How to break free from shiny object syndrome

Reading time: About 4 minutes

Does shiny object syndrome seem to dog you? Today, I give a list of reasons why it might and five strategies for overcoming it.

I was going to begin today’s post by asking if you were a crow. 

Then, some quick research informed me that crows are not especially attracted to shiny objects… 

Instead, Shiny Object Syndrome — the desire or need to work on a new project, rather than the one we’re supposed to be working on — is a human trait.

We love new. It’s fun, sexy and energizing. It’s way more interesting than something that’s old and familiar — like that boring story for a tax law outfit that was due at the client’s office a week ago. 

We get drawn in by Shiny Object Syndrome for a variety of reasons, and not all are negative. 

Here’s a list of them: 

  • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO): Because of social media, we all feel we know what everyone else is doing all the time. Even if this isn’t usually true. And whatever those other people are doing looks way more interesting than what we’re up to ourselves. 
  • Our own creativity: As a writer, you’re probably more creative and curious than other people. That’s terrific! It’s part of what makes your writing sparkle and it’s why you’re able to ask your interview subjects such interesting questions. But it also makes you more vulnerable to shiny objects. 
  • Our need for novelty: Dopamine, the “feel good” chemical, adores new experiences and new ideas. Our body is hard-wired to crave dopamine (we get a hit of it every time we open a new email) so it’s not surprising that we favour the new and shiny.   
  • A lack of immediate results: Writing — and, later, editing — is a slow, time-consuming process. It’s hard to stick with the same old subject until the story is done. What seemed new and exciting when we first started working inevitably becomes tired and boring with time. 
  • Perfectionism: Why do writing and perfectionism seem to go hand-in-glove? I think it’s because of the way teachers rewarded us in high school – we learned to crave the gold stars rather than the red underlines and question marks. The trouble with perfectionism is it’s exhausting. So much more fun just to start something new. 
  • Overwhelm: We all get tired and worn out from time to time. A shiny new project may present itself as a temporary relief from the pressure and demands of our current project. 
  • An absence of clear goals and plans: Knowing where you’re going is the first step to getting there. Or, as Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” And that place will be shiny.

Signs that you’re suffering from Shiny Object Syndrome might include a stack of unfinished files, projects or work sitting on your desk. Perhaps you make constant changes in your plans, objectives or goals. Maybe you frequently switch from one task to another. Possibly you’ve never found a deadline you could actually meet. 

And if I earned a dollar for every client who came to me to work on a book and then suddenly had a much better idea for a different book…. Well, then I’d be a wealthy woman. 

If you suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome, here are five steps you can take to turn down the glare of all that silver and gold: 

1-Never respond to a new idea right away. Instead, have a process for dealing with new ideas. Some people describe this as a “cooling-off” zone, which might be a notebook, a file folder or a document on your computer. Jot your idea down in your designated spot and then give yourself a set amount of time — depending on the size of the project — to consider it. Minor projects might need a week. Big ones should get a minimum of one month. 

Prepare a set email message you can send during the waiting time. It might say something like this: “Thanks so much for your offer. I’m interested, but I need some time to consider my schedule to ensure I’m able to give this project the time it deserves. I’ll get back to you by no later than [date]. If you need an immediate response, I will have to give my regrets.” 

Then, when evaluating your Shiny Object, force yourself to consider both sides of the ledger – not just the value you are likely to get out of it, but also the time and effort you’d need to commit. Remember that most people underestimate the amount of work they need to do and overestimate the benefit they’re going to get from it. Consider consulting with others so you can be sure you’re evaluating rigorously enough. 

2-Be super clear about your goals. If you want to be a travel writer, it should be obvious that story pitches about financial planning aren’t in your bailiwick. Force yourself to focus on what you really want to achieve. Being clear not only protects you, but it also safeguards your clients and colleagues. None of us has enough time for everything. In fact, the most precious commodity over which we have (some) agency is time. If you agree to a writing project and do a slipshod job because you don’t have adequate time or attention for it, everyone suffers. 

3-Limit distractions. Most of us act like eight-year-olds. Squirrels! Bicycles! Take steps to protect yourself from the distractions that are most likely to undo you. If you get easily distracted by your phone, put it in another room while you’re writing. If your family constantly interrupts you, negotiate an agreement with them and put a do-not-disturb sign on your door when you’re working. If you’re easily distracted by the internet or social media, use a web-blocker so you can prevent yourself from succumbing to temptation.

Also understand that a key strategy for limiting distractions is ensuring you get enough happy distractions during the time of day when you’re not working. Some writers drive themselves with such demanding schedules they forget to allow enough time for fun. If you’re not getting fun in your private life, you’re going to be looking for it in your work life. Make sure you allow time for reading novels, seeing movies, going to concerts, taking walks in the park and having coffee or meals with friends. 

4-Use meditation, breathing or exercise to help yourself. We are not machines or computers. We are human beings living in bodies that require care and attention. Meditation is an excellent tool for most writers. It reduces our tendency to make excuses for not doing things. It also improves our concentration and focus and helps quiet the unhelpful negative voice inside our own heads that likes to torment us. Many people think meditation is hard, and it is, but most of us can do hard things for a short amount of time. Try just five minutes a day. I think you’ll find it helps. For those strongly opposed to meditation, replace it with simple breathing exercises. And if you can’t do that, then make sure you get some regular exercise. Walking counts and just about everyone can do it. 

5-Get some accountability. Being answerable to someone else is a great way to improve your focus. Agree with a colleague that both of you are going to work on your writing every day for a minimum of X minutes (you get to choose X — but make it small). And if that doesn’t work, then raise the stakes a little by getting professional help. I offer an affordable program called Get It Done that, over the last eight years, has used daily accountability to help hundreds of writers finish their writing projects faster and more happily.  

Don’t let Shiny Object Syndrome steal your attention from your current writing projects. By recognizing this syndrome and employing strategies to overcome it, you’ll be able to unleash your full potential. And you’ll also become much happier along the way.


My video podcast last week addressed time management for writers. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel. 


Need some help developing a sustainable writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours. 


What tricks do you use to break free from shiny object syndrome? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Alice Daniel, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a comment on my July 4/23 blog. (Please send me your email address, Alice!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Aug. 31/23 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!


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