Results by John Austin, PhD

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The Folly of Focusing on Too Many Things: How Online Multitasking Undermines Your Team

I remember when I was in graduate school in the early 1990’s and a friend got a video phone. It was as if it came from Mars. Seriously, you could talk to someone and SEE them!

I know that is not hard to believe now, but at the time I didn’t even have a cell phone and only had email because I was at a research university.

The problem with the video phone was that my friend only knew one other person who had one! That made it interesting, but pretty useless overall.

Fast forward to today, and nearly everyone in business has a high-resolution camera used during our online meetings. There are lots of obvious downsides to this amazing technology, but one of them that I often see is that you can see subtle changes in lighting in the rooms of meeting attendees.

What does it mean to you when you see that change in lighting on the person’s face in the meeting?

That’s right. They are multitasking. They appear to be looking at you in the online meeting, and yet they are actually reading something else or working on their email. We all know the downsides of multitasking…it takes downtime time to change your focus and more downtime to change it back to the first task, and so on…but there is something much worse going on here than lost productivity.

Multitasking during a meeting is telling the others in the meeting that you don’t value their time or your time with them. Do we look at our phones when on a date and talking to our partner? How about when our kids are trying to tell us something sensitive and important to them?

It might also be telling people that you are too busy. Although some leaders think of being too busy as a badge of honor, I suggest this is not true. Being too busy reduces the quality of your ideas and the consistency of your execution.

Next time you are in an online meeting and you are tempted to multitask, consider how it could change the environment and the outcomes of the meeting. Consider if your behavior is likely to bring out the best in your teammates in that meeting.

Consider if your behavior is impacting your relationships with the others in the meeting.

Do they think you’re disengaged? Or not listening?

Evaluate the situation and make a change. If you’re struggling with how to make a change, read more of my blog posts and get in contact.  There is a science of behavior that can guide you.

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