7 Ways To Refocus A Wandering Mind During Meetings

| josh@ihatelongemails.com |

Do people who check their phones while you’re saying something important bother you?

Whether you’re talking with a co-worker or you’re in a meeting with ten other people, those quick checks to emails and text messages have become an annoying and real part of our workplace.

We Are Connected To Our Phones

In “Tech Distractions For Workers Add Up”, Tim Mullaney referenced a recent survey of 515 white collar workers completed by software company Harmon.ie and polling researchers at uSamp, which showed that:

  • More than half of U.S. workers waste an hour or more a day on interruptions: 60% come from electronic devices and e-mails, while the other 40% come from traditional sources, such as phone calls or chats with colleagues
  • 45% of workers say they can’t go more than 15 minutes, on average, without an interruption
  • Almost two-thirds will tune out of meetings to read e-mails, tweet or take mobile phone calls

This constant message checking distracts many speakers and interrupts the energy and flow of productive meetings.

Wandering Minds Are Good, To A Point

Our minds naturally wander and that’s a good thing. We are not wired to give 100% focus for long periods of time.

When our brains wander, our subconscious brings forward answers to problems that have troubled us for days. For instance, we think of what we should have said in last week’s team meeting or we envision a new idea that will help us to complete an important project.

The two major problems which unfocused listeners encounter are (1) a lack of respect for the speaker and (2) a missed opportunity to contribute knowledge and value to the topic.

If you find yourself drifting in a meeting, conference call, presentation — or right in front of someone — here are seven helpful strategies that you can use to refocus your attention on the other person:

1. Catch a word

When you realize that you’re zoning out, listen for the next word the other person says. Just grab onto that word as if it were a pole that you would use to balance yourself on a fast-moving train.

2. Comment on what was just said

Find a natural break to comment on what you heard. While interruptions happen naturally in most conversations, try not to interject your point while the other person is talking. However, if the person doesn’t take a breath, then you have no choice but to interrupt.

3. Admit you were drifting

When you admit that you were drifting, the speaker will likely appreciate your sincerity and move forward with the conversation. Of course, you can only admit this a few times before losing your credibility.

4.  Take notes 

The action of writing sometimes helps people to pull themselves away from their own cloud of thoughts and refocus on the speaker’s ideas. In addition, writing notes will enable you to return to a point for further clarification.

5. Turn off your phone or preview pane

You can also turn your phone upside down and cover it with papers if simply seeing the device will cause you to check for messages. The out-of-site, out-of-mind technique works for some people.

6. Commit to a time limit for your focus

If you’ve run a race of any length you know that pushing yourself for that final stretch takes energy and determination. Make a deal with yourself that you will focus on what the other person is saying for the next 15 minutes (or remainder of the meeting), and then allow yourself ten minutes of down time to think about anything.

7. Find your place on the agenda

If you have an agenda for the meeting or call, find the topic and place a check mark next to it. No agenda? No problem. Just grab a sheet of paper, write down the topics that are being covered and find the current one.

Any one or a combination of these ideas can help you to regain focus in a conversation or meeting. Good luck and let me know how they are working for you.