Attention Splatter: The Top Five Culprits

Note: This is the second part of a multi-part series about a phenomenon I call “Attention Splatter.” If you didn’t read the first post on this topic, please click here.

Have you ever been at home all day when there’s nothing in the fridge? You open the door. You look in. You hum a little tune as you look around. You sigh. You grab a handful of pine nuts. And you go back to your desk.

Then about an hour later, you’re still hungry. So you go back to the fridge and look in again. Nothing new has appeared. You pull out some black olives and put them on a saucer and go back to your desk to eat them while you stare at your computer.

You think, “I should just go out and get something to eat.” But you just can’t motivate yourself. It’s like a part of you is convinced that a solution will appear. Maybe a Sous Chef will arrive. Amazingly, this doesn’t happen, and eventually you’re back at the fridge. You look in. Then, you close the door and reach up to the cereal cabinet and take a handful of Kashi and head back to the office.

What ultimately happens in this scenario is that you eat all day, but you never feel satisfied. By five o’clock, you’re completely strung out and unfulfilled and you wonder why.

Here’s why: You ate. But you never actually fed yourself.

It’s the same thing with Attention Splatter. You dabble in random things. But you never really commit to anything. You mindlessly and half-heartedly splatter your attention on non-activities. But you don’t fully engage.

Remember this: Your attention ultimately feeds you. It feeds your heart and it feeds your mind. This is why it’s so important to notice what you give your attention to. This is also why splattered attention leaves you feeling strung out and unfulfilled. You never actually feed yourself.

So, here are some of the culprits – the non-activities – that make it so easy for us to splatter. Anyone can fill up an entire day on the following things, and feel like they didn’t get anything done.

1 – Email

If you are like most people, your email is turned on at all times with audible alerts. Every time an email comes in, you know it. Even if you don’t check it right away, you know it’s there. I call this phenomenon “Email Bleed.” It bleeds into your day, your time and your space. I’m as guilty of it as the next guy. And it’s time to get out of the habit.

Here’s why: Let’s say that you open and read email each time it arrives. Let’s say you’re doing your finances and kind of wanted the distraction. Let’s say it’s a note from a gallery telling you that they didn’t accept your latest work. Now you’ve got a minor pain in your heart and you have to sit there for a moment and let the tears burn. Then you call a friend to talk about it. Later that day, when you’ve recovered, it will take you another 20 minutes just to regain the progress you had already made in your financial work. You’ve actually added more work into your day by opening yourself to the email bleed.

2 – Cell phones

Cell phones have made it possible for our energy to be on call or on high alert at all times of the day. This isn’t a good thing for creative people. Creativity requires that you fully disconnect from the outside world for some span of time each day. It’s the only way to be fully connected to you.

If my cell phone is near me when I meditate – even if it’s turned off – I feel like Bilbo Baggins. I can feel my cell phone there. It whispers to me. It wants me to turn it on. I have to force myself to put my cell phone away and out of my reach. Pieces of my attention unconsciously float away with the mere presence of my cell phone.

If you don’t believe me, try this: drive somewhere and don’t take your phone. Or go to lunch with a friend and don’t bring your phone. It feels vastly different than when it’s sitting next to you in the car or at the lunch table. You might even feel lighter after the initial anxiety goes away.

3 – Stuff

Back when I quit my job to pursue music, lots of people had dire predictions for me. To hear them talk, you’d have had images of me picking up logs and looking under them to find my dinner. But here’s the weird thing: When I left my job, and started doing something that actually made me happy, (fed me) I stopped needing so much stuff (didn’t feed me). When I stopped getting so much stuff, my income was actually higher than my salary had been! (And I never once had to look under logs for my meals.) The point here is that stuff can splatter you and take you away from that which brings you true joy.

Stuff takes your attention. More stuff takes more of your attention. You don’t need more stuff. You need to feed yourself.

Just ask yourself this: Can you go to amazon.com and get the one book you went there to buy? Do you really want all those other things? Or are you just splattered?

