Attention Bubble


Life often demands that we give our attention to unpleasant things. Like smoke that contaminates the air we breathe, sometimes the best strategy, when we can’t avoid it, is to contain it.

WHY do it?

When we need to deal with a prolonged and potentially unpleasant matter, the extent to which this triggers negative emotions and negatively impacts your life is strongly influenced by the amount of attention we give to it. For example, consider doing your critical admin or accounts, moving home,  looking for a new job, going through a divorce, etc.

It also depends of course on the type of attention we give it – the perspective we hold. Here we are concerned solely with the amount of attention and limiting the extent to which that impinges on the rest of our daily life. In this way, we maintain balance, optimise our performance and maximise our wellbeing, day-to-day.

In summary: “Minimise the blast radius.”

WHAT is it?

The notion of an “attention bubble” aka “Zoom-In Bubble” is that we place bounds around our attention to a particular thing. Bounds in time and space. So we decide when and where we should be paying attention to it. The rest of the time we can free our minds and attention to focus on other things.

Attention is like breathing life into something. Deprive it of air and it’s not alive. Like a flame that burns, deprive it of oxygen and the flame goes out.

HOW to do it

Here’s how to put this tool to use.

1. Be clear about the goal

First of all be clear about the goal. The goal may evolve but you should have a strong sense of how important it is, any time constraints and the approach you need to take.

What’s the value of achieving the goal?

What’s the impact of not achieving the goal?

How will you know when you are done?

Writing down your goal with a set of “success criteria” or “done criteria” is a really good way to check and help get clarity.

This will ensure it only gets the amount of attention it deserves. And ensure it gets attention in time if there are time constraints.

2. Identify steps, especially the first step


3. Create the Bubble – constrain your attention to a time and place 

…. Pick and create an effective time and place to pay attention to it.

… Timebox to a time each day or week or whatever works.

4. Protect your Bubble

… Don’t allow any other distractions during timebox.

… Outside timebox forget about it.

5. Maintain your Bubble

… Set a reminder so you don’t forget.


Be mindful of your email, chat and social media usage. Might they pop your attention bubble? Email and social media are slippery attention slides… they can easily distract us and take us off down rabbit holes when we would rather not.

Here’s a tip for email for example.

In gmail (Google mail), you can create a label to represent a bubble, e.g. “House-move”. Then you can create a filter to match any emails relating to this topic or from associated people, and set matching emails to be labelled with “House-move” and also crucially, to bypass your inbox as they arrive. This is paramount to bypassing your attention – at least until the relevant time. Hey presto, you don’t get distracted by these messages when checking your inbox for other reasons. And when you are in your “House move” attention bubble, process the emails under this label and deal with them there and then only.