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Can't focus on the teleconference? Join the club

New study says most people let attention wander during conference calls. Eating, surfing Web rank high on list of distractions.

Workers are sharpening their multitasking skills--but the boss might not be so happy about how they're using them.

Ninety percent of people who participate in conference calls find things to keep them busy besides following the discussion, according to a new survey from audio and video conferencing company Raindance Communications.

Topping the list of distractions: doing unrelated work and looking for materials being discussed on the call. A full half of respondents said they read and write e-mail and instant messages during such calls, while just more than a third said they take the opportunity to fill their stomachs. Twenty-seven percent say they surf the Web during conference calls, while a third said they are guilty of pressing the mute button to talk privately with others.

A smaller number of people said they've used their time during conference calls to nap (1 percent), change their clothes (4 percent), prepare meals (2 percent), and drive (12 percent). Dialing in on a mobile phone obviously provides a broader range of diversions. Several respondents said they'd participated in conference calls from the beach, swimming pools and gas stations.

The survey included responses from 385 businesspeople.

The problem, as Raindance executive Brian Burch sees it, has to do with the ever-blurrier line between work and personal time.

"People are expected to be always on," Burch, Raindance's chief marketing officer, said. "Given that everyone is asked to do so much, and work hours have expanded so much, if material presented in the meeting doesn't allow for fast decision making, people will tune out."

Advances in video conferencing may aid the situation. Eighty percent of respondents said they'd goof off less if conference calls included a video component. Perhaps a new cure for attention deficit disorder would also help.