Attention Splatter - Christine Kane

I guess it’s called irony.

After I wrote last week’s blog Where’s Your Attention?, I began noticing the power of attention in every situation, especially in my daily life. I decided to write a blog about the ways in which we scatter our precious attention all over the place so that we don’t give a full percentage of ourselves to our dreams and our goals.

So, then I wrote the blog, right? After all, here it is, right?

Well, sort of. I sat down to write it three days ago. I even said to my husband, “I’m gonna write my blog now!” I wrote a little. Then I decided to “check some email.” I got caught up in a mini-drama and opted to write emails for an entire afternoon, while occasionally jotting down some thoughts on this blog.

The next day, I sat down to write again. I made the same announcement to my husband. I wrote a little. And then I started surfing the internet (I called it research) and found lots of interesting (and mostly non-useful) things to read. Even if they had been useful, my mind was only half-present during this non-activity activity, so I didn’t absorb most of what I read!

These activities aren’t necessarily bad or wrong. Not at all. It’s just that we can spend entire days – entire weeks – immersed in non-activities like this and never accomplish a thing. We can fill every last moment with non-items so that our really important items never get done. We then tell everyone how busy we are. And when we do get things done, the sense of accomplishment is often lost because our attention was splattered on a million other things during the activity.

Do you see yourself in this picture? If so, you may have a case of what I call Attention Splatter.

Many of us – especially artists, creative types, and the self-employed – catch Attention Splatter. It’s insidious. We’re so good at multi-tasking and being available to all things at all times that we don’t even realize that we’re only half present to any given one of them. Our attention is splattered.

Now, let me be clear. The goal here is not about becoming some crazy hyper-focused, uber-effective, non-fun-having salesperson who scribbles things like “SEX WITH WIFE” in the 8pm slot of his Blackberry. (Lots of bliss for the wife, I’m sure.) Most likely, if you are a regular reader of my blog, you couldn’t be that kind of person even if you tried. Creative types are a little more multi-tasky in their energy. Creative types are creative because they can focus on so many perspectives and ideas at once. Celebrate this. This is a good thing. It potentially becomes a bad thing when it takes over and blocks your progress in the world.

The goal is to simply recognize this tendency, and to begin creating your days in such a way that you eliminate the opportunities for Attention Splatter to take over, especially when you do want to get things done. And the good news is that you can take practical action towards prevention.

I’ve compiled a brief list of ways that Attention Splatter has manifested in my own life, and might manifest in yours. I’m also writing about some of the solutions that have helped me build my attention and focus. Those posts will follow. Right now I am going to step back and be proud I made it this far in my writing without checking my email!

  • Kate

    Oh dear…I was merrily skip-hopping through the article half-reading and thinking about other things and what I might read next when I realized…oh yeah…this is what Christine is talking about! HA! Thanks for the reminder:)

  • Corinne Edwards

    As a compulsive Virgo, I am a list maker. All good stuff. But the trick for me is I have learned to give each item on the list a grade. A. A got to do it. B. Try to get it done after the A’s. C. If you can put it off for a while, it may go away. D. These may disappear into the to ethers or may have to be upgraded later. Ignore for now.

    The big problem we all have is we do the EASY things first because there is satifaction in CROSSING THEM OFF THE LIST.

    I wrote a silly post about my sister June called Procrastination and Chocolate Cake. It gave her a big laugh because it is a true family story.

    You might enjoy it because you do it too.

    Thanks for the wake up calls, Christine!

    Warm regards,

    Corinne Edwards

  • Christine Kane

    john c – yep, it sounds like it’s time for some “selective ignorance” and tossing out some of the stuff that isn’t serving any more purpose but to overwhelm you!

    thanks carma d.

    angie – what you wrote is a blog in itself. we could go on and on about it!

    thanks corinne, i’ll go check you out. are you going to BlogHer?

    thank you for your kind words stephen. i’m writing this now, but i’m off to check out your site!

  • Stephen Hopson


    OMG. You really hit it on the nail with this “attention splatter.” Wow. I know exactly what you mean. I’m a self employed professional speaker and work out of my home. It’s incredibly easy to let my attention wander since I spend so much time on the computer.

    I’ll see an interesting post (like yours) and one thing leads to another. And nothing meaningful gets done!

    Thanks for making me aware of this. “Attention Splatter”! I love it. πŸ™‚

    By the way, your writing is so smooth, almost effortless. I would be very interested in your take on how you overcame adversity. I’m conducting an interactive experiment at “Adversity University” where I’ve been inviting people here and there to participate. If you click on the link to my name, it’ll take you to the post containing instructions. I hope you feel inspired to participate!

    Stephen Hopson

  • Corinne Edwards

    Dear Christine –

    Well, you nailed it with this series. I am worse than you are. If I get up at 3 AM to go to the bathroom, I check my email. (Now that is real splatter!)

    Would love to keep in touch. I think we are blog soul-mates.

    Check mine at
    Click here: Personal Growth with Corinne Edwards

    Keep up the good work. It’s a challenging job but someone has to do it. That means US.

