Stop Multitasking at Work
Meetings are an inescapable part of my week.
It is essential for me to meet with new and current clients, with project leaders, and with my team to ensure that work is discussed, delegated and managed effectively.
I make a real effort to have an agenda and aim for my meetings, to keep them focused and on target, and to ensure that they do not amble on indefinitely, past the point when the flow has ebbed to a tiresome trickle.
If everyone maintains their focus, the agenda moves along swiftly, and in 15 minutes everyone knows the score and their role to play in completing the project. We have cared, shared, and dared and we enriched the dimension of our day.
But I also have to attend meetings off my turf and on someone else’s where as many as 30 people will amble into a room, sit as far away from the front as possible, and proceed to interact with their mobile devices as opposed to be mentally present in the meeting.
This prompts me to want to propose a ban on multi-tasking at meetings.
It is not a moment of pique that has prompted this. It is scientific fact that you cannot effectively focus on many things at once and expect to have the same result than if you focus on things one at a time.
Research psychologists actually found in a 2001 study that when people switch their attention back and forth between tasks they lose up to 50 percent of their accuracy and efficiency. And when the task is as complex as devising a strategy for a big corporate project, even more is lost.
Former US President Barack Obama started the “no multitasking at meetings” edict when he was in the White House. No matter the level of responsibility of his meeting attendees, he made them put their cell phones in a basket, attaching sticky notes bearing their names to their phones for easy recognition when the talks concluded.
The issue of checking your emails while participating in a meeting isn’t that it just disrupts your concentration: it also upsets the people around you and disrupts their concentration. Managers who answer phone calls while their employees sit and wait in a meeting are even more upsetting, according to a study by Howard University and University of Southern California.
In another instance, Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gino surveyed 400 people to see how they would respond when a friend or colleague checked their emails or posted on social media while at a meeting, and the response was that they would feel distracted and annoyed.
Gino suggested that people who think they are successfully managing to multi-task are lost in the myth. She said that while our brain can handle some simple tasks at the same time, serious thinking needs to focus on one subject at a time.
So in my world, it is okay to ask people to turn off their cell phones at the start of a meeting or an address.
At the same time, I recognize that when running a meeting, there is a reasonable responsibility for participants to expect that it will run smoothly, that it will not be permitted to run on well past the point of maximum productivity, and that it will not take over long chunks of their day.
How can you ensure that your meetings stay on topic and useful?
Here are five essentials. Never start a meeting without them:
- An agenda. Every person at that meeting should know why it is called, what is to be discussed, and the clear goal of what is to be accomplished at the end of discussions.
- A few participants. If you have more than 10 people in your room at a meeting, you need a conference instead. Aim for less, with five to seven being an optimal number for maximum efficiency. You need to be able to see everyone and witness their responses and body language, especially facial expressions, to know how what is being said is really impacting people.
- A fast timetable. Fifteen minutes is a perfect time for a meeting. If you have more items than can be discussed in that time, break it down into two or more meetings. Two things happen when you do this: First, you get things done. Secondly, people know they don’t have to sacrifice their whole day so they come in a better frame of mind. Never, under any circumstances, let any meeting drag on past one hour.
- Get right into the discussion, rather than spend five minutes updating everyone since your last meeting. Send the update before the meeting, as well as the agenda. Get right into the first item. Your colleagues will soon get the gist of how you work and will come better prepared to your meetings.
- Make sure everyone in the room speaks at some point, even if you have to just call them out cold with a question. Make it clear from the start that nobody sleeps or coasts through your meetings. Everyone is expected to bring something to the table. If they don’t, push the issue with an unexpected question.
Paula Morand, CSP is a leadership building, revenue boosting, strategy expanding keynote speaker, author and visionary. This dreaming big and being bold leadership expert and brand strategist brings her vibrant energy, humor and wisdom to ignite individuals, organizations and communities to lead change, growth and bold impact. 24 years, 27,000 clients, 34 countries, 14 books, former radio personality, 11x award winning entrepreneur and humorous emcee.
To check out Paula’s book, “Bold Courage: How Owning Your Awesome Changes Everything” go to Amazon http://ow.ly/i8yW307ix67
To book Paula to speak email firstname.lastname@example.org or call toll-free 1-888-502-6317.