How many things are you doing right now? Are you reading this blog while having lunch, checking emails, replying to a text, fixing a meal, or “listening” to someone else telling you about their day? We have become a nation of “multi-taskers” – people who pride themselves on doing many things at the same time. Multi-tasking leads to what is considered “continuous partial attention.” Is this a problem? You decide…
In nutrition we talk about being “mindful” when we eat. To be mindful requires focusing on the experience of eating and on the sight, smell, taste and texture of the food. It includes tuning in to how the food satisfies our hunger and responding to a feeling of satiety. If we are also engaged in watching a screen or typing a text, we are not being mindful. Multi-tasking is inherently NOT mindful.
Can you imagine watching an accomplished athlete going up for a basket, or swinging a golf club while holding their smartphone to keep up with the social feeds about their sporting event? Pretty ridiculous, right?! They know the importance of focusing on the task at hand - one task, and only one task – making that shot. Multi-tasking is NOT focused.
According to Dr. Paul Hammerness and Margaret Moore, in Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life, “multitasking increases the chances of making mistakes and missing important information and cues. Multitaskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.”
The opposite of multi-tasking is being focused on where you are and what you are doing – one thing at a time. In chapter 35 of the Academy Guide to Nutrition Communication, which I just completed, I cover “audience management.” I close the chapter with this thought…
Effective audience management can be summarized in three words: be fully present. When a communicator is fully present, they are more likely to engage their audience in ways that prevent problem behaviors and will be able to respond quickly and effectively to any situations that arise. When an audience is fully present, they will not be distracted or distracting. They will attend and listen, participate and provide feedback, and contribute to the achievement of the desired outcomes. As a communicator or an audience, strive to be fully present.
How often does “being focused and fully paying attention” describe audiences today? Today’s audiences are often giving partial attention while also engaged with the world outside as they check social media, answer texts, make to-do lists, and respond to emails.
Giving our full undivided attention is becoming a lost practice. This happens not only during presentations between audiences and speakers, but in meetings, and in one-on-one and small group conversations. To give one another our undivided attention improves communication. But, when we are not fully present, we not only risk being a poor communicator, we send a nonverbal message that the person or situation is a low priority. Is that the message you want to send?
I encourage you to try being fully present the next time you are communicating with others. That means putting our phones away. Notice if you are better at listening and better at communicating.
“Wherever you are – be all there.” Jim Elliot