סמינר בהתנהגות ארגונית
University of Western Australia
Give your attention a break:
How to foster undirected attention and its benefits for recovery
Theories of the self-regulation of attention and energy focus on regulated, or directed attention. Similarly, most of our time in practice—including when our mind wanders away from a task or during downtime from work—is arguably spent directing our attention (e.g., mentally planning a to-do list when one is supposed to be listening to a presenter; or scrolling through social media while taking a work break). In contrast, uncontrolled, or undirected attention tends to be ignored or viewed negatively by these theories; and we also see this in practice (e.g., viewing “doing nothing” as a waste of time; or avoiding idle time even by filling it with unproductive experiences). In this research, we propose that undirected attention—that which wanders widely and freely—is not a waste of time, but rather provides an opportunity for recovery via a deactivated energy pathway; and that it can be fostered by situations characterised by an absence of factors that may “hijack” or direct one’s attention (e.g., smartphones or a challenging work task). We integrate theories of self-regulation and executive attention to develop a framework describing the neurological and information-processing underpinnings of undirected attention, together with its implications for energy consumption. We draw on this framework to propose and examine the types of situations likely to induce the experience of undirected attention, and in turn examine its effect on recovery via deactivated affective states and subsequent energy levels. We present two experimental studies (one cross-sectional MTurk study, one 10-day ESM field study) that manipulate the presence vs absence of factors likely to direct one’s attention, to examine the impact of this situational feature on the experience of undirected attention and its pathway to recovery. Consistent with hypotheses, results showed that periods of “focus free time” were beneficial for recovery via undirected attention and pleasant deactivated states; relative to periods of “focussed time”; and that “do nothing” micro-breaks were beneficial for recovery via undirected attention, pleasant deactivated states, and post-break energy levels; relative to “smartphone” micro-breaks. This research demonstrates how the arguably rare yet important experience of undirected attention can be fostered, and in turn reap benefits for work recovery.