Etiquette experts explain how to work zoning out if you get caught
Daydreaming on the job can be your worst nightmare.
Take this Australian news anchor, who got caught on camera examining her nails and playing with her pen when she was supposed to be introducing another ABC News 24 segment.
— Media Watch (@ABCmediawatch) April 9, 2017
The clip of Natasha Exelby giving a startled gasp and snapping to attention once she realizes she’s on the air went viral over the weekend.
— Marc Fennell (@MarcFennell) April 9, 2017
Unfortunately, the blooper also reportedly cost Exelby her job. But Exelby took her expulsion with grace.
“I can understand why people found it funny, and it was certainly me at my most raw. But I also have to take some responsibility here,” she told News.com.au. “I’m a professional and what happened was far from professional.”
Thank U all for ur generous support. Not my finest hour. Myself and my mesmerising pen honourably salute you!
— Natasha Exelby (@NatashaExelby) April 10, 2017
Still, almost 1,000 people have already signed an online petition calling for her to be reinstated. After all, who hasn’t zoned out during a meeting or conference call? A 2010 Harvard study found that people spend nearly half of their waking hours daydreaming.
Letting your mind wander doesn’t have to be a career killer if you handle it professionally, according to Monster.com career expert Vicki Salemi. “We have all been, there done that, especially during a conference call,” she told Moneyish. “And we are so accustomed to multitasking that it’s natural to daydream and zone out.”
The key is not to draw attention to yourself. “If [Exelby] didn’t make such a big deal about getting caught, it would have been a less magnified example of, ‘Woah, I was zoning out when I should have been looking at the teleprompter,’” noted Salemi. “We wouldn’t even be talking about this if she had discreetly handled by saying something like, ‘OK, now we’re back.’”
If your boss catches you zoning out at your desk, for example, Salemi recommends saying something like, “Oops, you just caught me in a momentary brain-freeze,” or, “I just zoned out looking at these vendor contracts, but yeah I should be on my email.” Briefly apologize, maybe crack a joke about needing coffee, and move on.
“But don’t apologize for 10 minutes,” warned Salemi. “If you spend more time apologizing than you did actually zoning out, you’re making this into a big deal. It’s OK to apologize and move on, otherwise you’re just wasting more time.”
And let’s say you were looking at your phone or got lost in thought during a meeting or conference call, and your director calls on you to offer feedback; the best move is to just ‘fess up that you were a million miles away.
“Just say, ‘I’m sorry, an email came through and I got distracted. Would you mind repeating the question for me? This is really important that we talk about it,’” said Salemi. Or if there is a legitimate issue distracting you, such as a relative in the hospital, it’s OK to say, “I’m sorry that I wasn’t paying attention. I have a big personal situation that I’m expecting a call about any moment, but you have my full attention now.”
If you’re prone to daydreaming, set yourself up for success by sitting close to the person running a meeting, or taking period walks away from your desk to get water or coffee, and reboot your brain for a minute.
If you do get caught, just stay calm and collected. “It’s happened before, and it will probably happen again, so don’t freak out,” said Salemi.
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