    Warm regards –

    Corinne Edwards

  • Angie Hartford

    ADD isn’t a label; it’s a medical diagnosis. ADD is not curable, but it is managable. If someone told you they had something more “medical,” like Crohn’s disease or diabetes, I’m guessing you wouldn’t say things like “I don’t like medical labels.”

    That said, I love the phrase “Attention Splatter.” It requires no explanation, and is highly descriptive!

  • Carma D.

    Attention Spatter is a great diagnosis for what I have. It’s better than being labeled scatter brained πŸ™‚

    Right on topic.

  • John C

    I’ve been splattered since the late 80’s! My hunger for information continues to grow, but my ability to digest it seems to shrink, hence the 62 unread emails in my Gmail account. Each day I attempt to clear the slate but just fall woefully behind. My home page is filled with unread blogs that I know are useful but I can’t focus long enough to make a dent in them. Information overload has brought me to a stand still. What the Hell did they do before the internet??????

  • Christine Kane

    thanks fivecats – i’ll post the next one tomorrow (hopefully! i may not have internet access after i fly today!)

    nina – my siblings are all teachers – college and junior high. summers always begin with them naming WAY too many goals. (“it’s my only time off!”) and i always find myself reminding them to whittle down that pressure and allow for rest. one good goal that gets done is way better than a big bunch of goals that make you feel disappointed in progress! i totally understand though – i feel like this in between road trips.

    shiesta – thanks. it’s also good to ask “am i making up stuff to do so that I can avoid the important things i WANT to do?” i like simply saying “take action.” good idea!

    zach – swordfishtrombones is my favorite too. though i have to say “jockey full of bourbon” always conjures up that intro scene in “down by law” and i always loved that.

    thanks sylvia – summer seems to be such an easy time to splatter. thanks for the note!

  • Sylvia C.

    I must agree…this is brilliant and I feel like I have been splattered quite a bit this summer.

    The last week I’ve had a migraine (yes, all week), so now since it’s been gone, I have relearned how to make computer time sacred.

    And when I am really doing stuff, and not just whirling around like a maniac, I do feel so happy and accomplished.

    That feeling is really worth the “work!”

    Sylvia C.

  • zach

    I quite like the new Tom Waits. It’s really more of a retrospective on his career, so there’s plenty there for most people. Mind you, I’m one of the people who got into him circa Swordfishtrombones, so I’ve got some bias.

    Anyways! I look forward to whatever it is you’ll cover next.

  • sheista

    I read one of your older blogs last week that talked about taking action. Since then I have been thinking about how I limit my action by getting my self sidetracked or “attention splattered”, sometimes all afternoon! Also, I have been thinking about why I do that. I’ve been making an effort since, even saying “take action” out loud.

    Thanks for the gentle reminder.

    I look forward to seeing what else you have to say on this subject!

  • Nina

    thanks for this post and, in advance, for the follow-up posts. this is very timely for me, as i’m a teacher currently adrift in the void i like to call “summer vacation.” i have oh, so many things planned and am accomplishing oh, so few of them, thanks in part to attention splatter. with all this time all of a sudden, i find it hard to focus on anything to completion. truly, i get much more done when i’m working feverishly during the school year than i do when i have time enough to do everything… perhaps artistic types are both multi-tasky and are also more likely to have crafted a life for themselves that involves lots of “open” time for creation, and that “open” time is much more easily eaten away by splatter than a more structured 9-5 kind of life.

    i’m looking forward to your recommendations for containing the splatter!

  • fivecats

    *raises hand*

    i’m right there with you. attention splatter is something i find myself dealing with a lot at work, but not so much at home. fewer projects, fewer pulls for my attention; less stress, less a need for tangible results.

    i look forward to reading your followup entries on this!

  • Christine Kane

    hi jer – i actually don’t like medical labels like ADD. (though webguy is VERY attached to his own label of ADD and gets very angry with me when i say stuff like this! :-)) i know that there are physical components to this stuff – AND i think it’s just too easy to label ourselves and chalk it up to our “disorder”(and agree that there’s something WRONG with us!) “taking little breaks” as you wrote is a great way to deal with the short attention span issues. “little” being the operative word!

    kathy – it sounds like you’ve got a LOT on your plate there with the remodel, etc. Sometimes just a little self-care helps with that. (and maybe lifting up on a few of the deadlines!?)

    kelsey – try to give yourself just one minor goal today first off. ask yourself, “what ONE thing would give me a sense of accomplishment at the end of today?” then begin with that one small thing. then, when it’s done, move to the next one. (and give yourself a break in between – surf the web, etc.) that helps me a lot.

    Thanks Aaron! And thanks for checking in… yours is one of the blogs i have on my list as well! but, you’re right, the writing of your own blogs has to be first priority. Even if it’s just for a small block of time. (and thanks in advance for the link love.)

    deb – well, when you’re in college, you’re totally allowed to do stuff like that! that’s the whole point of college! πŸ™‚

    barb – birds are a better place to put your attention than the internet, so you’re excused!

