Focus and Concentration - 25 October 2011
Some magic tricks are truly staggering, like this one from a contestant on America's Got Talent. Most people could watch it a hundred times and still be unable to explain how the magician makes it happen.
One technique used by magicians is something called misdirection, which is a series of choreographed moves that divert the spectators' attention elsewhere. For example, a magician might roll up his sleeves and say "nothing up my sleeves" before miraculously producing a white dove. This gets the audience to focus on his sleeves while they conveniently ignore the real spot where the dove is actually hidden.
There are many ways in which magicians incorporate misdirection into their performance. They use humour so that spectators are distracted by laughter. They bring an unimportant large prop on stage because its dominance disguises a smaller gesture he does not want you to see. Even the use of a magic wand is there for just one purpose: misdirection.
Misdirection works because the mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time. (That's why it's difficult for people to multitask. Many people think they can do it well, but studies prove it's not possible. Multi-taskers just end up doing both tasks in a substandard way.)
Often, in their attempts to get employees to focus, managers offer more direction or clearer direction, both of which are worthwhile exercises. But sometimes what's required for a greater level of focus is misdirection, which means doing certain things that guide your employees' concentration where you want it. Here are seven suggestions:
- Minimise trivial disruptions, such as email alerts and instant messages, because it takes 14 minutes to regain high productivity after every unnecessary interruption.
- Enforce meaningful disruptions, such as short breaks and opportunities to reflect and stretch, so that employees' energy levels are replenished.
- Some of us are morning people; others are afternoon people. If you can, let employees work at times when their circadian rhythms are at their most switched on.
- Develop an attractive visual representation that displays your most pressing goal and the progress made towards it. Update it daily.
- Implement a clear desk policy to keep workstations tidy. And implement a clear mind policy by giving employees the space to vent and share ideas.
- Provide employees with to-do lists and training on how to prioritise tasks. Clarity comes when clutter in the head is written down.
- Hand out brain food during lethargic periods, such as mixed nuts (which are great for mental clarity) and chocolate (which improves concentration).
It's all worth a try, because when you get an entire team focused, magic happens.
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