“Oh Look! A Shiny New Idea!” – A Tale of Tangents
Photo courtesy of jenny downing.

“Oh Look! A Shiny New Idea!” – A Tale of Tangents

Written by Bev Webb

Topics: Multipotentialite Patterns, Productivity

OK, so I had this project planned, and when I say planned, I mean planned. From previous experience I know if I don’t put a plan in place some things never happen. And I wanted this one to happen.

The project I had in mind was one I was really excited about. I’d been thinking about doing some sculptural casting for weeks and had made the effort to gather all the materials ready for a weekend of experimentation.

  • Casting plaster? Check.
  • Modelling clay? Check.
  • Sculpting tools? Check.
  • Date in my diary? Check
  • Excited about making a start? Check.

I think it was fair to say I had this project nailed down and ready to go.

So how was it that on the Saturday morning in question, instead of finding myself at the workbench in my studio, I ended up browsing sari and scarf fabrics in my local Asian fabric store?

Any ideas? No, me neither. All I know is that, on this particular day, going to the fabric store felt far more important than what I had originally planned. I had gone off, as they say, on a bit of a tangent. Well, maybe not just a bit. It was quite a large tangent, if truth be told.

The fabric store was just the beginning though, as, having acquired several meters of fabric and various haberdashery goodies, I returned home to drag my sewing machine out of storage.

I talked in a recent post about how to deal with interests you regularly fall in and out of love with. For me, one of these hobbies is dressmaking.

I can honestly say I haven’t used my sewing machine in three or more years. In that time it’s been happily gathering dust under a table in my studio, so perhaps it shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that when I tried to start it, I found it had completely seized up.

As a multipotentialite I have a fascination with how things work.

It was only a matter of minutes before I’d located a suitable screwdriver and had whipped off most of the machine’s outer casing. “I’m sure I can fix this,” I thought to myself, “I mean how hard can it be?”

I fired up the laptop and began trawling YouTube for tutorials on sewing machine maintenance. A quick trip back to the fabric store to purchase some machine oil, a little lubrication of some key moving parts, and an hour later the machine was running like a dream.

That’s when I started rummaging through my collection of old sewing patterns and Google-ing instructions on inserting darts and finishing seams. As you can probably tell by now, the original project I had planned for the day was left well and truly behind.

Learning To Embrace Distractions

My day wasn’t exactly going as I had planned, but I was having a really good time.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for spontaneity and going with the flow, but this was one day I had something planned. It genuinely was something I wanted to do, so I couldn’t even put my journey off on a tangent down to procrastination and displacement activities.

I had been subject to a classic case of pluralist distraction, as I had disappeared off after a shiny new idea.

I guess I’m getting rather used to this happening, as it’s not the first time and I’m pretty darned sure it won’t be the last one either. What has changed though is my approach to dealing with it.

In the past I would have gotten very frustrated and berated myself for my lack of focus. I’ve kind of mellowed a bit in recent times though, probably because I’m getting better at recognizing the patterns that my pluralism takes.

Clearly the dressmaking was something that had ignited my inspiration on this particular day, so instead of trying to suppress it, I allowed myself the time to enjoy it. I think that’s definitely progress and I’m proud that I was able to recognize the distraction for what it was and work with it rather than fight against it.

Over to you!

Have you got a story of going off on a tangent that you’d like to share? How do you deal with distraction when it strikes?

bevBev is an artist, creativity coach and founder of Kickass Creatives, a website offering practical support to frustrated creatives. She’s over 20 years of working in the arts: experimenting with everything from performing in a fire circus and managing a hiphop dance company, through to web consultancy and jewellery design. Bev is passionate about using her experience to enable others to fully develop (rather than hide) their multitude of talents too. Connect with her on Twitter @creativekickass.


  1. Nela says:

    This happens to me all the time. Honestly I don’t know if it’s good or bad to run off with a different idea like that, I often feel guilty for not doing what I originally intended, especially when I have a self imposed deadline that I keep postponing.

    I would say that it’s not a big deal for a person who does what she planned most of the time and occasionally slips up. But since I’m doing it way more often than not, I’m not so sure.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hey Nela!

      I don’t think it’s any bad thing to let yourself away on tangents from time to time.

      It can take a lot of energy to bring ourselves back to focus on the original plan. If that tangent is really so appealing, is better to put that energy into following it, rather than stopping it?

      Like you say, I totally agree though that if it’s all tangents and not much else, that’s another consideration. I guess if that’s the case, it’s probably worth re-evaluating what you’re supposed to be doing!! :)

  2. Jon says:

    Hi Bev,

    Timely you posted this, as I dropped by Puttylike just now, looking for tips on how to focus!

    It’s interesting you work WITH your distractions, just going with that impulse as it comes up. I try not to, only because I know my original plans won’t get done otherwise. I instead like to jot down the distraction idea, as it comes up, while doing my other work, and then come back to the distraction later, either to explore some more, or to go do as a reward for completing my other stuff. It’s tricky though, and takes me A LOT of strength not to get pulled in by that distraction. But the distraction has to play second for me; I’ve been there when it hasn’t and it doesn’t feel good.

    • Bev Webb says:

      Hi Jon

      Hehe, sounds like perfect timing for you to drop by!

      I don’t always go with the tangents, and most of the time in the past I’ve tried to wrangle for control and get back to the plan. I had been wondering though, what would happen if I just went along with them sometimes? I was surprised that it’s actually worked out pretty well.

      I really admire your will-power and strength in holding them back – that takes some doing!! I think it’s probably all a question of each of us finding the right balance of what works best for us – that one size thing never does fit all! :)

  3. Shelly says:

    Reading this article is actually the 4th (or 5th?) tangent in the last few hours, for me, lol I started off joining that website LibraryThing, then I needed to search YouTube for some tutorials for it, somehow I ended up on Facebook (which I’m trying to avoid) and ended up reading 2 articles about a movie someone posted, and I forgot I had this tab open so now I’m finally getting to this, and it is SO fitting right now, lol I have this problem every minute of every day. I actually scheduled out my week so that I had set times to do certain things, right now I’m actually supposed to be learning a new recipe, but I haven’t gotten off the internet in 3 hours, lol Opps! I won’t beat myself up about it because at least I’m having fun and going with the flow!

  4. tim prosser says:

    I definitely have shiny object syndrome. I am in my 5th career as a project manager/planner for a huge corporation, too, which seems like an automatic conflict with my multipod-ness, but it actually works well since I have a _lot_ of diverse knowledge from my previous 4 careers. Project management also leads me to make the effort to, after a period of following tangents, corral myself and direct my energies back in the direction of my original plan or goal.
    By allowing sufficient slack time in my schedule (essentially over-estimating the time to complete tasks) I cope with my tangential nature, giving myself time to follow the tangents while still getting the original goals accomplished, often including some extra ones I identified while on the “sidetracks”. I also use alarms, timers, and other reminders to keep my main pursuits on track. I try to accept my nature and adapt to it, and life continues to be extremely interesting!
    Embrace your multipodness, I say, but accept the implications and plan for time to follow those tangents that capture your attention. It all adds up to a better and happier you.

  5. Isabel says:

    Pretty much describes my every waking moment, LOL

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