The Perfect Blend

How to run a small business and stay sane.

Mobile Devices and Meetings

Constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity)

A  few weeks ago, I was off site at a small biz client's office facilitating a marketing strategy session. At the start, everyone in the room was constantly checking their cell phones for email messages, texting and attempting to be both in the meeting and working— at the same time.

When I suggested we would get further in a shorter amount of time by focusing on the agenda in front of us and putting away the electronics for a few hours, I received looks that screamed everything from, "Surely you must be joking," to, "Heretic!"

"I need to check my email," stammered one participant. "I'm on deadline for a project," said another, barely looking up from his keyboard to make the point. "But we always answer our phones, even in meetings," said another.

I'll spare you the ugly details, but what ensued was a discussion about how the constant use of technology impacts our focus (hence productivity) and even our sanity.

It seems things have gotten so out of hand, that a June 2011 survey by Qumu conducted by Harris Interactive, revealed 62 percent of of the survey group believed that during work meetings their co-workers were sneaking a peek at their mobile devices. Here's what they thought was happening among their co-workers:

47% - Hid their mobile device under the table
42% - Excused themselves to go to the restroom
35% - Hid their mobile device in their folders/notebooks/papers
9% - Pretended to tie their shoes
8% - Created a distraction

Interestingly, 37 percent of the respondents didn't think "sneaking a peek" was necessary - they thought people would just look at their mobile devices in plain view. It's a slippery slope, and it seems the embarrassment of not paying full attention in a meeting has been trumped by the self-justified importance of being wired in—no matter what.

The real problem with all this mobile madness is that it can take a heavy toll on our relationships with others at work and has been proven to dramatically reduce our productivity.

In one study, the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London found that when workers are constantly juggling emails, phone calls and text messages, their IQs fall 10 points.

Another study by Rubinstein, Meyer and Evans found that when people switched back and forth between tasks, there was a substantial loss of efficiency and accuracy, in some cases up to as much as 50 percent.

In my experience, small businesses suffer just as much as major corporations from their constant checking of cell phones in important meetings and even one-on-one conversations.

And while big businesses have a much larger group of staff to cushion the impact, small businesses are by nature tight on people resource and need to get the most productivity out of those they do have.

But most of us don't need a study to tell us what we see in front of our eyes daily -that distraction is bad for business. So if you're ready to take the leap and let go of your mobile device in meetings, here are some ways you can step away from the cell phone and come face-to-face with your focus.

  • Make it company policy to not use cell phones during business lunches, one-on-one meetings with staff and customers or in-group meetings.
  • Don't bring your computer into meetings for note taking. Instead, use a recording device or take notes the old fashioned way - on paper with a pen. If you do need to use your computer to take notes, use a software program to lock yourself out of your email for the duration of the meeting.
  • Create a cell phone collection box and gather up all cell phones at the beginning of meetings and give them back at the end.

If all of this isn't enough to make you want to throw your cell phone out the window during your next meeting, consider this report from TeleNav where one third of us would rather give up sex than part—even briefly—with our phones.

How has the use of cell phones during meetings impacted your productivity? We would love to hear your comments.

Karen Leland is a freelance journalist, best-selling author and president of Sterling Marketing Group where she helps businesses create killer content and negotiate the wired world of today's media landscape -- through modern marketing practices, business development, PR and social media. She writes a weekly small business feature column forXero.com, online accounting software for small business. For questions or comments, please contact her at kleland@scgtraining.com.

Karen Leland is the co-author of Watercooler Wisdom and many other books.

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