The Four Way Stop, Road Rage and Goldfish

Why are people confused at a 4 way stop? You yield to any vehicle that reaches the intersection before you do. How are people learning to drive? YouTube? If there is a pedestrian crossing, forget it. The stop becomes a game of four car roulette.  Some drivers seem to think, the first car to move is the first car to go while others sit clueless. Insert road rage here.  UGGGHHHH. The law is automobiles leave the stop sign in the same order in which they arrived at the stop.  How hard can that be?

Then there was last week. I don’t know what happened. I was at a 4 way stop and I had no idea whose turn it was. None what so ever. How could this be? Then I had my eureka moment.  I’d researched the dramatic drop in attention spans for an article on personal branding. The debated research said our attention spans have dropped to 8 seconds, less than that of a goldfish. Now this made sense. Though I loathe to admit it, enough time had passed while I was at the 4 way stop, that I was distracted with my less than goldfish length attention span. No more road rage at the four-way stop. Perhaps it is not ignorance of the rules but the result of dramatically reduced attention spans.

Now that I see the impact of reduced attention spans in a 4 way stop situation,  I can also see the impact of reduced attention spans when I am in a meeting. If there is a minute of inactivity, someone looks for an email, or someone tries to find the right presentation, I admit, I start to do something else.  It has always been hard to keep people engaged in meetings. With shortened attention spans and electronic devices, it is a huge challenge, The least I can do, when leading a meeting, is minimize the opportunities for disengagement. As efficient as aI think I am, I realize I do things that pretty much push the participants into the distraction zone.  Hence, I present:

Bad Habits of Effective People 

 Meeting To Dos During the Meeting  It is a quick email that needs to be sent. If I do it during the meeting, it is done, off my list. It takes 2 minutes to send an email; not a lot of time. But what about the meeting participants? Do they really want to sit and watch me send out an email?  What do you do? Just sit there for 2 minutes or do you glance down at your phone, check your email, see what else is on your calendar for the day?

Lesson Learned: Do not waste other people time and give them an opportunity to disengage. I write  my to dos, and I do them after the meeting.

Going Off Topic Someone brings up something I really need to discuss, but, it’s not on the agenda. It only takes 5 minutes and it involves most of the people attending the meeting.  I am guilty of going off topic which I justify because the meeting still ends on time. How rude.  While this behavior helps me get things done, what about the meeting participants? If it is an important topic that can be handled quickly, it can be done when the meeting has finished. Otherwise, the people are not involved will start doing other things  and need to be reengaged. Reengagement is not instant. Meeting participants do not  go on pause.  Once they start other things, they want to finish.  For example, they  start an email. When the meeting resumes, they should pay attention but they finish writing their email first.

Lesson Learned: Once people disengage, it takes additional time for them to reengage. As tempted as I may be to go off topic, I don’t. If the meeting concludes early, I can then ask those involved to stay.

The Fluid Agenda

It is time to have a team meeting. I have about 8 minutes of stuff and I schedule an hour, because, well, that’s what you do. I think it’s a good call, we cover a lot of things and I get a lot of information. But, I realized, it is a lot like web surfing. I start looking at something online and after a series of clicks an hour has gone by. I am embarrassed to say, in the past, I have hosted meetings that are the equivalent of web surfing. Like going from click to click, I go from topic to topic. What’s really happening? The participants disengage and work on something else if they are not involved. Sure, there things they could comment on, but don’t because they don’t want to finish what they are doing. When I run a meeting with a fluid agenda, I’m basically telling people to half listen while you do things that you feel are more important.

Lesson Learned: Meetings do not have to be an hour.  Plan the agenda, the time, the outcome and exactly what materials are needed. It’s work, but worth it. Full engagement is more innovative, collaborative and productive.

Technology has changed the way we live and the way we work. This quote if from almost  40 years ago:

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”

Ken Olsen, founder of Digital Equipment Corporation, 1977

 We not only have computers in our homes, it’s now possible to have a small computer on your wrist. Technology has changed and now we need to  change way we meet by minimizing opportunities for disengagement. The means adhering to an  agenda with a set time, purpose and outcome. Things outside of the scope and not relevant to all the participants  are scheduled for another time. Consider if this is happening a lot, you keep having meeting with topics that do not require the attention of the entire audience,  your attendees may be wrong,  Unlike driving, there are no printed stop signs and caution lights. Be ruthless with yourself.  Think of what causes you to disengage from a meeting. Are you creating the same disengagement when you host a meeting?  If the answer is yes,  stop driving people to distraction and lead them to greatness.


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