  • Christine Kane

    eric – that sounds like a good simple case of overwhelm! i felt like that when i first started blogging…

    jeanne – you nailed it with the word “lonely.” creativity requires that you ease into a non-lonely relationship with yourself. and sometimes that’s a hard shift to make.

    hey zach! that’s why i limit my scheduled writing time. if i say “hey i’m gonna write today!” then today just sort of drifts into nothingness… but if i say that i’m going to write for two hours (i’ll talk a little bit about what that means later), then i’ll usually sit down and do it. (and how IS tom waits’s new album? he sort of lost me at black rider.)

    susanne – i think exhaustion is a direct result of splattered attention cuz we weren’t meant to spread ourselves so thin. morning pages are a great way to narrow your attention splatter!

  • barb

    of course if you are not computer literate and don’t have a blog, have only 3 list serves, and a small circle of email friends, and read only 1 or 2 blogs, you can just sit right down and get the on line stuff out of the way and go ahead with business BUT then there is this bird call I can’t identify, the dogs need attention, or tend the tomatoes and . . . . where did the time go πŸ™‚ barb

  • Deb

    [Christine wrote]”And then I started surfing the internet (I called it research)”

    This is exactly what we would do when we got bored with writing our senior capstone project! It works great and there’s no guilt.

  • Today is that Day

    HA! Attention Splatter – I love it! You have a way with words, Christine!

    I actually just got done telling my mastermind group that every morning I was going to write in all of my blogs before anything else got done. That is my primary activity, so it should take center stage.

    However, I do have 20 or 30 of blogs I track that I feel reading and taking action on need to be done in a timely manner (including this one), so now that I’ve read this awesome post I need to:

    1) Go add it to my social bookmarking sites so other people will find it.
    2) Add it to my Link Love to share with my own readers.
    3) Finish eating my breakfast that got put on hold once I read started reading this.
    4) Remember that I’m supposed to be writing in my OWN blog right now! πŸ˜‰

    – Aaron

  • Kelsey

    The Internet feeds my attention splatter in a big way. For example, I was reading your blog this morning when I should be finishing the two final projects I have due tomorrow in my graduate program. So much of my work has to be done on the computer and I find it nearly impossible to stop checking blogs, answering email, updating my own blog (actually that hasn’t happened lately!), etc. I can sit at the computer all morning and forget what I was actually supposed to be doing. Sigh.

    Back to work!

  • Kathy

    Once again, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I can churn and churn and churn getting nothing actually done but whipping up a frenzy around all this things I’m multitasking on so that what’s left undone leaves me lying wide awake at night thinking of all the things I still need to do! This is particularly worse during stress – or major change – like perhaps the dream house renovation we’re about to start? Then it’s a cycle – sleepless night, less ability to think clearly and get things done the next day, another sleepless night, another even more compressed timeline, jumping to the end trying to make a decision on something we haven’t even researched yet, yada yada. This drives my clear thinking rational husband nuts who has been on a plan since the beginning – focus on one thing, do it, focus on the next thing, do it. The only way out for me is to start doing – taking action (as a wise blogger I know puts it). Even little actions towards the the big things help. And of course, communication. Knowing each other’s lists and priorities and splitting the workload in a logical way. Thanks for shedding some timely light on this topic! p.s. I slept all the way through the night last night!!!

  • Jer

    can we call this Type 1a ADD or something? i always find it difficult to stick to one task, even if it’s something i enjoy. i have to take little email/web-surfing/etc breaks, or else i’ll get bored with something and just quit altogether.

    i definitely have a lot of stuff i’ve been nibbling at lately, though. web pages, making some mix cds, playing guitar, bathroom remodel, etc etc.

    yes, it will be interesting, and hopefully educational, to see your upcoming posts.

    but i’ll say this also, i think part of my problem stems from sitting in an office all day where i have to force myself to stay on task as much as possible. when i get home in the evening, the last thing i want to do is force myself to do something. if i really do feel like doing whatever it is, then great, but if not…it’s couch/tv/nap time.

  • Susanne

    Argh. I just realized that I’m sitting here checking blogs, fixing some things on my own blog, researching how to fix some other things on my husband’s blog, have started to clean the bathroom, am waiting for a package to arrive, and all the while I planned to write my morning pages …

    Just typing this makes me very exhausted. I guess I better write morning pages now and then do some yoga. Maybe then I’ll get a little more focused.

    So I hope for your next posts on this. I’ll be waiting for them. While checking my e-mail, of course.

  • Zach

    Heh, yeah, I recognize this one. I get into my “Alright, I’m totally gonna write today!” mode. But first, there’s the news to check up on. And I should do a bit of reading. And there’s that new Waits album I need to listen to. Well, I’ll just write while I’m playin’ that… and so on.

  • Jeanne

    Well, you hit this one right on the nose. My “Attention Splatter” has hit critical mass. So now I’m waiting (while checking my email) to see what your solutions have to offer me in the way of help. My studio is lonely. I keep meaning to get things done, but somehow I don’t make it.

  • Eric

    I know what you mean about the attention splatter. I’m trying to get back into the art world and my attention is all over the place! Along with trying to setup a website, work, etc. I’m looking forward to reading your lists!