“To do two things at once is to do neither” – Publilius Syrus
The spontaneous conversation in the passage has disappeared. Because you can’t just pop your head into someone’s office, you now need to set up a dedicated time in the day to chat to them.
Multiply this across your team and numerous stakeholders and your day is a jam-packed calendar of virtual meetings.
Zoom fatigue is very real. According to The Nielsen Network, ‘it’s a direct result of the fact that one hour of “Zoom/Teams / broadcast engagement” is generally seen as equating to two and a half hours of a “normal” work environment”.
People even report feeling like they’re giving a presentation when they’re in a Zoom call, and thus face unhealthy amounts of stress and anxiety. You can’t change the fact that meetings need to take place, but you can create rituals on how to deal with them to boost energy, focus and productivity:
Multitasking is destroying your productivity
“Multi-tasking is merely the opportunity to screw up more than one thing at a time”. – Gary W. Keller
In your mind, the only way to manage this meeting overload and get your work done in the designated working hours is multitasking during the meeting.
Multitasking is a myth. It is the kryptonite to productivity.
Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin explains why – “The kind of rapid, continual shifting we do with multitasking causes the brain to burn through fuel so quickly that we feel exhausted and disoriented after even a short time. We’ve literally depleted the nutrients in our brain. This leads to compromises in both cognitive and physical performance.”
Even if you are convinced you are capable of successful multitasking, science confirms otherwise. It is not about doing two activities at the same time; it is that we cannot concentrate equally on both tasks.
Cal Newport, author of ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’ says:
“We have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate”.
Productivity is not about getting more done, but the right things done.
What can you do ensure your meetings have the maximum ROM – Return on the meeting? Replace the habit of multitasking with focus. Here’s how:
“If you leave your time to randomness, you are stealing from your greatness” – Brendon Burchard
It’s not enough to schedule your time into the calendar, you need to give yourself full permission to focus on only one task at a time in the allocated slot.
Author of Essentialism, Greg McKeown says ‘to get the right things done, choosing what to ignore is as important as choosing where to focus’.
Grow the superpower of focus by allowing yourself to ignore all the other stuff you are not working on. Ditch the ‘should be’ mentality and bring yourself fully into the meeting.
When you allow this mental tug of war to take place, you land up in cognitive overwhelm and inevitably multitasking with every good intention to make progress on your goals.
Jim Kwik, author of Limitless, says that ‘multitasking is bad for your intelligence. Studies have found out that multitasking literally lowers your I.Q. When working on more than one thing at a time, each project and task lasts much longer, and you perform poorly’.
Bottom line – quit meeting multitasking.
Manage your environment
“If we do not create and control our environment, our environment creates and controls us.” Marshall Goldsmith
The way to manage your environment and cultivate focus is to manage your distractions. Turn off your notifications on your email, social media feeds and irrelevant WhatsApp groups. Mute them all!
In fact, I would go one step further and close Outlook completely – even if you see the unopened message, it will create stress and the mental chatter becomes ‘what if it’s urgent? I’ll just quickly check in’.
Beware attention residue
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” ― Cal Newport
This grazing approach to working quickly creates a build-up of something called attention residue –where you continue to think about a previous task once you’ve moved onto another.
Attention residue contradicts the way our brains are supposed to work: we aren’t designed to work on two mentally challenging tasks at once.
A 2009 paper published by University of Washington associate professor Sophie Leroy found that:
“People need to stop thinking about one task in order to fully transition their attention and perform well on another. You might not be as efficient in your work, you might not be as good a listener, you may get overwhelmed more easily, you might make errors, or struggle with decisions and your ability to process information.”
Don’t give away your precious attention just because someone else sent you a message. Every email is another decision, every ping is another tug on your willpower muscle which gets depleted by the end of the day.
If you know you get easily distracted, then remove Candy Crush from your phone. If you can’t help checking every Facebook notification, leave your phone in another room or delete the app completely.
Set yourself up for success in advance. Remove the elements that are grappling for your attention to free up mental bandwidth and make progress on what matters most.
Set your intention
“If you service low-impact activities, therefore, you’re taking away time you could be spending on higher-impact activities. It’s a zero-sum game.” ― Cal Newport
If you committed to the meeting, then honour the obligation to show up fully present and engaged.
Set your intention ahead of the meeting:
- What do you want people to know, feel and do as a result of your contribution in the meeting?
- What skill you want to demonstrate?
- What energy do you want to bring to the meeting?
- What would make this an extraordinary meeting?
- How can I move the energy of the team from coping and fear to direction, collaboration, alignment and an excitement to perform again?
Now bring your actions into alignment and you’ll be amazed how your energy and engagement levels soar.
Nominate a CEO – Chief Energy Officer
“A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” -Jim Rohn
On the more regular status meetings, ask yourself ‘how can you infuse some life and energy into people?’. Ask them to share a highlight of the week, an inspiring quote? It cannot just be about work.
The main role of The Chief Energy Officer is to ensure people are taking regular breaks in the meeting. Have people stand up after 50 minutes and do some neck and shoulder stretches.
Encourage people to bring an awareness to their jaws and sitting posture. Over a day of meetings, this will start to develop into headaches and tightness and create a whole new set of problems.
If you can’t avoid the meeting, then at least ensure you leave energised and not depleted.
