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Selective Attention: How to Improve Your Focus at Work

Learn how to minimize distractions and work efficiently by mastering selective attention. Plus, see 4 tools to help you!

By Hannah Ross  •   August 18, 2023  •   7 min read

Selective attention refers to the ability to focus on one task while drowning out distractions. Despite being a skill that we use every day, selective attention can be difficult to maintain, especially if you’re constantly being bombarded by distractions. Keep reading to learn how to master selective attention at work! 

What is selective attention? 

Selective attention refers to one’s cognitive ability to focus on something specific while filtering out irrelevant or distracting information. In the workplace, selective attention refers to one’s ability to focus on relevant tasks or information while filtering out distractions. For example, if someone can focus on a specific task at work despite competing deadlines, distracting coworkers, and a calendar full of meetings, this means the individual is practicing selective attention. Selective attention becomes especially important in the workplace when an individual faces several distractions that can hinder their productivity and performance. 

Examples of selective attention 

  1. Focusing on one task: Focusing on a single task and avoiding multitasking despite a long list of pressing to dos. 
  2. Engaging during a meeting: Being able to focus on the speaker during an online meeting despite email pop-ups and chat notifications. 
  3. Conversing with a coworker: Being able to have an engaged conversation with a coworker despite other teammates chatting in the background. 

The impact of selective attention in the workplace

In a digital work environment, there is a constant flow of information from various sources. From email and chat notifications to project management tools and social media, there is never a shortage of information coming from many sources. This information overload can make it difficult to focus, leading to frustration, poor performance, fatigue, and even burnout. Additional challenges include: 

  • Cognitive load 
  • Online distractions 
  • Information overload
  • Multitasking temptation 
  • Notification distractions 
  • Lack of physical boundaries 

If you find it difficult to be selectively attentive in your workplace, it’s important to recognize the signs and take steps to mitigate the impact. This may involve practicing mindfulness techniques to improve focus, establishing clear boundaries with your coworkers, implementing strategies to manage distractions, or seeking support or guidance from your manager. Luckily, tools like Fellow are designed to minimize distractions and enhance selective attention in the workplace.  

4 tools to help with selective attention at work

1Fellow

Fellow is an all-encompassing meeting management platform that strives to help users drive engagement and productivity by helping them build better meeting habits before, during, and after every meeting. Coined as your one-stop shop for meeting agendas, action items, and feedback, Fellow helps teams focus on what matters most. Instead of interrupting your teammates’ focus time, simply add an action item or talking point to your collaborative meeting agenda to address during your next check-in. Additionally, when you use Fellow’s Google Meet or Zoom integration, you won’t be distracted by multiple tabs or windows. Instead, everything is centrally located within your meeting. Click here to learn more about how Fellow can help keep interruptions at bay.

Plus, Fellow’s AI-powered features can improve your focus with simplified meeting summaries and key points. With this feature, you can spend more time focusing during your meeting and less time worrying about summarizing all of the key points yourself!

Run efficient meetings, come to a decision, and get back to work

Level up your meeting habits and improve meeting focus with a collaborative meeting agenda. Try a tool like Fellow!

2Freedom 

Used by over 2,500,000 people around the world, Freedom is a productivity hack for anyone looking to eliminate unwanted distractions. This app and website blocker for Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, and Chrome is a productivity tool that blocks access to distracting apps and websites while you’re trying to focus. To streamline productivity, simply specify which websites or notifications you wish to block when you’re carving out time for deep work. 

In conjunction with blocking access to distracting apps and websites, Freedom also houses a timer to keep you on track and organized while you work. The best part about Freedom is having the ability to get started for free—no credit card required!

3Calm

Calm is the #1 app for meditation and sleep, helping millions of users around the world relax and gain mental clarity. With a section dedicated specifically to helping you focus, Calm is the ideal tool to help with selective attention at work. Before beginning a new task, you can rest and reset your brain with a short meditation session or music designed to help you focus. With Calm, you can start with a 7-day free trial and upgrade to Calm premium if you see it working. 

4Brain.fm

Backed by science, Brain.fm is a unique tool that helps you take your productivity to new heights with music that helps you focus. This company uses a patented AI engine to create music backed by scientific research to help you relax, focus, and sleep. With Brain.fm, you can get more done with less effort and have your best self on demand. 

While traditional music is crafted to capture your attention, Brain.fm is designed to optimize your performance. Instead of making it difficult to think and complete tasks, Brain.fm puts you in the headspace you need to be in to get work done. Before committing fully, you can experiment with the product using Brain.fm’s free trial. When you’re ready to commit, plans start at $6.99/month or $49.99/ year.

Tips to improve focus and selective attention 

1Stop multitasking

When you’re multitasking, you’re dividing your attention. Instead of focusing intently on a specific task, you’re spreading your time and going back and forth between several tasks. This means you aren’t giving your full attention to a single task, resulting in less concentration and reduced focus. Constantly switching your attention between tasks prevents you from entering a flow state, which is necessary for optimal performance. Because it takes time for your brain to process switching from task to task, multitasking will lead to decreased productivity and prolonged task completion. When you stop multitasking, you can be more present and engaged in your work, resulting in higher quality work and a greater sense of satisfaction. 

2Customize your notifications 

Notifications can be incredibly distracting, especially if you’re dealing with both personal and professional notifications. From Slack notifications to emails to social media pop-ups and everything in between, if you aren’t careful, you’ll end up with a never-ending flow of distracting notifications that get in the way of your productivity. Luckily, you can customize your notifications. Customizing your notifications is important because doing so allows you to control this flow of information and minimize distractions. This will help you allocate your attention more intentionally, ensuring your attention is being directed toward getting your work done. 

3Put your phone away 

You can’t improve your focus if you don’t put your phone away. We’re all guilty of having our phones on us at all times, but what many people fail to realize is the amount of wasted time that occurs as a result of this action. Putting your phone away when you’re trying to improve your focus and selective attention will make the task much easier. You’ll be exposed to fewer distractions, be more present in your work, and ensure your mind can be fully immersed in the task at hand. 

4Get in your zone of genius 

Coined by author Gay Hendricks, the zone of genius refers to a state of being that encapsulates areas in which a person thrives that align with what they’re deeply passionate about. Identifying and getting into your zone of genius can help you unlock your full potential as well as achieve a greater sense of fulfillment and purpose. Tapping into your zone of genius is important because it allows you to leverage your skills and passions to create and sustain a meaningful life. Not only will you be more successful, but you’ll also be able to focus and find clarity in your work. 

5Plan your day

Workplace productivity is key to long-term success, and learning how to plan your workday in a way that puts your mind at ease and optimizes your productivity is a major life skill. When you plan your day, you gain a greater sense of the tasks that require your attention, meaning you can focus on tasks that require your immediate attention as opposed to tasks that may not be pressing. Planning your day and organizing your time makes it possible for you to schedule time for deep work while prioritizing important tasks that require your undivided attention so you can work on single-tasking instead of multitasking. 

To take your planning a step further, you can leverage Fellow’s objectives and key results (OKRs) tool to stay on top of your team’s goals and objectives. With this tool, you can clearly record, define, and track the progress of your OKRs, helping you and your teammates understand where you should be directing your attention. 

Are you paying selective attention to the right tasks? 

Being able to drown out distractions and pay attention to tasks is one thing, but being able to pay attention to the right tasks is another. Considering the tips listed above will help you improve focus and selective attention, ensuring you’re focusing on what matters most.

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