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What is attention residue and why does it matter for operations?

Published: February 12, 2016

Have you ever been working hard at a task at work for an hour or two, and then had to switch to another job – for whatever reason – and subsequently found it difficult (or impossible!) to find your stride again, and pick up the pace in completing the new job? It’s a familiar feeling for many, and there’s a reason why we feel that way.

Research from Sophie Leroy published in the academic journal, ‘Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes’ suggests that perhaps you are still mentally processing the first task you were doing and suffering from a phenomenon known as ‘attention residue’.

Even though it’s a very common situation we sometimes encounter in our working lives, the resultant inability to focus and concentrate from constant task switching can really hamper workforce productivity. We become mentally engrossed in a task, and find it difficult to focus on the next task when we eventually have to start it.

Companies who have employees working on multiple projects, jobs, or tasks simultaneously – such as the construction and manufacturing industries – frequently find themselves suffering from the negative effects of ‘attention residue’ and are particularly at risk from its effects.

University professor and author of ‘Deep Work: Rules for focused success in a distracted world’, Cal Newport suggests the idea and formula for producing great work is as follows:

high quality work produced = (time spent) x (intensity of focus)

In many cases, measuring the time spent on tasks is easy, but the other part of it, intensity of focus, can potentially be improved through proper management, proper work design and proper task allocation. All these can have a positive influence on individual employee performance by allowing staff the luxury of being able to focus in more on what they’re doing.

For further information on measuring time spent on tasks, please visit: https://mitrefinch.com.au/all-solutions/time-and-attendance/

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