Add a meeting to your Outlook calendar. Google Calendar. iCal. Any scheduling software. The default time block is 30 or 60 minutes. I’m on a mission to change this. The reality of business life is everyone is managing multiple channels of input. Email, text messages, and app alerts beep and flash throughout the day and beg for our attention. Look around at your next meeting. How many laptops are open? How many phones are sitting face-up on the desk in front of people? Or perhaps how many are discreetly being checked under the table as people talk. We’ve become accustomed to multitasking and dealing with interruption. Most of us think we’re good at it. But the truth is we’re not. There have been several recent studies that show multitasking impairs our performance rather than enhances it. We think we’re doing more but we actually end up accomplishing less.
Here’s an excerpt from an article article on Huffington Post: Multitasking Makes You Less Efficient
This study has proved that frequent mindset change greatly hampers subsequent mental functioning. These findings are very relevant for employees who must change their mindset very frequently during the course of their routine work. The performance by employees can be enhanced by asking them to do the work of a particular mindset continuously, and then do the work requiring a different mindset. This would exhaust the mind less and improve work efficiency. The opposite is also true, i.e. those people who are exhausted with excess work continue to adopt a particular mindset, even if the situation demands a switchover of mindset
And this more formal study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the conclusions are the same:
Results showed that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.
So back to the topic of this post: meetings. We need to change the default assumption that the business day moves in 30 minute increments. It would be much better to acknowledge that we all have multiple things to juggle and we need to allow time to clean up a few things as we transition from meeting to meeting. By allowing this transition time, we can be more strict about shutting laptops, flipping over phone and tablets while meetings are taking place. When someone is talking, you can focus. When you’re talking, you should expect full attention. Go up to the whiteboard and work through ideas and brainstorm live. Get the most of your in-person time and then shift your attention during the planned transition time to the inevitable backlog of emails, tweets, text messages, blog posts that you’ll receive during the day. The other benefit is people won’t feel like they need to fill up a full hour block. How often have you been in a hour long meeting that was dismissed 15 minutes early because you had already worked through the agenda items? Rarely. It’s human nature to fill up the allotted time. Reduce the allotment and you’ll increase efficiency.
There’s nothing magical about the numbers 30 and 60. They’re just even increments on a clock. In high schools and college courses run anywhere from 25 to 50 minutes. Why? Because they need allow for transition time. If schools can do it, business can change its ways too. I like 22 and 44 because they’re easy to remember and seem to provide for a reasonable amount of transition time. 8 minutes per half hour to juggle other activities seems about right. If you like 25 and 50 that would be fine too. Maybe Google, Microsoft and the other overloads of schedule keeping can make this a configuration option in their next release. Wouldn’t that be awesome if we succeeded in breaking the now outdated habit of plunking down in a conference room and waiting for the clock to point straight up or straight down? Let’s do it.
Please join me in my Meeting Mission 22/44.
Image via Wikimediail on Flickr Update 8/29/13: It turns out that Google has a feature for "speedy meetings" with timeslots that default to 25 and 50 minutes. Maybe a Google PM reads this blog?