Distracted by Electronics – 2 out of 3 times we could do without the laptop/smartphone

If you have been to a meeting lately, you have experience this – you look around the room and aside from the person currently talking, nearly everyone has their eyes down, on their screen.  Whether it’s a blackberry (crackberry), laptop, iPhone, or one of them Galaxy phones the kids are using these days, it is inescapable. Nobody is paying attention at meetings anymore.  They are doing something on their electronics.

They are doing what most call multitasking.

FACILITATOR: “What do you think, Bill?”

BILL: “Huh? Uh, could you repeat the question? I was multitasking.”

ME: “No you weren’t multitasking.  You were monotasking.  Had you been multitasking, you would have heard the question.”

There is a soon-to-be-futile attempt at work to slow or reverse this trend.  Electronics down, eyes up, goes the mantra.  Admirable.  I was an offender.  Not really present at meetings.  I’m trying to get better.  To be present at meetings.

Instead of banning electronics at meetings, though, I would offer that we should discourage or ban stupid use of electronics at meetings.

Here are 3 times when you use electronics at meetings.  Which two could you do without?

1.  You are bored

You do it all the time.  You’re in a meeting.  Someone is going on and on about something.  Maybe it doesn’t even have anything to do with your project/role/life in general.  Your phone buzzes.  A text.  A tweet.  A Facebook notification.  Next thing you know, you’re elbow deep in a debate about the finer points of the use of the word they’re/their/there on someone’s status.  A few days ago, while the facilitator was announcing a crackdown on laptops in meetings.  I, of course, closed my laptop and looked up.  I saw someone not paying attention with her nose in her laptop.  I could see her screen.  She was sending a happy birthday email.  Nuff said.

2.  You have so many meetings, you must work during meetings or you’d never get anything done

This is my favorite excuse.  I don’t mean that sarcastically.  It’s the one I’ve used for 2 years running.  I used to be one of the laptop nazis.  Laptops closed at my meetings.  Pay attention.  Be present.  And then my current project happened.  Meetings on top of meetings.  Back to back to back.  I noticed everyone else using their laptops during meetings (multitasking).  So, why not?  I began to do the same.  And I began to get more done.  Many of the meetings needed my input or attention for only a portion of the time anyway.  This one is sneaky.  If this is a common reason people give for laptopping during meetings in your organization, then you do not have a laptop problem, you have a meeting problem.  To be fair, there are many non-time critical emails I’m answering, but if I am in meetings for 6 hours out of an 8 hour work day, then the only way emails are getting answered or checklists completed or documents written is if I monotask during meet ins or work 12 hours a day.  

3.  There is an activity going on, real time, that needs your attention.  Or… you are a critical resource that may be needed at any given time.

Maybe this is two separate ones, but the concept is the same.  Let’s say I have some testing going on in the lab.  If they hit a snag, they may need my help.  Every minute spent waiting for me to finish the weekly TPS report review is a minute they are not getting testing done.  If I can monitor progress on my laptop during the meeting, we may be able to avoid losing those precious minutes.  A similar situation is if someone has a question during the meeting and I know Joe Blow has the answer.  What’s wrong with me IMing Joe and getting an answer so we can move forward.  X number of people in the meeting can now move forward right now when otherwise we would have to wait for the meeting to end, for me to go find Joe, for me to get the answer, then for us to find a time when X number of people could get together again.

Bottom line on all of these (well, except number 1) is that technology has enabled increased productivity.  We should not throw the laptop baby out with the bathwater.  At the same time, we should practice being present at meetings.  As much as we make fun at meetings, it is true that each one is an opportunity to build a relationship. Or resolve a conflict.  Or make a friend.  They say communication is only about 7% the words we say/write.  The rest is tone and body language/facial expressions.  If you have your nose buried in a laptop, you may miss 93% of what someone was trying to communicate.

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