In their discussion of The Neuroscience of Leadership, Schwartz and Rock say that focus, or attention, plays a critical role in how we use our working memory on a daily basis.

50 years ago people were not using much working memory.  Now people are required to use their working memory all day.  Every time you get an email with a challenge you’ve got to sit down, you’ve got to think about it, you’ve got to make a decision.  Email is a classic working memory situation.  You’ve got to hold the ideas in mind.

At the core of their findings is working memory.  Working memory is a limited resource that is easily distracted.  Since our days are filled with distractions we need to be intentional about how we manage our time.

In addition to affecting how we use our working memory throughout the day Schwartz and Rock say that “attention has huge power to change the brain.”  In other words, learn.

Performance support systems provide a great way to get the most of our working memory.  They improve productivity by reducing the amount of information a person has to retain.  An example of a performance support system is a search warrant writing tool I  co-developed.  The image below is of a screen where the user inputs information about a person named in a warrant (click to enlarge).

This screen uses filtering to narrow the focus on required information about a person involved in a particular case.  By eliminating unnecessary fields, the user is able to input information with confidence instead of deciding what is necessary or appropriate.

With repeated use, the user will gain confidence and change the way the approach warrant writing.  This is a change in the hardwiring of the brain, which is what it wants to do.