Continuous Partial Attention

I’ve long been contemptuous of people that break-off mid-conversation to answer a random mobile call. Similarly, anyone replying to an email the instant it lands for no other logic than it has just flashed on their screen I hold in equal disregard.

The latest Economist Technology Quarterly highlights how people aware they fall into this trap can wean themselves towards former levels of higher productivity.

The article offers relief by way of policing software to remove this unlimited scope for distraction.


Linda Stone is credited with coining delicious terms like email apnea. Continuous partial attention was her first signpost in this arena and sums up neatly what you’re up against if you follow the constant connection creed. In her own words,

“Continuous partial attention is an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis. We are always in high alert when we pay continuous partial attention. This artificial sense of constant crisis is more typical of continuous partial attention than it is of simple multi-tasking.”

There’s two points here. Of course, any salesperson that recognises they are suffering from this malaise needs to sort it out sharpish.

Perhaps of greater consequence, where would your prospects or customers say you figure on avoiding continuous partial attention towards them? Worse still, are they being treated to “an artificial sense of constant crisis”?

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