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Improving Business Performance – The Stroop Test

Posted: 17th July 2015

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Posted on 17th July 2015 in Blog, Doing the right things better, Habits, Performance, Performance Principles

Author: Tom Barry

improving business performance

Business performance and Focus.

How flexible is your brain? Do you find it easy to focus on the important things that are in front of you or do you feel constantly bombarded by distractions that prevent you from doing your best work?

To test your ability to focus on what’s important take a look at the image below. Quickly identify the colour of each word (not what the word says) and say them out loud. Time yourself and see how long it takes.

Stroop Test - Improving Business performance


How did you do and how long did you take? The task above, known as the Stroop Test, can be much more difficult than it first appears. It requires the test subject to combine two key cognitive skills. These are selective attention and response inhibition. Let’s examine both of these skills in turn, and explain why they are key to improving business performance in this article.

Selective attention

We’ve often discussed the importance of selective attention in this blog without referring to it by name. We call it the ability to focus on what’s important, one of the three Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? Performance Principles. In the Stroop Test, the only thing that’s important is the colour of the word. Even though this is made completely clear before the test begins many subjects struggle to avoid saying, or at least taking in, what the word says.

After a few attempts at the test you may find that you become better at blocking out this superfluous information. You can take the same approach in your business. Firstly you need to identify which tasks and information are unnecessary. Once you’ve done this you can take steps to stop focusing on these things and use the time that you gain to do something that is actually important.

Ben discusses ways of identifying what’s really important and how to focus your efforts effectively in this video.


Response inhibition

The second skill required by the Stroop Test is response inhibition. Put simply, this is the ability to see a piece of information and not make the obvious response. Most of us are surrounded by dozens of electronic gadgets, constantly informing us of events and prompting us to do things. Do you realise how disruptive this can be to your ability to focus? Take 10 minutes to count the number of alerts you are given by computers, smartphones, colleagues or other sources of information.

If you receive 50 emails an hour and spend 10 seconds quickly glancing at each one then you’ll lose over 8 minutes an hour to your email before you’ve actioned a single one. The same applies if you look at every text message as it arrives on your phone. Before you know it you’re spending half your time acknowledging these notifications.

If you find it difficult to ignore these notifications and they are encroaching your time and productivity, then have a look at your settings. Most phones and computers allow you to prioritise alerts so that not all of them demand your attention immediately. Your email could be an excellent place to try this out. Change your settings so that only emails from certain colleagues and clients trigger a notification.

We regularly feature other strategies for improving business performance in our regular Performance Insights emails. Sign up today and you’ll receive our bi-weekly updates.

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