Getting the basics right – why attention is so important

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A couple of weeks ago, in my blog Get the Basics Right First, I talked about the executive functions of your brain.



You’ll find more about that this today. The next executive function is attention.


Several years ago I met one of the key people in this field, Michael Posner. I was introducing his lecture on his research on that topic. One of the very interesting things he’s been doing is identifying if three key aspects of attention:


  • Alerting
  • Orientation (or reacting)
  • Conflict network


are carried out by specific parts of your brain. From his research it looks as though they are.



This is your brain’s ability to alert you to new inputs. You may well have seen the film “Shaun of the Dead”, the spoof 2004 Zombie film staring Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. During one scene, Shaun (Simon Pegg) wanders to his local paper shop to pick up a drink.
He passes by the assortment of various zombies, dead bodies and smears of blood that festoon his short journey there and back. You could say his altering system was not working at 100% that day.



This is your ability to move your attention from one task to another.  Now that doesn’t mean your ability to be distracted, it means making a decision to move from one area to another.


If you have ever seen a classic James Bond car chase, you will remember that there are lots of things going on. Usually there parts of the chase involving travelling in areas other than the normal highway, so he has to pay attention to the new obstacles in his path. Almost always there is a stretch involving driving the wrong way down the highway or avoiding other oncoming vehicles.


This involves James re-orienting his attention with great rapidity.


Conflict network

There are times when different stimuli are all vying for attention. The report you have to complete, the email that has just arrived in your inbox and the coffee aroma that is calling you to take a break. And then there’s watching that trailer to the film you want to see.
This is the network in your brain that decides which one should get your attention. This is a different job to orienting your attention. You know you should be finishing that report, but the email is much more interesting….


Impact of poor attention

Can you think of people who are good at all this and those who are not? I bet you can. Those who are easily distracted and waste time on the wrong tasks are the ones with the problems. And if you are constantly hopping from one activity to another; “multi-tasking” this is also bad news. Here’s why.


Why multi-tasking is a problem


Research by RD Rogers RD S Monsell identified that people who were ‘multi-tasking’ made about four times more errors than those who were not.


As though that’s not enough, if you keep swapping tasks (in other words interrupting your key task) it takes up to 50% longer to complete the key task (not including the interruption time).


This is because your brain is a ‘sequential processor’ – it does not process in parallel. So every time you do more than one thing at once, you are not really doing that. You are stopping one task, moving your attention to another and focussing on that. Then you are doing the same thing again when you move back again.


Time Management Made Easy

To get help with one of the most annoying problems we all face; interruptions; get my booklet “Time Management Made Easy”. You will find tips 77-90 are dedicated to interruptions and cover two different ways of dealing with them.
Reactive ways of dealing with them, on how to make them less time-consuming and proactive techniques. The proactive techniques stop you getting them in the first place.

Or get the recording of my teleseminar  on Time Management.

This workshop is unlike any other in the field. As always, it is specially tailored for you and your people. However, each individual workshop is tailored for the particular delegates on that workshop.


Not only do they practice their skills on the workshop – they also learn how to plan and keep to time by running the workshop themselves. They will be surprised and delighted to find out how easy it is.


Typical topics on one of these half-day workshops include:

  • Prioritisation
  • Planning
  • Dealing with interruptions
  • Saying “No”
  • How to work with disorganised people
  • Dealing with too many emails
  • Staying motivated
  • Organising others
  • Delegation


To find out how it can help you contact us now.

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  • Vinehouse Teleseminar Time Management Recording Feb 2010

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