In workplaces throughout the world, scenarios of near-constant distraction have become the norm. Thankfully, our ability to focus is still salvageable. As a result of the vast amount of neuroscience research being done, there’s now hard ev idence about what attention is, how it works, how to attain it and how to use it productively. By delving into the findings, Steelcase researchers have gained new insights into how our brains shape thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and then applied this new science to create concepts for how thoughtfully designed workplaces can help workers better manage their attention and think better at work.
No matter how interested you are in this article, you probably won’t finish reading it right now, especially if you’re at work.
Yet another urgent text will come in, you’ll get a string of new email alerts, you’ll overhear a colleague at the next workstation mention your name during a video conference so you’ll turn your attention to what that’s all about, you’ll still be trying to catch up on your emails when your boss will stop by to ask about that proposal you’ve been trying to finish all week, which will prompt you to go online to browse for some more information and then, since you’re online anyway and didn’t take a lunch break and starting to feel really resentful about the impossible amount of the work you’re expected to do and how hard it is to focus, you’ll stop off at Facebook and notice that today is the birthday of your best friend from college, so you’ll read the 73 messages she’s received so far and then decide, what the heck, you’ll give her a call while you’re still catching up on email and then, before you know it, you’re almost late for your third meeting of the day and feeling more stressed than ever, so you’ll get a large black coffee with an extra shot of espresso and try to work on the proposal during the meeting.
TOO MUCH INFORMATION
Scenarios of near-constant distraction at work have become the norm versus the exception for most people today. It’s well said that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and most workers are now living that mental skirmish every day. At the same time that we’re drowning in information, we’re also expected to process it faster, getting to insights, recommendations, decisions or at least next steps rapidly. In minds as cluttered as a scrap yard, we scramble to find something that will “make do,” responding to the pressure for action.
It’s well said that a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and most workers are now living that mental skirmish every day.
Yet, we long to be more effective at our jobs. We keep telling ourselves: Just be more focused, just work harder. But, in reality, no matter how hard we try, our brains just don’t work that way. While our higher-level cognitive skills distinguish us from other mammals, being attuned to what’s going on around us is also embedded in our evolution, a key to survival. This means that today’s way of working has become a Catch 22: We’re taking our natural inclination to be distracted and training our brains to be even more so.
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