The pandemics of mind wandering and multitasking

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Mihai ZANT

Our mind is wandering 46.9% of the time! 


A research published in Science in 2010, by psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University,  was demonstrating how our mind is a frequent and unhappy wanderer.


If this was true then, nowadays in the remote/hybrid calls environment the reality must be worrying. We have somehow slipped in a “normality” of multitasking and continuous instant messaging. 

We had all spent half of our time mind wandering. Think about that time when we were in a meeting room and a colleague had an important but boring presentation. We were automatically thinking about the next vacation, lunch or whatever was unforcingly winning your cognitive focus competition. Or, in my line of duty during a less entertaining training session.

Nowadays, this is the norm!

With instant messaging “productivity” tools, back to back meetings, superposed callendars, subjects and tasks zapping out minds are deeply challenged to keep the pace. This is not only making us function at a fraction of our IQ but also it is placing us on the road to cognitive overload and decline. 


It would be wonderful for everyone to acknowledge that this is not healthy and it is amongst the leading causes for the rise in chronic fatigue, burnout, anxiety and depression rates in our workplaces. But, while wellbeing departments and systemic actions are being deployed, we have the option and the responsibility of self care and #self #leadership.


Let’s take an example where I have the expertise – adult learning. The norm today, in synchronous live learning is meeting zapping for a lot of companies. Somehow, there is this unconsciously normalized habit of call jumping: while attending a 2-3hrs training you can jump through one or two important business calls right in the middle.

Or, you have this less entertaining trainer and your mind starts wandering and you respond to emails. Or, your TEAMs or Slack channels are popping out with notifications of multiple urgent matters. I have heard of people attending 2,3 meetings simultaneously. How did all these become the norm? 


While MOOCs had been failing to actually demonstrate internal corporate “consumptions” synchronous learning has still its large piece of the cake. Presence and focus are key. As large online courses already know that only 3% of those who subscribe to a course actually finish it, the competition for our attention is now also challenging even for live, online learning. A lot of pressure has been transferred on the shoulders of online trainers with feedback like “this was not that entertaining”, “this was not clear enough”, “we have already heard about those concepts” etc. The reality is that all trainers need to be more entertaining. And here we have the rise of the new online star trainers that attract attention by reputation. 


But this is just one piece of the puzzle and true, deep learning was not always fun, easy and entertaining. As we were learning for our exams in school we were reading a complex piece of information and trying to get it while battling our wandering mind. And, the action of bringing the mind back to its intended focus was a truly viable meditation exercise. This was hard, scratchy, but worthwhile. And here is the true key. 


Online learning is not like going to a movie with popcorn and being entertained. It requires a different kind of energy and the willingness to work and reflect upon the information in order to stick. And the most worthwhile and professionally differentiating learning paths are actually the most challenging ones because all the others dropped out of attention. So, in the complex work environments we are operating in today the largest part of the wellbeing, growth and development responsibility lies on our shoulders.


If we are now extrapolating and looking at all interactions happening in hybrid/remote working environments there is a pandemic of mind wandering, multitasking and unfocus that we need to heal. Being in calls with our colleagues while responding to emails, or even slipping out of presence in one-to-one meetings is not only harming others and damaging for the overall relationship but it is harming yourself.  The average human attention span has fallen under that of a goldfish(9s) to 8.25 seconds in 2021. Switching between focus subjects keeps our mind on a scattered and superficial pattern of thinking and the long term effects are not bright.


While in my line of work we may have Learning Professionals to design blended development paths in the battle for your interest and attention there is no one to do it for us in the day to day jobs. What the professionals are doing (or should do) is to understand and analyze deeply the learning needs, place relevant stakes that are connected with business needs and targets, contract for your learning responsibility, time and energy, create timely application opportunities and hold a safe space.


While most social media platforms were using complex psychological knowledge to fight for your time and attention, this has been implemented now in the corporate world. If you put counters on your Facebook, Linkedin, Instagram but also on  TEAMs, Slack you will be dazzled by the result. When does the “real” deep, focused work actually happen? What is your actual role? How are you protecting yourself? What are you creating? How are you differentiating? 


Send me your thoughts!



Photo by That’s Her Business on Unsplash

Mihai ZANT

Mihai ZANT

Mihai ZANT is an Executive Coach, Trainer and Managing Partner at, and Having over 10 years of experience in leading teams and communities he concentrated his work in building Learning Organisations.

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