4 – Internet

Do I really need to say anything about this one? You can read some of the comments on my last post to see how many people can spend hours just splattering themselves all over the internet. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just that if you want to do something creative, or something active, or something that feeds you, most likely it won’t happen because you were shuffling through MySpace. It will be because you sat your ass down, and walked through the void and into that resplendent place of fecundity, known as, “Oh my God, I’m not on line!”

If you catch yourself on the internet, with your eyes glazed over absorbing nothing, clicking on anything that sits still long enough for you to click on it, then you might be splattered.

5 – Checking Stats

This includes: blog stats, website stats, stock prices, affiliate reports, shopping cart sales, book sales, mailing list graphs, Adsense returns, and anything else with a number that – for what ever reason – you’ve decided determines your self worth. Each time you check in on this number in a day, you’re actually asking the universe, “How am I doing? No, really, how am I doing?” Even if the number is high, you’re splattering your attention because A] it’s a non-activity, and B] external numbers will not ultimately feed you. You will always need more. Go write a blog. Stop checking to see how many people are reading yesterday’s!

——-
There are several other culprits. Worry is one. Obsession is another. Someone sent me an email saying that she could use her own children to splatter her attention. The best way to figure out your splatters is to ask yourself throughout the day if you’re fully present or if you’re just making up stuff to do so you can feel like you’re doing something.

My next post will focus on the best ways I have learned (and am learning) to shift this pattern.

For now, take this challenge: Pick one of these culprits, and for one day only, schedule it as a TO-DO item. For instance, schedule a time to check and answer your email. When time’s up, turn off the email program and don’t check it again until tomorrow. See how it feels.

p.s. Tonight I’m in Lebanon, New Hampshire performing at a free outdoor concert series, called Front Porch Concert Series. If you know anyone in the area, or if you want to come, please call 603-448-5121. Or just show up in Colburn Park! My full tour schedule is here.

p.p.s. Add your own splatters in the comments.

Comments

  1. says

    I’m a long time reader but this is the first time I’ve said hi, so ~

    “Hi!”

    As for this post ~ well it was spot on ~

    “You ate. But you never actually fed yourself”

    Wow! I’m taking THAT thought with me in my travels today, VERY pertinent for me. ***Thanks***

  2. Joy says

    Re: cell phones. when having lunch with a friend i have found the only way my attention is fully engaged with that friend is if my cell phone is turned off. turning off my cell phone before meeting a friend has become a ritual that helps set my intention for fully connecting with my friend.

  3. says

    #1 Attention Splatter thing for me my Blackberry — i mean “crackberry”. That combines email and cellphone into one device which becomes your best and worst friend. It’s good because it frees me from the desk, the office, the PC, even makes me feel more comfortable sitting at a meal alone (which I have to do a lot in my work travels) but it’s bad because I am reachable 24/7 and my perfectionist tendencies (and those of the clients I support) come to expect instant response. I have to keep checking to see if there’s an email from one of them and if so have to answer right away. I have built relationships this way with some very tough customers. It was very freeing to leave it behind on our honeymoon for three whole weeks but that was a long time ago and it’s got me again. I understand that children of blackberry users are instituting house rules – no blackberrying at meals, designated blackberry hours, etc.

    Worry is the attention splatter that most keeps me up at night….and worry is so silly and such a waste of energy – I find myself worrying about things that haven’t happened yet which snowballs into other things that might happen and it becomes “worry splatter” very quickly. I took a Dale Carnegie course who has a very useful tip on addressing worry. If worrying about something is plaguing you, Dale Carnegie suggests that you imagine the worst that might happen in that scneario, figure out how you’d handle it, and then you can forget about it and bring your focus back to the present. It works but in the moment of worrying in the middle of the night it is hard to remember….