“Once she stopped rushing through life, she was amazed how much more life she had time for.” ― Unknown
When I start an online training or coaching session, I use a tool called ‘A Minute to Arrive’ that I learnt at a workshop called ‘Search Inside Yourself’. I invite all the participants to take a deep breath and let go of the day’s activities, irritations, stresses and give themselves permission to be fully present in the session.
It provides people with the opportunity to get their headspace in the right place and let go of the frustrations of the last meeting. It is a forced pause to enable people to steer their awareness away from what they’re meant to be doing next week or even making for dinner and redirect their focus into the present moment.
Try inserting this practice into your day before each activity, not only meetings. I often do this before I take the kids to school in the morning. As I get into the car, I take a deep breath to centre myself from the busyness of the morning. It is a way to press the reset button and be present so I don’t take any frustrations out on them.
Schedule a buffer zone between meetings
“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” – Lao Tzu
It’s all well to feel centred in the meeting but what about in between? You cannot be at your best if you are sitting all day logging in from one meeting to the next without space to really digest and download it.
When accepting meetings, where possible, create a 15 minute gap between them.
During this time, go outside, get some water, take a breather and give yourself a moment to process what happened in the meeting. Do you need to make some notes about next steps? Do you need to follow up with someone? Was there a heated discussion that got you really upset?
More than creating additional action items, think of it as a closing ceremony between events in your day. It provides a space for the one to be left where it is and not dragged along with its baggage into the next activity.
When you log off for the day, apply a 15 minute buffer zone to transition from work mode into personal mode, especially if you have kids at home. By creating this gentle space, you can slow yourself down and process the day. Set your intention for the next role ahead of you, be it parenting, partner or friend.
Meditate for mental fitness
“We give away freely that most precious of resources – our attention – and in doing so; we cheat ourselves out of the gifts that are already here” – Beth Kempton
If you wanted to train for a marathon, you would start incorporating an exercise practice into your routine. Some light jogging, squats to build leg muscles and cardio for fitness.
If you want to eliminate zoom fatigue, then you need a practice to develop the skill of focus. Multitasking is training your brain in the art of distraction.
Meditation is not only about spiritual fitness but mental fitness. It is simply the practice of sitting down on a chair or the floor and putting your awareness on your breath. When your mind begins to wander into random thoughts, simply bring your attention back to your breath.
Over time, this enables you to insert a mental pause button between the stimulus that would normally trigger you and your response to it.
Meditation and yoga equally develop the muscle of contentment. It may feel like you are wasting your time, or you can’t feel any tangible results in the moment but you need to remind yourself this is the only place you are meant to be right now. You can’t meditate and check social media at the same time so apply the same discipline into your meetings.
As with your meetings, manage your environment. I have a client who reported ‘“I tried to meditate but my phone kept on ringing”. Please remove your phone from the room if this sounds like you and create space in your day to do the mental reps.
Practice doing one thing at a time
“Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.” ― Cal Newport
The simplest way to develop the skill of focus is to practice concentrating on one activity at a time. Use your daily routine as a training ground.
If you are on a phone call, just be on the call – don’t surf the web or check email. If you are cooking, just focus on mixing the ingredients, not listening to an audio book at the same time.
Literally practice zoning in on one activity and let go of the mindset it is a waste of time not to maximise it. By doing one thing at a time, your concentration “muscle” will become incredibly strong, and your focus will reach boundless levels.
Put your self-care under a microscope
“Be patient with yourself. Self-growth is tender; it’s holy ground. There’s no greater investment.” – Stephen Covey
Make sure that the above strategies are not a giant band aid to a bigger issue. What are you doing throughout your day to manage your energy? Start with the basics – nutrition, clutter, hydration, movement and sleep.
If you are convincing yourself you can get by on 5 hours of sleep and caffeine, then nothing will eradicate the zoom fatigue you are experiencing. You need to cultivate a lifestyle that ensures you can be your most productive during the day.
Energy management = boundary management.
Build in recovery time on weekends. Although the lines between work and personal life have become blurred, maintain strict boundaries between weekdays and weekends. You can’t enter Monday refreshed and revitalised when the weekend was spent catching up on work and emails.
Make your meeting more effective
“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing”- Caleb Keller
You can never escape meetings in their entirety, but you can put measures in place to make them as effective as possible:
- Request an agenda and commit to it – don’t allow meetings to turn into chat sessions. Steer the conversation back to the agenda as soon as it gets off track.
- Don’t default to 60 minutes – can you accomplish the same thing in 25 minutes?
- Show up on time – don’t punish the prompt, begin on time.
- Have a moderator and allocate time slots – don’t allow one person to hog the spotlight, if it’s a long meeting, then allocate a designated speaking slot per person.
- Stay on purpose – when the meeting loses focus, bring it back to the core purpose of the meeting.
- Laugh at yourself – if your child or pet makes a cameo appearance, laugh at it and allow yourself to be human.
- Make it culture – institute a culture of no weekend emails and meeting free Tuesdays
“What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.” ― Cal Newport
Online meetings are here to stay. Perhaps the meetings are not the issue but the way we choose to manage them.
The people who do the most valuable work have a remarkable willingness to say no to distractions.
To get the most out of your meetings, replace busyness with clarity. Distraction with intention.
If focus is not an issue for you, perhaps you need to dig a little deeper and be honest about your self-care routine. If you don’t have one yet, start with the basics.
In the words of James Clear, – “If you commit to nothing, you’ll be distracted by everything”.
Here’s to owning your meetings,
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