Once again the FT has provided me with some food for thought. An article entitled why e-mail must disappear from the boardroom, Monday 27th July 2009, suggested that main board Directors should give all their attention to the meeting and less to the email that has just arrived on their Blackberry or similar electronic device.
In fact it suggested that by not giving all their attention to the meeting they could be in breach of their fiduciary duty to shareholders. How would you feel if the surgeon who was about to cut you open was concentrating on an email rather than on you?
It went on to quote some research from Rene Marois a neuroscientist and Director of the Human Information Processing Laboratory at Vanderbilt university that the brain has an inability to concentrate on two things at once. The researchers even have a name for it “inattention blindness”.
Now think about this in the context of learning, if you are in a classroom or any other learning environment for that matter and you move your attention from the classroom to another event, a text or email perhaps, then although you are in the room you have put your attention elsewhere.
Yes you can hear what is going on and yes if someone called your name you could respond all be it slowly, but would your ability to learn and recall the facts from the lecture be as good, somehow I think not. This is not to say that periodically you should not let your concentration drift as you begin to think about coffee or what you want to do at the weekend, this is a perfectly natural and in some instances a necessary form of relaxation that can help with learning. This is about being engaged, giving The Event your full attention.
Think of your attention as a single beam of light, able to shine on only on one thing at a time, it illuminates and makes clear that one thing but when you move the light what you were looking at becomes dark or at best not as clear, something in your periphery.
And so to the point, when you have an opportunity to learn, attend a lecture or meeting, give it your full attention. You are not being efficient by doing two things at once you are in fact only ever doing one. So if you do have two things to do but only time to do one, look carefully at what they are and prioritise. And if the email is more important give it all your attention and only after you have dealt with it come to class or attend the meeting.
One other point, you do not become invisible when on your mobile, everyone can see that you have your shoulders slumped in the so called “Blackberry prayer”. Now you might think that this sends a very clear message as to how busy and important you are, in fact it does the complete opposite. People think that you are not in control, probably fire fighting, a poor delegator and a poor manager. And yes it’s bloody rude……