Multitasking in Meetings Kills Productivity

Some time ago, I was out having a nice dinner with the family.  We had just finished eating at one of those super-loud restaurants where no one notices if your five-year-old accidentally says something inappropriate or shoves some corn up his nose purely out of curiosity. 

When we got to the checkout, I paid in cash.  After handing my money to the hostess, I noticed a bowl of melt away mints on the counter, so I grabbed a handful.  Meanwhile, my kids were asking a ton of questions, I was fumbling with my phone to read an incoming text, and I was also trying to listen to my wife finish telling me the story she had started during dinner… a multitasker’s delight.

I was putting my phone away when the hostess handed me my change.  As I simultaneously turned to acknowledge a particularly funny comment from my wife, I tossed some mints into my mouth.

Only they weren’t mints.

I’m not sure if it was the sound of clinking metal against my teeth, or the coppery taste on my tongue, but it only took a fraction of a second for me to realize I had accidentally thrown a handful of coins into my pie hole.  My left hand was still holding the mints.  Both the cashier and my wife stared at me silently, waiting for my next move.  And let me just say, there is no way to remove 83 cents from your mouth without looking like a complete moron.

This is one small example of what happens when we try to multitask.  We think we’re being more efficient, but that’s not the case.  In fact, a Harvard Business Review article reports that multitasking leads to a 40% drop in productivity and a loss of 10 IQ points…equivalent to pulling an all-nighter.  Nowhere is the problem more apparent than our corporate meeting rooms, where email, texts, and web browsing can have a significant impact on an organization’s bottom line.  With the average corporate manager spending 50% of their time in meetings, there is no better place to improve productivity than your team meetings.  Here are some fool-proof tips to ensure focus.

  1. Define your purpose:  Before your meeting, apply some critical thinking to clearly define the purpose for everyone.  When other topics come up, redirect everyone to the purpose to avoid divided attention and focus. 
  2. Provide a timed agenda:  This should also be distributed ahead of time.  Everyone’s time is valuable, so each person needs to focus on the problems and decisions for this meeting.  The timed agenda can also discourage sidebar conversations or working on problems that the group isn’t prepared to address.
  3. Assign roles for the meeting:  Who will take minutes?  Who will facilitate?  Who will capture the group’s thoughts on a white board?  When each person is assigned a job, meetings are more focused and more productive.
  4. Have a phone/computer parking lot:  And encourage people to use it.  It is estimated that employees who use smart phones and computers are distracted on average every 10.5 minutes.  Unless the computer is absolutely necessary for the meeting, turn it off.

And there are so many more!  For the past thirty-five years, we have helped clients improve their meetings for improved problem solving and greater productivity.  If you wish to avoid treating your own mouth like a piggy bank, give us a call at (800) 386-5611. We’d love to help!









Sign Up for Action Insights

Last Name
First Name


Creative Problem Solving | Problem Solving Training | Decision Making | Teaching Critical Thinking Skills | Critical Thinking