X amount of dollars.
So I have a quick question–
And that’s one time or ongoing?
So I have a quick question. Do you actually want– when you’re making budgets, do you put a dollar amount or maybe like a percentage of– like I want to spend 1% of my earnings from the last quarter towards this. What’s more helpful?
Oh. I think you can do it either way.
I mean, a lot of it depends on your budget methodology, right?
I think the point is, you don’t want to spend more than you make. Everything can’t be stored up forever.
No. That’s also a recipe for disaster [laughter].
That’s also a recipe [laughter] for disaster. So you have to be able to set out a budget. Whether you do it as a percentage of your earnings, or you do it as a dollar amount. Or you have line items where like, “My tech budget for the year is only X amount of dollars.” Regardless of how you do it, the important thing is to have that number. And then know that when you spend out of it, then there’s consequences for that.
And it’s very easy. Totally guilty of this [right?] in my head. It’s very easy to, “Well, okay. I went over by 10 bucks, but that’s okay because then I have this thing that does this thing. And then my life’s easier and great.” But you forget about it. That mode of thinking, you forget about it a month, three months, six months from that point when you overspend. And suddenly, there is an automated subscription or something else kicks in and, suddenly, you’re spending more six months from now, also.
Or you go to look at the percentage that something is costing out of your revenues, and it’s higher than projected.
Way higher.
Way higher than projected. I shouldn’t be spending 30% of any revenue when really you want to be spending 10 or whatever. Whatever your numbers are, you have to keep that in perspective.
And then the other thing is to not get oversold on something. And I’ve done research for people who want to have online courses. It’s kind of why it popped into my head, right, and because the different platforms do different things based on whether you want a more classroom approach or you want gamification, which means that as people go through, they’re incentivized to continue because they’re seeing something that’s rewarding. Doesn’t even have to be a free prize or anything [laughter]. It’s just it makes it like a game so people want to continue. There’s so many different dimensions to it, but there are also all these different monthly subscriptions that are attached to that, and that’s why it’s important to have a budget right off the bat. It’s also important to have a budget because then when all your friends tell you that they use a particular platform, you can be like, “That’s okay. My budget is for this much.” An example of this – and I used it on the last show – is Kajabi. 100, maybe 100-plus, dollars a month. Comes out to $1,200 a year, maybe more if you go for all the bells and whistles. That’s a lot of overhead if you’ve never done a class before, if it’s your first class and you’re not even sure how it’s going to work or how you’re going to market it or everybody that’s going to come in. And they still take a chunk out of every payment, right?
So these are the types of things that I want you to think about, and if you don’t go with Kajabi, that doesn’t mean you’re less [than?] or that all of your friends are right and you’re wrong or that you’re right and all of your friends are wrong. It means when you look at your business holistically and really think about where the course is in relation to all of the other products that you’re offering, your overall budget, your overall revenues– when you look at the course within that broader concept or that border framework, then it becomes clearer how much you want to budget for one specific element, as opposed to saying, “Well, Brendon Burchard uses it, so then I have to use it [laughter],” which is what happens, so.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s kind of like in the fashion industry where neither of us are [inaudible] and need [inaudible]. We don’t need to have all the Gucci and the Prada or whatever, but somebody has a Birkin bag, and then – oh my God – all of a sudden I need to have a Birkin bag. That’s the situation that you don’t want to get into when purchasing technology or resources.
Well, and the thing that people forget or maybe don’t even know about is the whole affiliate marketing game, right, so Brendon Burchard is an affiliate marketer for Kajabi, as are a ton of other people, meaning you use their link and they get a payment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t mean you’re paying extra. It just means that they’re getting a little kickback. It also doesn’t mean that these people wouldn’t recommend something else. It just means they’re recommending that and getting some money. So you have to be aware of the full context because there are people out there who are only making recommendations because they’re making money off of it.
And not because they actually use the product [laughter].
And not because they use the product. Not because they’re an expert. Not for any other reason besides that. And so being aware of people’s different perspectives and how marketing comes into play even when it seems like it shouldn’t be or maybe when it seems like it couldn’t possibly be– understanding that is really important because it helps you stay on point. And that’s all that this is about– is about helping you stay on point with your own business because how somebody else does it is really none your business, it doesn’t matter.
It’s literally none of your business.
It’s literally none of your business. So you go through, you eliminate the things you don’t need, you make a list, you figure out broad strokes, the resources you need so you can come up with with a wag, right, of a budget. And then what I want you to do with that wag of a budget is increased by 20%. It’s your margin of error.
Oh goodness.
You have to give yourself a margin of error. Because it’s a wag, which means wild ass guess, that’s what a wag is, wild ass guess.
I mean, we’re both dog lovers, so I was just sort of like, “Oh, it wigs and it wags.” I don’t know.
It wigs and it wags, I don’t know. No, it’s a wild ass guess.
Got it.
