Nowadays, we are bombarded with an enormous amount of information, which constantly tests our attention capabilities to the limit. Finding the right information in this vast amount of information can sometimes seem like looking for a needle in a haystack. However, our brains still helps us to distinguish relevant from irrelevant information, which enables us to complete tasks that at first glance may appear impossible. Attention skills play a major role in this, but what is attention?
What is attention?
Attention can be thought of as a torch that illuminates only what you are focusing on at that moment. But attention does not only focus on one thing, it also suppresses all competing information and influences the perception of all stimuli around us. Remember Waldo? You shine your attention like a spotlight over a large picture full of stimuli until it falls on Waldo.
As you read this, there are countless sights, sounds and sensations around you. The pressure of your feet against the ground, the sight of the street from a nearby window, the soft warmth of your shirt, the memory of a conversation you had earlier with a friend. All these factors compete for your attention, but only the most relevant reaches consciousness.
Multitasking is a myth
Attention is limited, it has a limit. However, we often want to convince ourselves (and others) that we are multitasking heroes. That we can race down the motorway at 120km/h while sending a text message and simultaneously touching up our make-up in the rear-view mirror. However, research shows that multitasking does not really exist and is ‘just’ an attention switching technique. Some people will be better at it than others, but multitasking always results in lower efficiency and costs more energy. Since attention is a limited resource, we must be selective about what we focus on and what we ignore.
Attention in the workplace
What does your performance on attention say about how you perform in a work environment? Attention is an important building block for skills such as decision-making, operational speed, accuracy, perseverance and self-reflection. People who score high on attention tasks will be able to act more quickly and accurately in situations where a lot of information is available. They are also able to maintain a constant level of production over long periods of time and are relatively good at judging which behaviour is appropriate in a given situation and which is not. Attention can be seen as an important factor in determining a person’s suitability for a particular job and it provides us with a great deal of insight into the energy with which people will focus on a task and can shut themselves off from internal or external stimuli. With these insights, we can sometimes, with minor adjustments to the context, ensure that people can do their work with more attention and energy.
“You know my methods, Watson”
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective from the 19/20th -century stories of writer and physician Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The character of Sherlock Holmes has become one of the most famous characters in the world. Holmes is best known for his intelligence and his ability to draw important conclusions from small, often meaningless clues. For his extraordinary detective skills, we assume that Holmes (although a fictional character) would have had extremely high attention skills, considering that he was able to pay attention to any clue, no matter how small or meaningless it seemed to others in a sea of information.
Do you want to know if your employees have the same attention skills as a real Sherlock? Or do you want to know more about brain skills like attention, and how measuring cognitive skills can improve selection and development for your employees? Schedule a meeting with us or register for our Masterclass Hocus Focus and learn how you can optimize your focus and attention!
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