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Things to Distract You

Not all distraction is bad. It can be a way to reset, to let the subconscious tinker for a bit …

I’m not really suggesting I need more distraction right now, as I currently have the attention span of a hamster, but I may be trying to justify my distractibility. Hang on, I wonder what a hamster’s attention span actually is. I might be doing them a disservice, comparing my attention span to theirs. Does anyone know what a hamster’s attention span actually is? Has someone studied that? Should I look it up? I’m going to look it up …

And that, lovely people, is how I can suddenly find myself, having nipped over to use a village name generator (warning – there’s your first distraction) for a location that will be mentioned once in passing, reading about the geographic distribution of lightning strikes in Greenland during the summer. Or something along those lines.

Which is both fascinating but rarely helpful, and also why I have recently (and belatedly) embraced the Pomodoro technique, which I now adore. I always had a bit of a thing about it, and felt it wasn’t for me, as if it threatened to bring far too much structure to my creativity. Do not stifle the artist, and all that. But my creativity has gone a little feral at the moment and needs some taming, so I have thoroughly embraced Pomodoro.

I am not quite at this point, but it has crossed my mind …

However, I would be completely lying if I suggested this meant I no longer wandered off down internet rabbit holes. I just keep my wandering to non-writing times a little better. And I have to admit that I don’t do too much news wandering these days. I check in on the news sites each day, but I don’t spend a lot of time there at the moment. There seems to be less and less good news, and it can all get a bit overwhelming. And while I don’t hide from the world, there’s a balance between staying informed and feeling like you’re drowning in it.

So, less news, more distraction seems like a plan. Because not all distraction is bad, which is something I think we tend to forget. We can’t focus on the task in front of us all the time. We’re not machines, and we don’t have an inexhaustible supply of concentration. Especially at the moment, when focus seems harder and harder to come by for all of us. We need to let our minds wander in different directions, to take in things that aren’t necessarily useful or relevant, but are merely interesting. It’s a way to let our minds reset, to let the subconscious do a little tinkering while we take a breather.

Of course, not all rabbit holes are equal. It’s far too easy to find ourselves scrolling and scrolling and scrolling on social media without really seeing any of it, or taking a quiz that tells us what dessert is our soulmate, or just meandering from one link to another without gaining anything from it. And it seems to me that if we’re going to be distracted anyway, it should serve us in some way, be that entertainment, or learning, or even giving us something we can use later, like a plan to try a meal or a workout.

And with that to justify myself, I shall share my current favourites below. There’s a definite emphasis on food and fitness, so I suppose we can call that balance …?

I give you full permission to be distracted by this post.

The Guardian – lifestyle & foodie stuff

So The Guardian is my go-to for news, as they generally have good coverage internationally and lots of interesting opinion pieces. But they also do an excellent line in travel, health-type stuff, and some very odd columns which are often pretty entertaining. Their Lifestyle page is a good place to lose some time.

My Meera Sodha cookbooks are a mess of post-its, and I’ve only had about one miss from all of the recipes I’ve tried out of them. She does a regular column called The New Vegan which has some really lovely dishes – never too complicated, either.

Felicity Cloake writes “How to Cook the Perfect …”, which should really be “How To Create the Perfect Foodie Rabbit Hole”. In each column she tests out several recipes for the same dish, then amalgamates them to create her perfect version. Very nicely, she also links to the original dishes, so if you prefer the sound of any of them, you can just pop over and use that recipe instead. I have definitely lost several hours reading about testing things I have no intentions of ever cooking.

distractions, kim m watt, writing, writer's life, creativity, focus

BBC – culture, futures & food

The BBC is my secondary news site, as again it has good international coverage. But they also have a lot of other stuff going on, both linked to the news site and as separate sites. Their Culture pages tend to have a lot of interesting articles, and for some fascinating longer reads their Futures page has everything from technology to health. The Travel page is also brilliant – less destination guides, more thoughtful pieces on unusual places.

BBC Good Food is a really good recipe site – but not to be confused with BBC Food, which also has excellent recipe collections. I’ve yet to figure out why there are two or what the difference is between them, but I often use them for ideas, as there are many W.I.-worthy dishes on their pages.

distractions, kim m watt, writing, writer's life, creativity, focus

For pure distraction

If you haven’t come across the Cake Wrecks site yet, then I recommend you discover it immediately. It’s a very funny collection of professional cakes that have gone terribly, terribly wrong, and it makes even me feel pretty happy about my shocking cake decorating skills.

The Oatmeal is the home of comics and games by Matthew Inman. They veer from bizarre yet relatable, to thought-provoking and touching, right on to fascinating and informative. They’re often gross, regularly foul-mouthed, and I will happily lose hours on his site. There’s also a free game you can pop on your phone called Kitty Letter, which is the only game I ever play. It’s completely weird and I love it.

distractions, kim m watt, writing, writer's life, creativity, focus
Apparently not …

Educational but also hilarious

These are only for those who don’t mind copious quantities of bad language. The Oatmeal is mild in comparison.

If, however, you have no problems with some liberal and inventive swearing, James Fell writes the Sweary History newsletter (he has a free tier on Substack). He also has a book out, and on Facebook shares a daily ‘Today in Sweary History’ post. He used to write fitness stuff which was also really interesting – practical and science-based rather than faddy.

Scibabe (Yvette d’Entremont) is the science equivalent of Sweary History. Her Daily Moment of Science posts on Facebook are always hilarious, often terrifying, and regularly gross. I love them, and also subscribe to her on Patreon (she doesn’t have a free tier, but you can read free on Facebook).

distractions, kim m watt, writing, writer's life, creativity, focus
Frequent reaction to both those columns.

