Do you have a problem with splitting your focus? No, not applicable to you, a question for one of your colleagues perhaps? If you are always 100% on point and reactive to any fire that comes your way in the line of business, then look away. However if, in doing so, you are checking your phone then you may want to read on.

You know how it goes… you’re locked into your third Zoom session of the day and trying desperately to convey an ‘interested emoji’ face as a colleague starts running down the clock with a path of thought that isn’t really relevant to the meeting topic. As you stare at your meeting participants on the small screen in front of you, you feel a sudden and irresistible urge to consult your phone.

You should really ignore it but, just like Gollum’s ‘precious’, the handset is demanding your attention and habit gets the better of you. With great subtlety, and some digital dexterity, you perform a one handed unlock and are rewarded with a mildly amusing meme, a parcel delivery update or a reminder of how many emails you now have to deal with. Was it worth it? Probably not. But it doesn’t matter. Nobody noticed….

What’s your video impression like?

Meanwhile, on another screen, in a galaxy not that far, far away, one of your colleagues (perhaps even your boss), has noticed your slightly strained look or heard the tell-tale sounds of distraction through your non-directional mic that you’ve left on and is now watching your clumsy attempt at a cover up.  On that note, do remember that however lightly you think you are typing, and therefore getting away with it, a computer’s in-built mic will pick up and transmit to all present the tiniest pitter patter of fingers across a keypad.  They are watching you lower your eyes for long enough to unlock a device and glance at the contents.  To you it’s a split-second unseen peek; to everyone else it’s a lengthy show of indifference at the very least…

Even worse than betrayal by the eyes is the more tangible vocal effect – that distracted pause mid word, or sudden tailing off as your brain shifts priority. We all see other people doing it, but of course we are not that obvious (are we?!).  So let’s return to the question. Do you have a problem with splitting your focus?

The answer is probably, but in cases like these it’s most likely not your fault, as anyone who has watched The Social Dilemma will be painfully aware.  Your attention is there to be broken by a myriad of apps that would like it all to themselves and we all know the tantalising gravitational pull of an email that arrives in your in-box while in mid conversation.

Break the cycle. Retune your focus

The onus, therefore, is on you to break the cycle and retune your focus to the moment. It may not feel like it sometimes, but those Zoom meetings are work commitments that still require your full attention. Let’s revisit the ‘old normal’ for a moment. Back then, would you have stolen a glance at your phone during a face-to-face meeting, or zoned out momentarily, to check an email? No, of course you wouldn’t have. True, you may have zoned out and drifted off, but physically you were in the room and to all intents and purposes so was your attention.

One of the emergent issues of the Covid interruption has been the blurring of the lines between work and domestic. For some it has been a work from home experience, while for others it has felt more like a sleeping at the office nightmare.  Initial changes in habits and behaviour (let’s call it the Joe Wicks effect) have given way to malaise and torpor as the months have rolled on, our working lives held hostage by a perceived state of temporariness. We wait for it all to ‘end’ and some kind of return, but that is not helping in the meantime. As such, these tics and habits from our home lives have started to leach into many people’s work lives.

So, now is as good an opportunity as ever to revaluate and revise online behaviour accordingly. The video projection of your computer is a magnifying glass held up to bad habits such as the ones described. If you can’t keep your focus from wandering, remove temptation. Stick that phone in a cookie safe, temporarily turn off email notifications, and remove all desk items which may cause an involuntary fidget through the duration of your meeting. Do whatever works for you, but keep that focus!