People With This Personality Trait Can't Focus at Work

Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis

With the internet always at our fingertips via smartphone and computer, it's far too easy to fall into the interwebs and get distracted—even at work. But as it turns out, some people may have a harder time focusing at the office than others. According to a new study from researchers at UC Irvine, the MIT Media Lab, and Microsoft, people who are highly neurotic have a hard time staying focused in the modern workplace. These people are anxious, oftentimes oversensitive, and tend to ruminate on thoughts or actions that happened in the past. As one of the Big 5 personality traits, neurotic people are "prone to stress, report more daily problems, and … reanalyze prior events over and over in their minds," according to the researchers. To reach this conclusion, the team studied the online activity of over 40 employees at high-tech U.S. companies for two weeks. Time and time again, higher levels of neuroticism corresponded with a lowered ability to focus on a task for an extended period of time. 

"It turns out that investing all of that mental energy in obsessing about everything but what is happening right in front of you can drain your attentional resources," writes New York Magazine of the study. "With less energy and attention to spare, neurotics can have trouble filtering out all of the distractions that make it difficult to focus in the workplace." Researchers theorize that this has to do with a sort of "focus opportunity cost," or the idea that we have a limited attention span. If you waste your attention on something trivial, like whether or not your brainstorm idea was stupid, it's that much more difficult to focus on the work in front of you.

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