Managing Multi-Tasking And Meeting Mania

June 9, 2015

by Beverly Flaxington

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Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

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Dear Bev,

I can’t say if I have clinical attention-deficit disorder, but I feel like I do most days. I find myself listening with half an ear on conference calls, and I don’t always give my full attention to conversations with clients. I realize I’m doing this, but I can’t stop. There are so many demands on my time that I sometimes think if I don’t multi-task, I can’t keep up with all of it. Have you heard from other advisors who are dealing with this? Any tips besides just telling me to stop?

Ann P.

Dear Ann,

I’ve certainly heard of this issue many times. I was just teaching a class on active listening and this very point came up as one of the main barriers to listening well. Recent research at Stanford University uncovered the very real pitfalls to multi-tasking. You can read it here.

We probably knew, even before this research, that we aren’t as efficient when our attention is pulled in many directions, but maybe we didn’t realize how very detrimental it is to us. Rather than catching and keeping time and devoting it where we most need it, we actually become less efficient. It takes us more time to do what we need to do. When a client or prospect is involved it’s even more problematic. Having them say, “Did you hear what I said?” is never good.

That said, what steps can you take? Well, you’ve seen that just knowing you are doing it isn’t enough to make change happen. New behaviors require over 21 consecutive days of practice before they become habitual. You’ve “learned” the multi-tasking approach, as ineffective as it may be. Now you have to learn a new approach. Commit to doing just one thing differently until it takes hold, then add one more thing to your repertoire.

Try any of the following to start to shift this behavior:

  1. Create a written list of priorities. I go back to your comment about demands on your time. Make sure you are prioritizing those demands and aren’t responding to everything.
  2. Have a doodle pad next to your computer. When a thought creeps in that isn’t related to the conversation you are having, write it down as a future step to take. Just noting these future tasks will get them out of your brain, and you’ll remember them when you finish the conversation.
  3. Turn your chair away from the computer. Yes, that’s right. Put your back to your computer. Look at the wall or a nice picture while you are speaking and not at your emails and your texts. Turn your phone over so you can’t see the texts coming in. Physically turn away.
  4. If you can get up and walk while you talk, do that. Remove yourself from your work station and make a physical break while on the phone.
  5. Write out questions in advance that you can refer to. Have they been answered? What else do you need to ask?
  6. Schedule time on your calendar for reading emails, responding to emails and scheduling next meetings.
  7. Have your new emails go into organized pre-arranged folders so you aren’t seeing so many unread, new emails in your long list on your screen.

There are many more ideas but see if you can institute just one or two of these as a start. Remember, practice for three weeks and see if it helps to break your habit.

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