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March 29, 2018 | By

Why Multitasking During Your Meetings Could Hurt Your Entire Team

If you’ve ever paused mid-sentence to take a look at your vibrating phone, you aren’t alone. But if you were leading a meeting at the time, you’re creating issues you don’t realize.

When a meeting leader multitasks, it costs the entire team. It won’t be obvious in the moment, and chances are, participants aren’t ever going to you out on it. But work culture, and of course your meetings, will suffer as a result.

Here are a few things you should know about multitasking during your meetings, and what you can do to create multitask-free gatherings with your team.

The Immediate Cost

We all know many workers prefer fewer meetings, so when you do call them to the conference room, make it count. The same goes for virtual meetings, where it can be even more tempting to check your email, instant message a coworker, or glance at your Twitter feed.

When you multitask, you increase your stress levels and you’re less effective and creative. As a meeting leader, you should be on top of your game, otherwise, you’re doing a disservice to everyone present.

You’re also sending the message that meeting participants aren’t as important as whatever you’re paying attention to instead. That’s going to seriously curtail everyone’s motivation and the quality of your meeting. People will have to repeat themselves, the agenda won’t flow smoothly, the meeting may run long, and you’re just not going to get as much accomplished.

Long-Term Repercussions

The short-term effects of meeting multitasking are only one part of the problem.  There are long-term negatives that will eventually weigh down your entire team.

First, there’s the message you’re sending that your team isn’t as important as whatever else you’re doing. Those same employees can grow to resent and even dread your meetings. As a result, you may start to notice them disengaging during the part of your meeting when you are actually offering your full attention. Or they may come less prepared, show up late, or not at all.

Second, you’ll quickly see your multitasking is contagious. As a leader, if you don’t think a meeting is worth 100% of your attention, why would anyone else? According  to Harvard Business Review, “Managers that frequently send emails during meetings are, according to our analysis, 2.2 times more likely to have direct reports who also multitask in meetings.”

Before you know it, productivity inside and outside of your meetings are suffering. In fact, research shows that multitasking is bad for your brain. While multitasking may give you a sense of accomplishment, the reality is you’re working at a “much lower cognitive level.” As a result, productivity takes a dive. And the more you switch between tasks, the more each task suffers.

Meetings are an investment — you’re paying everyone to take time out of their day to get together — and to get a high return on that investment, everyone needs to be alert and focused. You’ll never come to those golden Aha! moments, if everyone is barely listening.

Tips for Staying on Task

I know it’s tough to kick the multitasking habit, but it’s well worth it. Your meetings will yield better results and your co-workers will be happier.

Here are some tips to help you remain on task in all of your meetings:

  • Keep meetings short and to the point.
  • Have an agenda and stick to it diligently.
  • Always use video conferencing when you’re collaborating with remote offices/employees
  • Try reducing meetings from an hour to 45 minutes. Use the extra time to catch up on email so you don’t feel the need to during the meeting.
  • Schedule meetings in chunks, giving you extended out-of-meeting hours to attend to high-focus work.
  • Minimize distractions and leave your phone behind. Remind attendees to do the same.
  • If a long meeting is necessary, schedule at least one break to allow participants to make sure nothing urgent has come up.
  • Reassess meetings that you find yourself distracted in. Maybe that meeting is too long, the wrong format, or completely unnecessary.

So the next time you’re tempted to quickly shoot off an email during your meeting, ask yourself if it’s worth it.


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