It seems like everyone is an expert multitasker nowadays (or at least they think they are). Business people are no exception. How many times have you seen professionals manage their email and work on other important to do’s during a meeting? Multitasking, however, goes beyond using technology to stay connected. For our purposes, multitasking just means dividing one’s focus in order to accomplish several things concurrently.

Dedicating all of one’s attention to the completion of a single task can seem like a waste of time, resources, and intellectual ability. This mentality finds its root in the increased speed of interaction in the business world and the growth of technology. However, the surge in multitasking is also derived from our understanding of productivity. We might think that completing multiple tasks at once will result in greater efficiency. However, behavioral science studies suggest that this might not be the case. Have you ever sat back and asked yourself if there are there any times when multitasking can be detrimental?

Behavioral science research, in fact, seems to indicate that there are times when we should focus on accomplishing one concrete goal. A 2010 study named “Juggling on a High Wire: Multitasking Effects on Performance” by Adler and Benbunan-Fich showed that multitasking, especially in terms of goals, has a negative effect on performance. As a part of the study, individuals had to complete 6 different tasks on the computer, all of which were located on different tabs. The researchers found that low-multitaskers had 25% more correct responses than high-multitaskers (Adler).

When placed in the context of business development, this study can be applied to increase productivity within meetings. Although it may seem more “efficient” to attempt to handle a number of important topics during the course of a single meeting, the end result is actually a loss of productivity. Important decisions are mentally taxing, and so by trying to squeeze too many into a short amount of time, we are actually getting less mental output than if we were focusing on one key topic and the few important related decisions.

When planning, we should only set one goal for each meeting. What is the one thing that you want to advance? Do you want to figure out the cost and scope of a Paid Selling Effort? Do you want to propose a Give-to-Get? Whatever you decide on, that one goal should receive 100% of your attention. Resist the temptation to try to get “more bang for your buck” (or better, your BD minute) by adding additional goals. Then, frame that one goal for your clients so that everyone is on the same page.

The key to this method of running meetings is that it offers a clear yardstick for measuring success. Was the main goal accomplished? Did we move forward? What are the next steps? All of these questions are simple when applied to one goal, but can become more nuanced when the success of the meeting depends on too many factors. If the main goal is accomplished before the meeting is over, both parties should feel free to continue working as they transition to the next issue or step. Choosing one goal doesn’t limit you from accomplishing more, but it does ensure that at least one important thing gets accomplished. 

The key to applying this information to business development is to rethink the way we understand multitasking. Most people understand the term to include activities like checking email while listening to a colleague during a meeting, but few think of multitasking in the broader sense – dividing your attention. Even though we might think we are expert "task jugglers," we are often much more effective if we focus on one goal. Give clarity of purpose a test drive at your next meeting – and see how successful it can be.

References:

 Adler, R. F., & Benbunan-Fich, R. (2012). Juggling on a high wire: Multitasking effects on performance. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 70(2), 156-168.

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