Article Date: 1/1/2010

Hold On A Second, I Have To Take This

Hold On A Second, I Have To Take This

If your phone is so smart, then shouldn't you be more productive?

Jim Thomas

Five years ago, Dr. Neil Gailmard wrote in his “Management Tip of the Week” what might be the definitive set of rules for dealing with people who use their cell phones in your office (see Dr. Gailmard not only gave his usual sound advice — and he did so in the pre-iPhone/Droid era — but he asked readers to consider another point of view: Why a patient with a child at home may need to answer a phone while in the exam room.

Our office away from the office

Over the past five years, I'd hazard to guess that most of us now keep our cell phones nearby on a 24/7 basis. And for good reason. Cell phones allow immediate access to emergency calls. Users can download diagnostic images and patient documents, and bring them up on the screen of a smart phone anytime and any place where the phone has coverage. And don't worry: Unlike the others who pace the sideline of their kid's soccer game, you look downright fashionable wearing a blue-tooth earpiece.

Additionally, you can send and receive instant messages and gain Internet access for all kinds of critical information including sports scores, stock quotes and the latest wall posts on Facebook. It's no wonder people use their phones everywhere, including public restrooms. (Now that's multitasking.)

The downside of multitasking

Is there an “iProblem” here? Aren't we more productive?

No, argues Dave Crenshaw in his book, The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing It All Gets Nothing Done (Jossey-Bass). The business coach says we really aren't multitasking, but “switch tasking,” or bouncing back and forth between tasks. This activity can be effective when tasks require minimal mental effort (watering the plants while answering the phone), but it's counterproductive to answer electronic messages as soon as they arrive when such a practice disrupts work on important tasks. Perhaps worse, we can lose touch with where we are. I cringe when people answer routine calls during business meetings. How does that look to the others in attendance?

Granted, you may have attended your kid's soccer game only because the cell phone offers a lifeline to the office. But let me suggest you block out a specific time each day for e-mails and IMs. Answer only emergency calls and let the rest go to voicemail. Use the phone wisely. Now, take a moment to put it down and acknowledge the person next to you … unless, of course, you happen to be in the public restroom. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2010