Jul 14 2004

Present AND Accounted For

There was a great essay in the New York Times yesterday about multitasking. The gist of the article is that multitasking, when taken to an extreme, is unproductive at best and in the case of driving, quite dangerous.

I’ve long believed that in business, as in any activity relying in part on interpersonal relationships, it’s important to be fully present when talking to other people. This is especially true in one-on-one conversations, but true even in larger meetings. The article talks about the clicking you hear when you’re talking to someone on the phone and he or she is typing in the background. And we’ve all been in meetings where someone picks up a Blackberry to reply to a presumably non-urgent email. How annoying! Better to step out of the meeting if the email is that important…or tell the person who called you that you don’t have time to talk now.

Even forgetting the annoying part, how can you possibly connect with another person when you’re reading or writing at the same time? How can you make a point or read their body language? How can you convey to the rest of the room that you’re taking the subject seriously?

Like most of us these days, I too am addicted to multitasking, repsonding to emails, answering cell phones, and the like. The only way I’ve been able to make sure I focus on the meeting at hand is to turn off the phone, leave the Blackberry or laptop in another room, bring nothing other than a piece of paper and pen to the meeting. Sure, I have to go back and enter a couple things on my computer in my to-do list afterwards instead of in real time, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff. If I’m on the phone, I turn away from my desk or put my headset on and walk around the office to remove other temptations.

I don’t think all multitasking is bad…in fact there are lots of times where it makes great sense and is productive. But the principle of Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Well applies here in spades — having a conversation with another person, or being fully present and accounted for in a meeting, are usually worth doing well!