You might think you are good at multi-tasking (you’d be wrong by the way) and probably don’t think of the effect it has on your colleagues.
Researchers at Harvard found that checking your phone, e-mails or social media is more distracting for your colleagues than it is for you.
In fact they blame our obsession with our devices for the unproductive meetings taking place everywhere. I don’t necessarily agree with that having attended my fair share of useless meetings long before we had smart phones and tablets.
But there’s no doubt it’s worse now with the “always on” mentality many people have.
People were asked by Francesca Gino how they would respond if a friend or colleague checked their e-mails or posted on social media during a meeting.
She said “The results suggest that we feel distracted and annoyed when others are checking their phone rather than paying attention to what we have to say in a meeting. Yet we fail to realise that our actions will have the same effect on others when we are engaging in them”
She also confirmed that multi-tasking is a myth because other than simple tasks we can’t perform several action at the same time. When we try it takes 50% longer with 50% more mistakes (our brain is switching from one task to another and takes time to recover its earlier position).
Banning phones from meetings might help but also organising the meeting better.
Patrick Lencioni, author of “Death by Meeting” estimates that professionals spend 31 hours each month attending unproductive meetings and almost three-quarters of attendees say they take other work with them. (Professor Gino thinks people take their phones and devices as a back-up plan in case the meeting gets boring or ineffective).
Lencioni says bad meetings not only exact a toll those who suffer in them but also cause anguish in the form of, anger, cynicism, lethargy and lower self-esteem.
The HBR suggests the following rules to get the best out of meetings:
- Keep it small i.e. no more than 7 people to ensure everyone can pick up on NVC and other nuances
- Ban devices as unacceptable distractions
- Keep it short i.e. less than an hour (I remember meetings in the public sector lasting 6 hours)
- Stand up. Meetings where you’re not allowed to sit down ply last 2/3 as long
- Never just update. That can be done outside the meeting by e-mail, otherwise it’s a time-waster
- Set an agenda and be clear about the purpose of the meeting and that there will be a plan of action
FYI Lencioni is also the author of “The 5 Dysfunctions of Teams” which is well worth a read