Because you may need to hire somebody to help you with implementing different things if this is a tech project, if it’s not a tech project, you may need somebody else to help you. Maybe you have a VA, and you’re going to have to hire extra hours or maybe it’s going to take longer than you anticipate. So it’s not really going to make it the first quarter or the second quarter, it’s going to bleed into some time. And there’s so many factors. So any project management, and if you think about this in another context, right, if you’ve ever had your kitchen redone, the number of up charges that you see, or at least 10 to 20%. So if you take a budget and say you have $500 budget, and you just 20% it’s what 100 bucks?
Yes. So 600.
So you’re actually budgeting 600, and that’s what you call a contingency.
Got it.
You’re just giving yourself a 20% contingency. And know that it might mean– so you’re hoping your target is 500, but know it could be 400 or 600.
Yeah. Right.
So if at the end of the day, I’m getting to my goal, but I’ve spent $750 on it, whoa.
Well, it just means then you have to take something away from somewhere else.
That’s fair. But [crosstalk] warehouse.
But it also is your guidepost.
Yeah, okay.
Right? And that’s the key to what Sandra was saying on last week’s show is these plans are living. See, you don’t just make a nice little plan, “Oh, it’s so pretty. I’m going to put a little frame around it. I’m going to put in a drawer.” No, this means that you’re actually tracking this stuff so that you’re racking some stuff up and you’ve gotten to $750.
Yeah, yes, no, you’re right.
No, I mean, it makes sense.
It does make a lot of sense. Money is the lifeblood of a business. So you have to know what you’re spending it on to do the things that you need to do to then be receiving more money. These are investments, but it doesn’t have to be the be all end all. It can be–
It’s true.
And it’s not so that you’re dominated by money, but it’s so that you do remember it. And I wrote about this in a blog post that your budget is like your fairy godmother. If you follow it then you get all of the goodies. Your fairy godmother is just your guide, so follow the guides that you’ve laid out for yourself so that you can actually achieve your goals. Because the thing that we don’t realize because we use funny terms like shiny object syndrome is it actually is what’s keeping you from achieving your goals and your dreams. For every project that you say is $500 that goes up into 750 or 2,000, you’re that much further away from all of the goals that you’ve set up for yourself.
You can do it. Got it. I just mean like with a budget, you can do it.
I know. And it’s not really my favorite thing. Budgeting is not my– it’s not– I don’t– well, aside from people who budgets are there jam, which are like accountants and bookkeepers, people like that.
Absolutely, people who love numbers.
People who love numbers.
Who love putting them in into arrays on columns–
Like spreadsheets, yeah. Excel spreadsheets.
Pivot tables.
Pivot tables.
Oh, my God.
That is not what most of us are, myself included, but we do need to get into the numbers enough that we know when we were getting off track.
Yes. Yes, getting off track is not what you need. That’s not the mindset that you want to have in your business necessarily at all.
I don’t know if we’ve how much we’ve gotten off track today [laughter]. I mean, because at the end of the day, there are still hot dogs and Mac and cheese.
Totally. There are tangents in your life, you’re going to have days, there’s going to be tangents, there are going to be things that are related to business adjacent decisions that you’re going to have to make and things that come up in life. I like that you say budgets are a living, breathing thing. Plans are living, breathing documents. That’s the real key here because I think we get into our heads. A lot of us like things to be perfect or just so. And we set goals, we set budgets, we set these things like expectations that have to be met at all costs. Okay, let’s factor in some humaneness now, shall we?
Well, and that’s what the contingency does.
[inaudible] it’s great. I like it.
It’s great. Yeah. And, it’s you do need to have space for letting– the term we used in grad school was structured flexibility. And I’ve always loved that. You need to give yourself enough structure that you know where you’re going. Right. It’s just kind of a rough draft or a map just so that you have an idea. You have to know what the goals are and kind of give yourself a framework for achieving them. Otherwise, you don’t have anything, you’re just kind of flailing around to get there. That said, you still have to live your life and there is a little bit of whimsy and serendipity. Right?
So it’s kind of an and, and a both.
I like both those words, those are great words.
But what you want to do is kind of rein yourself in on those late nights when you’re tired. And maybe the best thing to do is turn off the phone, shut the computer, and go to bed instead of spending time on Facebook or researching when you get really tired, and you’re likely to spend more money.
Yeah, just put the phone down, girl. Just put it down.
And with that, I think we’ve wrapped up this episode.
You’re welcome, Jen.
Oh, shucks. Thank you.
No, you were awesome. No, you were awesome [laughter].
Thank you for listening to this week’s Third Paddle Podcast. Be sure to tune in next week when Liz interviews me. Oh, yeah, that’s happening along with a lot of other behind the scenes, outtakes and fun and goofiness as we wrap up, 2018 and get ready for the new year. Please tune in, talk to you next week.
Thank you for listening to the Third Paddle Podcast. Be sure to catch every episode by subscribing on iTunes. To learn more, check out our website at The Third Paddle Podcast is sponsored by Foster Growth LLC online at

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