4 Ways to Boost Attention Intelligence (AQ) in the Workplace

As more workplaces continue to shift focus from intelligence quotient (IQ) to emotional intelligence (EQ), a much more formidable opponent in the ongoing fight for optimal performance, productivity and engagement remains fairly unopposed. The aggressive rise of technologies constantly demanding our attention and focus is changing the way we interact and relate. Consequently, attention quotient (AQ) is becoming just as important as IQ and EQ in determining professional and organizational success.

Focused man working on a laptop in a brightly lit cafe.AQ represents our ability to pay and sustain attention. Without discipline, environmental factors can make our IQ and EQ irrelevant. Developing our attention span allows us to give people and problems at work the necessary focus. Researchers have identified cognitive and environmental control as being the two primary drivers for AQ.

The prefrontal cortex is primarily responsible for cognitive control. Consequently, improvement in this area is an inside job. This means that the individual is the only one who can make an appreciable difference here. However, the amount a person attempts to multitask does have an effect on cognitive control. PLOS ONE research indicates that individuals who partake in heavier media multitasking have less cognitive control.

While organizations can encourage employees to work on their cognitive control skills, they have far more control over environmental factors. Noisy, open spaces, collaborative tools, meetings and notifications all create distractions and decrease AQ.

Here are four ways to boost AQ by controlling external distractions.

1. Address Open Spaces

AQ millennial workers collaborative workspaces enjoyable workplace

Space has a direct impact on our attention space. One of the most prevalent recent space trends is the open-space office. While open spaces enhance collaboration and teamwork, they are often detrimental to concentration. University of California, Irving professor Gloria Mark indicates that it takes more than 23 minutes on average to regain concentration following an interruption. To create a sense of balance in these collaborative spaces, you may want to consider using private work pods to create spaces that encourage deep work and focus.

2. Regulate Notifications

Applications like email, Facebook, Slack and LinkedIn all pressure users to push notifications to facilitate immediacy in communication. However, these notifications fragment our attention with continual interruptions and contribute to addictive behaviors. People now expect fast response times on electronic communication channels. Like open spaces, this is great for collaboration but detrimental to personal productivity. In 2011, one French IT company actually banned email to cut out the distraction from the workday. A more practical approach is to schedule “do not disturb” periods in the day to help encourage more focus and deeper work.

3. Balance Task Switching

A great deal of frequent context and task switching stems from management misallocating tasks and duties. When management assigns a worker too many tasks, they need to switch context too often, fragmenting focus. The fewer switches throughout the day, the more an individual can focus on the task at hand. However, this is not to suggest that all workers should only have one task, because this also would be harmful to productivity. Just try to incorporate some balance.

4. Use Technology Aids in Meetings

While meetings are necessary, they can often be taxing to our productivity. Furthermore, many workers try to multitask during meetings, compounding the problem. While employees intend to use their laptops only to take notes, many quickly start also replying to emails and attending to other work items rather than focusing on the meeting at hand. Consider using note-taking apps that use artificial intelligence (AI) to free participants from taking notes or even skip the meeting altogether. Following meetings, employees can revisit and review meeting highlights and notes.

Attention is one of the most precious resources a company has. Without it, intelligence, talent and skill cease to have any appreciable meaning. However, by proactively addressing the issue and implementing the appropriate measures, you can raise the AQ of your workforce and gain their undivided (or less divided) attention.

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