  4. says

    Guilty as charged, said with a wry smile as I check my email and stats as I read through your blog post (oh yes, stats, haven’t checked those for the last hour, better go do that now…). Working from home also presents a multitude of splatter opportunities for me – washing, cleaning, dusting. I think it’s the only way any housework gets done around here – as procrastination or diversion :)

    Seriously, a very apt series of posts, and I’m looking forward to reading the next one about how you deal with splatter. I find that if I pick between one to three (max) things off my long to-do list and tell myself gently that those are the only things to get accomplished today, then I not only get those tasks done but actually end up accomplishing more, while being much more present! If I feel overwhelmed by too many tasks competing for priority, then I get nothing done, and, well, let’s just say that splatter happens ;)

    Thanks, Christine!

  5. says

    Also guilty as charged and the timing is eerie:)

    Email is a big splatter and well, just the computer in general; major time suck. I find that if I dont’ have something on the schedule in the studio I allow myself to spend too much time online. So I guess in some convoluted way I’ve given myself permission to do this. I’m looking forward to your next post on dealing with the splatter too.

    And now to get my butt out of the computer chair and into the studio chair.

  6. says

    hagit – yes, your office-cam was actually the inspiration for me!

    susanne – distractions aren’t exactly the same as splatters. conscious distractions can be a good thing just to shift energy. (as long as you’re fully engaged in the distraction!)

    thanks for the note claire! and i’m glad you got something to take with you… :-)

    thanks joy. that’s so true. i have to start doing that too!

    kathy – i’m finding that my relationship to myself is good enough reason to turn off the cell phone. (this is also why i’m hesitant to get the iPhone. it’d make me that much more capable of being insane 24/7!) i like the dale carnegie approach too.

    mags – i’ve limited myself to one or two things a day to get done. songs and blogs are always at the top of the list!

    thanks amy! go make beautiful things!

    colin – i was actually going to write in parentheses “did i just write that?!” after i wrote that – but then i decided to see if anyone commented!

  7. says

    * free-floating anxiety/fear
    after a disastrous first draft of my first chapter i’ve been afraid to try again, afraid i’m really a lousy writer, afraid that i’ll do a huge injustice to my characters… despite intellectually knowing annie lamott is right in saying you need to give yourself permission to write a sh*tty first draft, i’m not able to emotionally accept that for myself yet.

  8. Meg says

    After splattering away the time I had (repeatedly) set aside over the last 2 weeks to write my mid-year business summary, I tried something new and stopped the “email bleed.” I closed my email for one hour. I put on my ipod and focused. I would not look at anyone walking by my cube and i did not respond to any IM windows. I just typed. It worked. I am half-way through my first draft and now have a sense of accomplishment and the task seems less daunting. While my email was closed, the world did not stop turning, my Team did not walk out and my Customers did not come into my cube or call demanding to know why I was not online. Many thanks, now I can go home, not think about the report and enjoy the evening. I’ll do the thing again tomorrow so I can not think about the report over the weekend.

    Congrats in advance on a terrific show in NH – what a beautiful night for it!

  9. says

    Very timely post Christine! I certainly wouldn’t want to call my kids splatter, but as a single dad working from home I’ve got splatter coming out of the woodwork!!! I was just listening to one of those motivational CD’s that was talking about if you want different results YOU need to change. You have to be willing to ask yourself “What am I doing or not doing to get these results in my life?” To be honest I was thinking to myself “But I’m already completely maxed out and overwhelmed!” Then I read your post and realized how MUCH splatter invades my life on a daily basis. Thanks!

  10. Colleen says

    Well, I didn’t read all of this post, Christine. (Laughing at myself as I write.)

    I got about five paragraphs in and went “What are you doing?? You’re supposed to be WORKING! You have two hours while your toddler is at Oma and Opa’s and you’ve looked at every website in your favourites list!”

    And so I stopped reading, scrolled down to leave this comment and noticed your p.p.s. to leave our ‘splatters’.

    So, there it is. SPLAT! I’ll be back later to actually read your thoughts… now I’m getting to work… right after I check the fridge for miraculous culinary apparitions.

  11. says

    I’m a major splatterer addict, aided and abetted by my 5- and 7-year-old sons who bring their own needs and desires to my attention on an irregular-but-constant basis.

    Ahhh, but school will start in less than a month, hurray!

