If You Multitask During Meetings, Your Team Will, Too

From HBR

This has become one of my biggest pet peeves at modern companies. And it is everywhere.

Someone calls a meeting and 5 people show up, each carrying a laptop. Maybe you, as the meeting owner, kick things off.

But then, I see your eyes drawn to your email inbox. During the meeting. While someone else is saying something. Electronically, someone else has asked for your attention, and you’ve given it to them. I’m not the only one who saw this. Everyone saw it. And three things happened:

  1. You demonstrated that your priority #1 at the moment is elsewhere
  2. You have begun multitasking, which means you’ll be far less effective at both writing your email and participating in the meeting. Yes, I know you think you’re good at multitasking, but while you’re busy typing away at your keyboard, your body language is telling everyone else in the room that this email is more important than the meeting you just called.
  3. You are setting an example. At your company, it’s OK for someone to publicly multitask and be visibly not-their-best-selves.

#3 is the worst because it will amplify across the team over time. It’s a culture-changer.

By the way, I’m not perfect. I’ve done this too, and I appreciate how easy it is to slip into the habit. And I’ve learned how it erodes the attention of the room, reduces the value of the (expensive) meeting, and ultimately reduces your own leverage and perception at the company. You have forfeited an opportunity to demonstrate your effectiveness up and down through the org.

What if you’re merely a participant? An invitee? Is it OK to multitask then?


If you’re in a leadership or management position, you’ve just wasted one of the highest leverage opportunities you will ever get to influence this team. The group is paying attention to you, whether you realize it (or want it) or not. They are tuned into your body language, your mood, the words you choose, and your reactions.

You’ve been given this precious opportunity to lead by example — by asking challenging questions, watching the reactions of the folks in the room, deciding which feedback to give to whom and when, and of course devoting the proper amount of mental energy to the problem at hand. You think the topic at hand is beneath you, or a waste of time? You’re absolutely wrong. Absolutely. It’s an opportunity to lead. Every moment is an opportunity to lead. If the topic at hand is below your pay grade, then your focus needs to shift to the team and the org.

And you can’t do this when you’re writing an email.

As a leader you’ve signed for your every move to be visible and analyzed. And then copied (often incorrectly, inaccurately, in-letter-but-not-spirit, and sometimes just poorly). This means people see and hear every single slip, every missed detail. This is one of those slip-ups. But the upside is that over time you’ll get to see them reflect your strengths as well. And exceed them. It’s one of the most gratifying feelings I’ve ever felt in my life.

Don’t waste one of the most effective mechanisms to influence your team because you just couldn’t keep your email client closed.

Weekly Roundup

Didn’t get much of a chance to write this week. However, here are my favorite links:

  1. It certainly seems as if the “social media is toxic” movement is catching on a bit more. I am delighted that Facebook is cutting back on its News Feed
  2. Two-day shipping has helped boost the price of industrial land Mark Twain would say “I told you so.”
  3. Unsurprising at this point: Uber’s secret tool for keeping the cops in the dark
  4. How to make blue/green milk from Star Wars – Aunt Beru and Uncle Lars would be proud
  5. OK, I didn’t actually read the paper but the abstract is…fascinating. Reversing the thermodynamic arrow of time using quantum correlations.
  6. That last link reminds me of this excellent 1964 Messenger Lecture by Richard Feynman: The Distinction of Past and Future.
  7. Russia’s Reserve Fund Runs out of Money 14 years after its founding (and 4 other interesting stories)
  8. Asymco on music’s importance at Apple. “HomePod will surprise not because it will be a better at chatting. It will surprise because it will cause you to sit down and listen in awe.”
  9. One of those videos that demonstrates where we are in the scale of the universe
  10. Apparently there’s a board came called Captain Sonar that is pretty cool
  11. A good post on the trade-offs of distributed apps running on the ethereum virtual machine: Miners aren’t your friends
  12. Why does home solar energy cost so much in the US? (Hint: it’s regulation)
  13. Tom Tunguz on the upsides of the current ICO trend
  14. How a young freestyler snapped up a prime piece of Squaw Valley property
  15. A great (short) writeup by Google on how they’ve handled the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities over the last several months
  16. Jeff Bezos is getting more comfortable in the spotlight
  17. How a photographer took a photo of the stealth bomber over the Rose Bowl (he used a plane)
  18. What Putin really wants – some gems of truth in here, if you ask me
  19. FiveThirtyEight weighs in: Should Trump Give North Korea a bloody nose?
  20. The majority of the NPS advisory board have resigned
  21. This was hilarious: A Whole New World dubbed with realistic audio
  22. A comparison of blockchain criticisms to version control criticisms
  23. Map of every US State’s most important trading partner
  24. How Israel manages its water
  25. How to perfectly sear meat
  26. This week’s Yellowstone winter keeper journal: Foxes
  27. Brexit stamps
  28. What a story about Travis Kalanick
  29. This is sorta dry but it’s so true: your data is worth more than you think
  30. Asymco continues to be a great place to read about Apple: The Apple Cash FAQ

And, to join the club of people matching their selfies with famous works of art, I give you:


Personally I don’t see the resemblance. Oh well! Have a great weekend!