We all have to absorb and process information every day. Work, school, and many other situations require us to attend to a broad range of incoming information (including complex concepts and detailed facts) from many different sources (such as other people, written materials, and our surroundings).
Your processing controls direct how you “take in” of all of this information. The processing controls of attention specifically help you select which information is most important and then use that information as needed. These controls act as a kind of gatekeeper for information to be stored in memory.
People with strengths in this area of attention can discriminate between more and less important information. They are able to control their attention, resisting distractions when working on something and shifting their attention to a new task with ease. They are good at using incoming information to trigger new ideas and connect with prior knowledge.
People who have challenges with attention processing controls may focus only superficially on new information, without really paying attention to the details. Or they may focus too long or too deeply on relatively less important information. They also may get distracted easily, particularly by information that is more interesting or stimulating than the task at hand.
Strategies for managing challenges with processing controls
- Minimize sources of distraction. Get rid of clutter in your workspace, and use a fan or other source of “white noise” to cover background sounds.
- Look for quiet places to work and learn. Excessive noise can interfere with anyone’s ability to concentrate. Click here to read about some research on the effects of noise on learning.
- If you find yourself particularly distracted when reading something, try limiting the amount of text you are viewing at once. For example, hold a piece of paper under a line of text as you read, or choose books with larger type.
- Develop your active listening skills. Click here for a site geared to helping educators teach listening skills, which also includes tips for active listening that anyone can use.
- When taking in new information, discuss it with someone else who read or heard the same information, and listen for key takeaways or details you might have overlooked.
- Practice differentiating between main ideas and details. Skimming and scanning techniques can help you identify the main ideas when you read (e.g., looking for visual cues in written information that help identify key ideas).