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attention management

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Attention management is an area of endeavor seeking to optimize the way people allocate their limited capacity for focused mental engagement. The area grew out of attention economics, the application of economic principles to the study of how humans deal with with the overwhelming amount of information vying for their attention.

The intention of attention management is finding ways to address problems including:

  • The limitations of people’s cognitive capacities.
  • Interruptions, such as notifications, texts, phone calls and emails.
  • Information overload: The unmanageable number of pieces of information brought to people’s attention.
  • Multitasking: The attempt to divide attention between multiple tasks rather than dedicating one’s focus.

To some extent, people can expand their capacity for attention. Attention training techniques can help people maintain focus on the issue at hand, concentrate more effectively, procrastinate less and make better decisions in less time.

Nevertheless, however optimized a person's capacity, attention is a limited commodity -- and the events and the amount of information competing for our attention are ever-increasing. At the individual level, attention management begins with self-awareness about an individual's cognitive processes and habits (See: metacognition) to reduce impediments to attention and encourage better situations and habits. The next step is to control exposure to information and interruptions for times when tasks need to be completed. Shutting off notifications for various communications channels, such as social media and websites and turning off phones can prevent unnecessary intrusions.

From a business perspective, attention management efforts include workspace and interface design, as well as policies for email, social media and personal technology use.

This was last updated in May 2019

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