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Industrial Engineer Engineering and Management Solutions at Work

August 2014    |    Volume: 46    |    Number: 8

The member magazine of the Institute of Industrial Engineers

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Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

Hey, let’s, um, focus, or concentrate, or something

One of my favorite cousins has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Still, he is by far my most brilliant family member, and for decades, defeating him in chess, Risk or other board games was difficult.

Often, the best strategy was distraction. As in, “Hey, look, there’s a squirrel. Checkmate.”

Maybe it never was quite that simple, but for him, focus always was a challenge. This obstacle clearly runs in the family, as office visitors learn with one quick glance at my desk.

Hence the appeal of this month’s cover story, “Concentration is Crucial” by Stephen C. Harper. Some of Harper’s business and consultant contacts have mentioned how difficult it is to get today’s employees to focus. They grew up being bombarded by information, interruptions and shows like “Short Attention Span Theater.”

But while research shows attention spans are notoriously short, the newer generation is much more adept at multitasking, social networking and other traits that could prove beneficial.

Perhaps, Harper muses, this points to an important corollary of Moore’s Law, where the number of technology-related distractions, instead of transistors, doubles every two years. And since lack of attention to detail can hamper organizational productivity, executives need to find ways to increase focus.

The article rolls out a bevy of tips such as Edwin Bliss’ five-category framework for time management that can help employees in any enterprise focus on what’s important.

But while much management advice seems to focus on the positive, two of the most significant points accentuate the negative. The late Steve Jobs of Apple, among others, knew the importance of saying no to things that just weren’t that important. Staff members had to back up their ideas with data to get a “yes.” And saying no transitions easily into adding a “not to do” list to your time-honored “to do” list.

So click here and see what you think. Perhaps you can teach your organization to say no to, or at least circumscribe, productivity-killing distractions.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IIE. Reach him at mhughes@iienet.org or (770) 349-1110. 



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