Professionalism in the Workplace: Willful Ignorance and Productivity

Posted by Bridget Beirne
March 23, 2015

by Jones Loflin

About today’s guest blog author: With a passion for success that is instantly infectious and a wit that will have you laughing from his first sentence, author and speaker Jones Loflin equips individuals with real tools to move their work and life forward. His books include Juggling Elephants, Getting the Blue Ribbon, and Getting to It. You can learn more about Jones’ work at Thanks, Jones!

I have such admiration for those who can choose just the right words to express themselves or an idea. I think that’s one of the reasons I immediately resonated with the work of Ovation Communication. So much of a presentation is not about what you say, but how you say it.

I do, however, have several favorite words or phrases I use when I really want to emphasize an idea. Flummoxed, magnanimous, and hyperbolic discounting are some examples. When it comes to helping people who struggle with productivity, my phrase of choice is willful ignorance. Rational Wiki defines willful ignorance as, "the state and practice of ignoring any sensory input that appears to contradict one’s inner model of reality." When someone is engaging in the practice, they disregard the information being presented to them because it doesn't meet their own expectations — and therefore refuse to change their attitude, perspective, or actions.

A classic example is email. Even though it has been scientifically proven that having an email notificationprofessional-skills-3 show up on your computer or mobile device screen breaks your level of focus, people still falsely believe they can maintain their current level of concentration even when glancing at the notification. I purchased a new laptop computer a few months ago, and forgot to turn off the email notifications, so I tried leaving it on for a couple of days to see how debilitating it was to my concentration. I hated it!!! Yet people still want to believe it doesn't affect them.

Exercise is another place where people practice willful ignorance. Those who get the most done in their workday are frequently those who take the time to be physically fit. The positive effects of exercise on our physical, mental, and emotional well-being are undeniable. I can attest to the benefits because for years I did practice willful ignorance about exercise. Now I wouldn't dream of taking on a new day without at least 20 minutes of running or at least a brisk walk.

Some other areas where people engage in the practice related to productivity might include:


  • Resisting distractions is an effective way to improve productivity. Whether it's a coworker's voice, a stack of work in your "inbox" or a list of 57 things on your task list, any item that mentally pulls your focus away from the task at hand is detrimental to your productivity. When possible, remove them from your view or hearing. Think of it this way: If you were trying to reduce the amount of cookies you eat per day, which tactic would be more helpful: Putting the cookie where you could see and smell it, or taking it out of your view?
  • Having no influence on the length or frequency of meetings. I hear it so often... "I have to go to too many meetings." You may not have control, but you do have the chance to influence the situation. Before the meeting, ask about the agenda and what's expected to be accomplished. If you are currently working on something of greater importance to your boss or the organization, tell those organizing the meeting and ask to be allowed to miss it. When people get "long-winded" during a meeting, ask clarifying questions to keep things on track. For each item discussed, make sure there is a plan of action and someone assigned to take the appropriate action. You can read more about the value of asking in my blog, The Forgotten Tool of Time Management.

  • Messaging is always more effective than a phone call. I am firmly convinced that the productivity of most individuals in the workplace would increase by 20% if they would do one simple thing — pick up the phone more often. Emails, messaging, and texting are not effective nor efficient ways to transact important matters of business. There are some instances when messaging makes sense, but not in every case.

  • Multitasking works. Do we really have to go through this again? You are never multitasking. Mentally, you are "quick switch tasking" which means that there is a loss of focus as you move from one item to another. If you are engaging in activities that don't require any significant degree of mental focus, then the process might work for you. Otherwise-STOP IT! Leigh Newman offers more on this subject in her article, Six Things You Don't Have To Do At Work.

Gay Hendricks writes, A successful life is an authentic life. Happiness and creativity rest on a foundation of transparency to yourself and others. I would add that improved productivity also results with being more authentic in how you address the barriers to your own productivity.

To begin reducing the willful ignorance in your situation, download my article, 31 Ways To Get To Your Most Important Things More Often or my infographic, Handling Workplace Distractions.


And for more on professionalism in the workplace and emotional intelligence:

types of emotions

Ringing Phone

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