Fitness things because movement matters

Movement is as vital to me as chocolate and tea. If I don’t do something almost every day I start getting scratchy, and my head gets even more distractible. And while I have, in the past, been both a personal trainer and a yoga teacher, I prefer someone else telling me what to do, because then I don’t have to think about it. But not in person, because ew, people.

I do subscribe to some sites by the people below, but these links are all to their free stuff on Youtube:

  • Ali Kamenova Yoga. I’ve been doing her videos for about ten years now, if not more. She mixes up gentler yoga flows with interval yoga, strength, and lots of lovely fluid movement. She has great ‘Coffee Cup’ sessions which give a quick workout in a short time frame.
  • Mill Hoy. Another one whose videos I’ve been doing for a fair while. Great interval training workouts for all levels (as well as having specific videos for different levels he also gives good modifications in all workouts). I can’t stand overly hyper or shouty trainers, and he has a fantastic manner.
  • Bodyweight Warrior. I discovered these vids in the first lockdown in the UK. They’re lovely calm workouts, all about strength building and mobility. Look for the At Home playlists for full bodyweight workouts using just chairs and something to pull up on (I used the end of a dining table). There’s also an app with a lot of free workouts on it, and I tend to use that rather than Youtube for these now.
  • GMB Fitness. My latest discovery! More bodyweight work, but a bit more emphasis on functional movement rather than just strength. They have some great mobility vids, but not a lot of full-length follow ons on Youtube.
distractions, kim m watt, writing, writer's life, creativity, focus
Also this.

Now over to you, lovely people. Do you allow yourself space for distraction? And what’s distracting you in a good way at the moment? Let me know in the comments!

distraction, focus, life, mental health, self care, writer's life, writing

  1. Jan Noga says:

    So, I was sitting here having a little snack, enjoying a cup of Harney’s Paris tea (if you haven’t had it yet, it’s lovely – black tea, caramel, vanilla, and bergamot – heaven in a cup), checking my email. What’s this? New distractions from Kim!…[time passes]…Yes, Cake Wrecks did me in. As addictive as cat videos. Speaking of which, someone on our neighborhood forum put out a call for help the other day. Her cat was up a tree – like way up – a good 50-75 feet – and wasn’t coming down. He’d been there for 24 hours and she was desperately looking for advice. Lots of the standard suggestions, none of which had worked. I suggested she call the tree company I use because they have climbers – like serious climbers who compete internationally (who knew there were tree climbing competitions?). Well, the neighbor just posted again. She called them and Ian went out (I know Ian – he’s climbed all my trees at one time or another when they need shaping up). He rescued said kitty and did it all on volunteer duty. Awesome end to local kitty adventures. Attention span of a hamster – yep, sounds about right. I’m supposed to be vacuuming right now – guess I need to think about getting back to that now. Sigh…

    1. Kim says:

      I will quite honestly use any available distraction to avoid vacuuming, so I’m glad that my blog was able to serve as a delaying tactic, if nothing else! And I’m so glad there was a happy end to the tree-cat tale – that’s such a long time for the poor thing to be stuck. I was always worried about that happening to the Little Furry Muse, as I had to lift her out of smaller trees several times because apparently coming down is a lot harder than coming up. But well done Ian – and so lovely for him to do it on a volunteer basis! It reminds you that there are good people and good stories in the world still. ❤️

  2. Ginger Lancaster says:

    Yep I resemble the attention of a hamster remark, and information on everything is so readily available, sooo many rabbit holes to explore. Good thing i don’t have any kind of partner, cuz they would just cramp my style

    1. Kim says:

      The internet is both wonderful and terrible for that – so much information that can be so easily access, but also so much information that we really don’t need but just can’t resist …!

  3. Glen Day says:

    I had a cat once, who had had kittens, as cats do.deed, and had her own. One day, as my husband and I and momma cat sat on the porch, her daughter was teaching the kittens to climb a tree, except some of the kittens were having real trouble with this tree. Mama cat got so frustrated watching, she charges off the porch, dashed up the tree, looked at the kittens she’d passed (I’m sure she went over one or two of them!), and then raced down the tree and back to the porch, glaring all the way! Did the kittens learn? I can’t really remember, but I think one or two came down and said they didn’t want to climb anyway!

    1. Kim says:

      Aw, that’s a lovely story! And I can just picture your older cat walking away with a ‘and that’s how you do it swagger to her tail …

  4. reeder77 says:

    Diversions. Gor. I get so diverted sometimes that my entire email letter, which could have been, had I stayed on point, finished in five lines, instead of the thirty it wound up to be. Not to mention chasing down references, checking items mentioned in Ophir postings, or looking up words to check meanings (what DOES calumny mean, dictionary-wise?) and the first thing I know, I’ve been looking for (and up) items for four hours. Way to spend the day, Glen! Still, it keeps me out of the garden tasks I would otherwise be doing!

    1. Kim says:

      I mean, the garden will wait, right? And it’s important to have the correct words, and not nearly-correct ones, and facts must be checked, and … yes, I can absolutely talk myself into everything being less distraction and more important tasks!

  5. becky43 says:

    I need to do laundry- oh new book! Just checking my email- oh, look click bait! Wait I was going to look up *thing*, found *thing* but it’s on you tube and look a video of cats! or another stamping technique! or bears! or more cats!
    Yes, I embrace the SQUIRREL. Like Jack Skellington sometimes I am the Queen of ADHD. (What’s THIS??)

    1. Kim says:

      Ha, yes! This sounds VERY familiar 😁

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