Many distractions of the ‘attention economy’

Retro 1971  Sea Griffin March 5 1971  old ref number 5500''   The 26,000-ton products tanker Sea Griffin.
Retro 1971 Sea Griffin March 5 1971 old ref number 5500'' The 26,000-ton products tanker Sea Griffin.
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Does a four-day week lead to greater productivity? New Zealand-based financial advisory firm Perpetual Guardian say they experienced a 20 per cent increase after an eight-week trial of the system. They also cite improved profits, enhanced well-being, reduced stress and increased engagement among their 240 staff.

Results such as these will no doubt encourage other companies to try it for themselves. However, the varying demands of different occupations, lead many people to believe a four-day week is not practical for every workplace. It is also important to state that not every experiment of this kind has yielded such positive results.

But what can we learn from Perpetual Guardian’s success that might be implemented across the board? In an interview with the Guardian newspaper Tammy Barker, a branch manager who was part of the Perpetual Guardian trial, explained how the firm ensured that the full-time introduction of the policy did not lead to complacency and reduced productivity among its team members.

She said: “We’ve spent a lot of time making sure every person in every team has their own plan as to how they’re going to maintain and even improve their productivity.”

After reading this I wondered why Perpetual Guardian had not given their staff this type of training when they were working five days a week. Companies do not have to switch to a four-day week to help their people to be more productive. At Tougher Minds, we regularly work with people in businesses to increase productivity and successful outcomes.

Regardless of how many days of the week we work, productivity is probably more challenging than ever before. This is because we live in what is called ‘the attention economy’. In other words, our personal attention is a precious commodity. For example, the internet is funded largely by advertising so technology companies need our attention to make money. In fact, former president of Facebook, Sean Parker, suggested that their primary objective was to work out: “How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible… by exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology?” And a former Google executive stated that: “Silicon Valley’s central mission is to interrupt our every waking thought.”

This constant barrage of emails, texts, Whatsapp messages, and interruptions from other social media and devices means that very often it can take 25 minutes to do a job that could have been done in 20 minutes.

And if we were distracted whilst doing that job, we might introduce a mistake, which means another five minutes are lost to correcting the error. These wasted minutes stack up day after day, week after week, and year after year. The attention economy is undoubtedly having a negative, and often invisible impact, on many people’s health, happiness and performance.

The good news is that we are not helpless. We can do more in less time, achieve our goals faster and help ourselves to be healthier and happier in the process. In order to do this, the first thing we teach people is how to control the hidden controllables in their lives.

These are the cognitive processes that are invisible. People need to learn how to understand and manage them. Once they can, life becomes a lot easier because people spend less time thinking about and doing things that are unhelpful for their health, happiness and performance.

I will be talking about some of these hidden controllables at a free talk (places are limited) that is part of the Leeds Digital Festival. The event is called How to help you and your team thrive – Rules to beat the A.P.E. Brain. It is at Leeds Business School on May 2 from 12.30pm until 1.30pm. Email us for more details: contact@tougher