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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

How Splintered Is Your Attention? Take the Quiz and Find Out

Is Your Attention Splintered?

One of the best things I do for myself as a writer and a human being is to spend 45 to 60 minutes at least once a week in the dog park (in addition to walking the dogs out my front door every morning). We’re lucky to have a dog park with lots of little trails criss-crossing through the woods and sandstone cliffs along the Mississippi River. If it weren’t for the occasional jet overhead, you wouldn’t even know you’re in the city.

My eyes soak up the beauty and lushness of the trees and plants, and my ears drink in the quiet. Claudia and I have amazing conversations because we aren’t distracted by all the little stuff that nags at our attention around the house. And we love to watch Blue’s grace and Kelda’s exuberance as they run the trails and through the underbrush. It’s our weekly trip to a wonderland. 


Do we even know where we are?

Which is why I’m stunned I see people ignoring the beauty all around them and the joy of their own dog to talk on their cell phone.   They aren’t really there in the park because they’re focused on their phone.  

It’s emblematic of the curse of our time: splintered attention. The risk for us as writers is that the more we splinter our attention every hour of every day, the harder it becomes to maintain the kind of focus we need to write. Some researchers suggest we’re rewiring our brains to process a lot of information broadly and shallowly and losing the ability to think deeply and sustain our focus.

 It’s what my friend calls the “Bright and Shiny Object Syndrome,” as in “Look! A bright and shiny object… Now what was I doing?” It’s what I wrote about in the Squirrel! post.

 Here’s how it goes: We sit down to write (or research or puzzle over what we have so far and how it fits together) and within five minutes, we’re checking our email or blog stats or Facebook or surfing cool new websites or wandering “out to the lobby to get ourselves a snack.”  

Or we think about writing and get distracted by five other things on our way to our writing space, forget what we set out to do and never even make it to the desk.

 Not sure your attention is that badly splintered? Take the quiz and see.  

  1. How many hours a day are you engaged with the technology in your life?
  2. How many of those hours does the technology help you focus (e.g. laptop functions normally so you can write)?
  3. How many of those hours does the technology interrupt your focus (email alert pings or cell phone rings)? 
  4.  How many ways do you use technology to interrupt what you’re doing? (cell phone, TM, email, internet, etc.)
  5.  How many ways can other people use technology to interrupt what you’re doing (call you on cell phone, ping you with a TM, send an email that triggers an alert, pop up an ad on the internet, etc.)
  6.  How many hours a day are you available to your boss, co-workers and customers?
  7. How many hours a day are you available to your friends and family (spouse/partner, kids, parents, other family members)? 
  8.  How many hours a day does that leave just for you? How many of those hours are you wake?  
  9.  How long can you concentrate on anything before your concentration is interrupted by an email, text message, phone call, internet pop-up, commercial, someone stopping by your desk?
  10.  How long can you stand to focus on anything before you distract yourself? 
  11.  Do you think you are more distractible than you were five years ago?

 Please comment with your results. What’s the total number of hours in a day when your attention splintered one way or another? Where you surprised by this result? Or was it about what you expected? I’m curious about possible generational differences, so please tell me whether you’re a Traditionalist (born before 1946), Baby Boomer (born 1946-1960), Gen X (born 1961-1979), or Gen Y (born after 1979). 


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2 Comments on “How Splintered Is Your Attention? Take the Quiz and Find Out”

  1. rosannebane August 17, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Thanks Michael. I think technology is a major, but not the only, distraction we use when we’re resistant. But I think i’ts also possible that technology distracts us even when we’re not actively resistant.
    The interesting question is how much impact is the technology we use influencing and changing our brains. I don’t have the research skills or funding to investigate that, but I am curious to see what an informal survey might reveal… Thanks for being the first, but hopefully not the last, to respond.


  2. Michael Kelberer August 16, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    Hey Rosanne – If you look at the difference between the first nine questions (all tech all the time) and 10, 11 you might see two different questions – are you easily diverted from the here and now, and is tech making it harder to overcome that tendency.
    For me, the answer is yes to both, although I suspect in the latter case it’s not the technology’s problem 🙂 I think in all cases, it’s Resistance.
    Your boomer friend,


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