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Technology and decision making in business

11 February 2015

People in a meeting with mobile technology in front of them

There are etiquette books galore for sale. Many of the ones written more recently deal with the thorny questions surrounding communication and technology. To be seen to be doing our jobs properly, we must be online and available all the time. But is doing too much-at-once detrimental to our own abilities to do our jobs - quite aside from the fact that it’s downright rude to spend your time on your mobile device when you’re in a meeting with a colleague(s).

In the light of recent research on multi-tasking (and the consequential pieces appearing in the media about how engaging in too many tasks at once is making us inefficient and not more efficient), access and availability might not be the most positive way forward.

Can you answer and make calls, watch for emails and texts, or look things up on the internet in a meeting and still be doing a ‘good’ job? How much of your attention is lost on the bigger picture anticipating what may pop into your inbox?

Recent research reported in the Guardian indicates multi-tasking both increases stress and is addictive. Answer your mobile with, ‘Sorry, I’ll call you back later, I’m in a meeting,’ or, more politely, use the inbuilt automatic text function, ‘I’m in a meeting’, is disruptive.

Now, British research has found that: “being in a situation where you are trying to concentrate on a task and an email is sitting unread in your inbox, can reduce your effective IQ by 10 points”.

Willingly reducing your own capacity to that extent, when you could modify your behaviour – reduce how reachable and able to answer you are – must be more effective.

Email, text, Tweeting, Facebook, they aren’t bad. Certainly, it would be unreasonable to think we should do away with them, but the quantity we receive and the amount we send could do with analyses. All communications require some sort of decision making. So if the overload you experience by constantly being available and having to make decisions is affecting the quality of your decisions - cut back.

Interrupting the task at hand by keeping an eye on your phone or tablet or computer screen is not only dismissive and disrespectful, it will, according to research carried out in America at Stanford, mean that you put anything you learn or need to remember from the interactions into the wrong area of your brain.

Something else we’ve noticed about email is that it affords people the licence to ask you to do something outside the scope of your work, your influence and, often, your relationship with the person emailing you. The litmus test has to be: if you wouldn’t ask the person you're emailing for it in person, then it’s not a valid request.

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