Have you heard this? You may have even said it.

"I'm sorry...I was multitasking."

I'm hearing this more and more. Multitasking is being cast as both the villain and the hero.  Anytime, anywhere, a person, process or product becomes both the villain and hero, hard times are imminent.

If you want to be a great manager, don't use multitasking either as an excuse, or to achieve results. We have to multitask, but not at the expense of greatness.


kittyrat234's picture

That's what they say, but what I hear is, "I am not listening.  I have important things to attend to you - and it's not you..."

jhack's picture

 "I was on mute." 

Ummm....why would that keep you from hearing the question? 

John Hack

jib88's picture

I can occasionally forgive this, depending on who does it. If it's someone who is normally very engaged and they fess up, I usually view this as better than them pretending they were paying attention. At least they are admitting they are in the wrong (although this might depend on their tone when they fess up) and are willing to give you more than a lame "I agree" or a "hmmm"

I've found that there are certain things you can do when facilitating (or just participating in) these kinds of calls, to help them work a bit better. (In addition to the excellent cast on this topic). 95% (or higher) of the meetings I attend are virtual, with everyone dialed in from their desks. This is pretty much company norm where I work, as it's a large global company and most teams are distributed.

I start with the assumption that not everyone is going to pay attention. Maybe if I was more idealistic I would expect people to listen actively, but I want to be effective in these meetings and I know that there are things I can do to help keep people engaged. A few things I have found to be effective:

  1. I always (if possible) have some type of screen sharing (Live Meeting, WebEx, Sametime, etc) and KEEP SOMETHING ON THE SCREEN. In many FTF meetings it's not necessary to have any presentation materials, but in virtual meetings I've found that you can help people maintain their attention by giving them something to look at and focus on. It can be as simple as a few bullets in a slide or just showing the agenda. Without a screen to look at, it's much easier for your attendees to open their email or a web browser and get distracted.
  2. I sometimes call out someone's name at the beginning of asking them a direct question. This grabs their attention if they are currently "multitasking" and gives them a chance to hear the whole question and respond. While it can be fun or even justly punitive to call out someone who you think isn't paying attention, you can at least ensure you get their input if you prime them like this. I usually find that senior executives are more "present" in calls than most other people, but if you call them out at the wrong time and they aren't paying attention they may not take very kindly to the fact that it was you who highlighted this to everyone. (Just don't let this become a crutch that allows someone to stop paying attention).
  3. On the flip side to #2, if there is someone who is habitually "multitasking", I find an excuse to call them out. A lot. Shame can work wonders here.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Nobody multitasks at work.  Your brain can think of one thing at a time, and ONLY ONE.  Fast switching between tasks reduces quality for EVERYONE who does it, even if some "prefer" this form of work.

This is why the word euphemism was invented.


naraa's picture
Training Badge

I read the title and understood it as:

"I am sorry I was multitasking."  That is, I am sorry for multitasking.  

So I thought before reading the whole post, the post was going to be about a discussing for being sorry (for oneself) for doing multitasking.  

I think trying to do multitasking, switching fast between tasks as Marc says it, and keeping too much at ones head at one time not only reduces quality of work but also quality of life.

Davis Staedtler's picture

JIB88, I like how you stated, "I start with the assumption that not everyone is going to pay attention." 

In addition to providing specific negative feedback to my non-listener, I now I think of inventive and simple ways to communicate to them if I can tell they're spinning plates.

NARAA, You couldn't be MORE right. Understanding this as taking some of our quality of life away is a GREAT way to look at it. That's conviction enough for anyone. Thanks for sharing!