How to manage someone who gets distracted by everything

By Beka Ventham | Behaviour

Apr 30
How to manage someone who is distracted by everything
How to manage someone who gets distracted by everything

Imagine for a second that your boss is a cat. 

Offices and workspaces are filled with lights and sounds all pretend that your boss, who is a cat, is not only following every light and acknowledging every sound but is also sat right by a big window where they can see the wind dancing through the trees and the cows toddling around in the nearby field. 

Anyone would be fascinated by this.

Especially your cat boss who happens to love cows. This cat also enjoys the drops of sunlight on the carpet and likes to meander out in search of food and water (or tea), coming across a myriad of distractions along the way. My boss is this cat. 

Managing someone’s time when they are continuously distracted is quite a challenge. This is particularly challenging when handling someone whose mind follows the distraction and before you’ve even noticed, they are so far down the rabbit hole that you have to get a 100 foot rope to haul them back to tasks at hand.

BUT it can be done.

The key is knowing when to tug and when to let whatever is happening, happen. Because sometimes upon her return she has cooked up the most ingenious ideas for the business, and for our clients.  

I’m going to keep running with this cat metaphor because similar to a cat, our head ninja lives her own life and doesn’t just take instruction like  the humble dog would. So here we have an independent lady boss who is constantly challenging the status quo, building an empire, writing books, running a youtube channel, a podcast, speaks all over the world and does client work. Did I mention she’s easily distracted? And she’s paying you to manage her time...oh and we work remotely.

Where do you even start? 

You begin with a schedule. 

If you are an organised being like myself, schedules make you happy. Distracted cat boss, not so hot on the schedule. Learn to let it go and prepare for this by creating buffer areas where things can be shifted to.

Schedules keep things flowing, even if they aren’t stuck to like glue, they create a baseline expectation and a path to follow. 

The next thing you need to do is facilitate a situation where your catlike boss is creating lists. When a list is written by the person who needs to get the stuff done, it will register much better in their brain that they have a shitload of stuff to do, this also helps them feel in control of their schedule (obviously not the case).

You then use this list to populate their calendar. I have recently started colour coding certain work blocks in red which shouts out “do not move” or “must be done” cats are considered trichromats and can get confused by reds and pinks I may have to rethink this one...

Communication is so so so important. 

Being on top of your stuff as well as their stuff takes a special part of your brain to be functioning. Nudging them throughout the day to encourage, support and remind needs a clear line of communication.

As the ninjas work remotely, this requires a whole new level of devotion. We use Slack for our comms between the team but I also have phone numbers etc in case she can’t reach Slack because she’s in a rabbit hole somewhere (which does happen).

Check ins, similar to nudges, are critical at the beginning of a hectic day. We also check in at the end to check on what has been done, or whether any priorities have arisen that will scatter the schedule for tomorrow.

Be prepared for post it notes of things you must be told not quite getting to you, and changes in plans not being put in the schedule. It’s your job to find out if anything has changed and it’s your job to encourage them to update you. Know that generally their intent is not malicious, they just put it in a safe place in their head and forgot where they put it.

Being innovative is a great trait in any job

And particularly when it comes to managing an easily distracted person. You need to be ready to change how you would normally do things to suit what works for them. Yes it can be infuriating but their brain works differently and getting frustrated isn’t going to get the job done.

Flexibility is key because you need to work around them when you can’t get a response from them or you lose them to a distraction. 

Doing your job effectively depends on your charge getting stuff done in a timely manner and sometimes you need to be stern, sometimes you need to step back and sometimes you need to develop a new strategy.

Trust is another trait needed here. 

If you are managing someone’s time entirely, they need to be able to trust you. You have to show them that you will always take care of their best interests even if that sometimes needs a smack on the wrist (or paw) or a bout of reassurance.

You will be privy to all kinds of information about them and know all of their weaknesses - trust is a biggie. 

As far as the distractions go, there ain't nothing you can do about that. 

Look, if you work with someone who gets distracted by everything, even if you remove the most offending things - they will always find something to sidetrack them. But you can work to their strengths and build a rapport that means that you can efficiently manage their time at least 80% of the time (which is a huge win for cat like people). 

These are my tips, they work for us incredibly well.

I figure out nuances along the way

Learning how to get the most out of an extremely intelligent human with feline like tendencies is a daily challenge. 

It’s all worth it when you get the results out of them they are striving for. (and incredibly gratifying when you can get them to stick to their schedule. I give myself many high-fives!)

Here’s a little diagram of what goes into getting Kenda to do what she needs to do:

I’d love to know whether you’re easily distracted, or if you help someone stay on track. I hope you’ve enjoyed a little insight into how we ninjas get stuff done!

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