The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Are You an Active Listener or a Multitasker?

Dr. Paul G. Young
President & CEO
National AfterSchool Association
I must admit, my attention span seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I'm like the kids in school and our afterschool programs that seem to have ants in their pants. But unlike those squirming youngsters, I know what I am doing. I allow myself to be distracted. I know the research proves that multitasking is a myth. But like a fool, I try to multitask anyway.

I don't like this characteristic about myself very much.

Do I have your attention?

If you're like me, you participate in lots of meetings, face-to-face or virtually using a phone and computer. If the agenda isn't relevant with engaging content, I start checking email, texting, doodling, thinking, creating a “to-do” list, or simply watching other people. If the meeting leader allows the flow of the meeting to drag, I get bored. I drift off and become distracted by my thoughts or any other environmental stimuli.

One of my college music theory professors once stopped his lecture and asked, “Paul, how many leaves are left on that tree outside our classroom?”

Multitaskers relish irrelevancy. Everything distracts and slows them down. Despite what they’d like to think, they don’t have an undivided attention span. They can remember very little of what distracted them, and as a result, they gain minimal benefits from participating in meetings. Research shows that our brains struggle to process more than one bit of information at a time.   Multitaskers waste time and productivity by constantly, compulsively, and actively switching between random activities.

Virtual meetings by conference call have become multitaskers’ play time.  Many people have come to view a regularly scheduled conference call meeting as a free opportunity to shut their office doors, log onto the calls, activate the mute function, and then start multitasking as they listen (or try to) to the meeting presenter(s). No matter how hard we try, the distractions that can occur during conference calls are tempting and too numerous to stay focused. Boring conference calls don’t work, because they just invite more multitasking without fear of being caught.

Let's commit to doing better. Afterschool professionals must adhere to meeting norms and expectations, and presenters must keep things moving with content that is relevant and engaging.

We can do better and get more done virtually. Our meetings can become the exception to the rule. We can be remarkable. We just have to try - and not multitask.

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