    And Christine, I quoted you on my blog this morning. Thought you’d want to know. http://joys.vox.com/

  12. says

    Amen to this. Unbelievably, I’ve been blogging about blogging this morning. Talk about a splatter! Thanks for your insight and sharing it in new and worthwhile ways. I also included a link to this post in my writing this morning.

    Best!

    Jena

  13. says

    Hello Christine, I read both posts and they are wonderfully insightful. In business, we call it understanding what is tactical and what is strategic and making sure all things tactical will lead to what you know is strategic in your company. However, most of us, me included, forget to apply these principles to our own lives. Attention splatter is a wonderful term, I’m sure to blog about it next week.
    Vern

  14. says

    Amen a thousand times over. Email and the internet are probably my biggest culprit. I’ve gotten pretty good, finally, at turning off my cell phone when I need to get things done, and rarely feel the need to turn it on just to check if someone’s called. But as a writer, I work on the computer and it’s very difficult to turn off the email and to stop myself from surfing whenever I feel blocked or the writing just gets too hard.

    I’m looking forward to your thoughts on how to bring it all under control.

  15. says

    Wish I could turn off the email! But my customers are trained to expect me to respond almost as fast as if we were in a chat room. My mistake! Now I feel that whenever I am passing anywhere near the computer I have to check to see if anyone needed me, and of course, while I’m there, all the other things are there tantalizing me. At least I’m not a cell phone addict! I knew there must be something I didn’t splatter into! When I’m even the least bit uncertain about the direction I want to go in the studio, opportunities to Splatter my attention about seem to miraculously appear.

  16. says

    hello everyone, thanks for your comments. i was out of internet range this past weekend – so i just wanted to write and say that i’m back and hello and let you know i’ve read all the comments – but i don’t have time to respond individually at this moment! more soon!

  17. colleen says

    Hi Christine,
    sorry if there is a more efficient way to contact you regarding items available in your store (but I didn’t see it if there was).
    My question is regarding the 2 CD set of a live performance that you are getting ready to offer. This isn’t the same performance as the one on your DVD, is it? I LOVE the DVD, by the way, but don’t need the live CD if it’s a “repeat” of the DVD.
    Thanks for clarification on this!!
    colleen

  18. says

    So the day after reading Christine’s blog on “Attention Splatter” I was motivated and focused. I started off the day by checking my email and closing it so it wouldn’t be a distraction. Feeling very productive I started in on some accounting and paying bills. Next thing I know my 8 year old daughter comes running upstairs and starts throwing up!!! Now THAT gives a whole new meaning to attention splatter!!! YUCK!!!

  19. says

    Hi Colleen, (To contact my office via email, click on the “contact” link in the horizontal bar up above.) The CD is the same night as the DVD — only there are a few more stories. And the songs are re-mixed for better sound. Thanks for checking!

    congrats brad. and yes, i understand that other kind of splatter all too well. but that’s actually the important kind of splatter that it’s good to focus on. (and clean up!) :-)

  20. says

    Christine,

    Have I said how much I love your blog? No? I LOVE YOUR BLOG!

    Instead of people diagnosing themselves or their children with ADD they should realize that it’s really just “Attention Splatter”. That the lack of focus they are experiencing is really a lifestyle and that it just needs a little pruning and maybe a little settling down. Too many people these days want to medicate their “deficits” when it’s really about the abundance of distractions our culture put in our lives.

    I will NOT buy a crackberry, and as much as I love my Grey’s Anatomy and Entourage I am always reaching for the remote to turn off the tv. I also am grateful for my laptop because I HAVE to turn it off to keep it away from the little children running around, so it only wastes some of my time instead of all of my time.

    I also use housework as a distraction to all of the other activities that require time and focus. A little laundry here, some vacuuming there, maybe a load of dishes in the dishwasher and there goes 45 minutes of my life where I was supposed to be focused on something else.

  21. Mindi says

    Ha! While reading this I had five different windows open on my computer. ;) Guess I have Attention Splatter aided by Windows XP and IE8.

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