Could “Continuous Partial Attention” Affect Your Business?
  • Could “Continuous Partial Attention” Affect Your Business?

    Could “Continuous Partial Attention” Affect Your Business?

    While the term “continuous partial attention” was coined by writer Linda Stone all the way back in 1998, it seems particularly on point for today’s world, nearly two decades later.

    The phrase refers to those moments when you are engaging with a number of information sources simultaneously—but at only a superficial level. It doesn’t take much to recognize the state of continuous partial attention, or CPA, in ourselves and others. It’s when you’re checking your phone while watching television and (barely) carrying on a conversation with someone in the room; when you’re doing a task on your work computer while reading text messages or instant messaging with one or more colleagues or friends. You might be checking on a client’s social media page while working on another client’s project. Most of us have been there. In fact, whether we’re willing to admit it or not, most of us are in a state of CPA for the better part of the day.

    Continuous Partial Attention at Work

    This perpetual distraction can have a negative impact on the workplace and on the quality of work produced.

    While it seems normal now—even necessary, some would argue—that everyone has chat windows and social media sites up while working, along with a smartphone sitting within arm’s reach at all times, more and more studies are finding that we are losing the focus and concentration required to be truly productive.

    “It has become clear that we are at our best if we can devote 90 minute blocks of uninterrupted time where we can focus deeply on an activity,” says leadership and productivity writer David Taylor.  “Any interrupts during this period of time can cause significant inefficiency to our thoughts and work process. It is estimated that it takes at least 3 minutes to recover from each interrupt and get back to our original train of thought. If this is the case, in a 90 minute window if we are interrupted by 15 things…we would literally waste 45 minutes out of the 90 minute block (and this does not count the time that you might take to actually respond to the interrupts). This means that at best we would be working at about a 50% productivity rate!”

    Many employees might argue that they can be productive with several tabs open and while engaging in multiple conversations in addition to answering emails and phone calls. But it’s clear that this is rarely the case. CPA can lead to errors, miscommunication, and missed opportunities.

    How to Combat Distraction in the Workplace

    So how can we keep employees focused in a society that expects everyone to be “on” the network all the time? If you don’t see CPA has a major issue at your company, perhaps a casually-worded guideline about staying on task and keeping personal internet activity separate from work would be sufficient.

    But if you see a number of employees texting, surfing the web, and having personal conversations over IM, you know that you are losing productivity—and for most businesses, decreased productivity means decreased revenue.

    Some companies have put policies in place that limit personal use of cell phones and the internet. A good example is in this article in Entrepreneur. If you decide to enact such a policy in your company, introduce it by emphasizing how it will benefit the team as a whole. Increased focus = more work done during work hours = less need to do work in off hours. Encourage your employees to see the policy as a way to build a stronger team.

    If you are looking for ways to keep remote employees engaged and connected with smart IT support, contact Solvere One.