They are unable to attend completely to any one thing. They respond constantly to stimulation in the environment and to ideas which seem to ``pop up'' in their minds.
Some people can read a book or paper with perfect satisfaction, even though companions around them are talking and laughing. For others, such attempts are farcical.
Many great men are reputed to have had marvelous powers of concentration. When engaged in their work, they became so absorbed in it that distracting thoughts had no access to their minds, and even hunger, sleep, and salutations of friends have frequently been unable to divert the attention from the absorbing topic.
_There are persons who cannot really work except in the midst of excitement_.
When surrounded by numerous appeals to attention, they get wakened up by resisting these attractions and find superfluous energy adequate to attend to the subject in hand. This is on the same principle that governs the effects of poisonous stimulants. Taken
into the system, the whole bodily activity is aroused in an attempt to expel the poison. Some of this abnormally awakened energy may be applied to uses other than those intended by nature. Hence some individuals are actually helped in their work at least temporarily by the use of stimulants. Most of the energy is of course required to expel the poison, and hence the method of generating the energy is uneconomical.
The men who find that they can accomplish the most work and concentrate themselves upon it the most perfectly when in the midst of noise and confusion are paying a great price for the increase of energy, available for profitable work. To be dependent on confusion for the necessary stimulation is abnormal and expensive. Rapid exhaustion and a shortened life result. It is a bad habit and nothing more.
_Many persons seem able to disregard the common and necessary distractions of office, store, or factory_.
Other persons are so constituted that these distractions can never be overcome. Such
persons cannot hear a message through a telephone when others in the room are talking; they cannot dictate a letter if a third person is within hearing; they cannot add a column of figures when others are talking. Habit and effort may reduce such disability, but in some instances it will never even approximately eliminate it. Such persons may be very efficient employees, and their inability to concentrate in the presence of distractions should be respected. Every business man is careful to locate every piece of machinery where it will work best, but equal care has not been given to locating men where they may work to the greatest advantage.
By inheritance the power of concentration differs greatly among intelligent persons. By training, those with defective power may improve, but will never perfect the power to concentrate amidst distractions. To subject such persons to distractions is an unwise expenditure of energy
_Concentration by voluntary attention should be avoided, but concentration by secondary passive_
_attention cultivated. Organized business interests should eliminate such public nuisances as surface street cars, elevated trains, venders of wares, screeching newsboys, smoking chimneys, and the like_.
In individual establishments walls may be deadened to sounds, telephones may be muffled, call bells may be replaced by buzzers with indicators, clerks may have other methods than that of calling aloud for ``cash'' or for floor walkers, typewriters may be massed with a view to reducing the general commotion, the illumination at the desks may be increased, discomforts should be reduced to a minimum, work may be so systematized that only one task at a time demands attention.
At least the attitude of concentration should be habitual. The bodily condition favorable to the best concentration may make profitable such devices as firm lunch rooms, the building of industrial villages, and so on.
Concentration is secured positively by bringing into activity the various motives which affect most powerfully the different individu-