On Boring Meetings and Multitasking

Meeting Photo by Chris Montgomery

I use multitasking as a measure of the success of our regular team meetings.

If someone has time to reply to emails or finish their code during the meeting, then the topic doesn’t concern them, and it’s a waste of their time. It’s that easy.

The worst thing you can do here is to reprehend. Saying that someone is not paying attention and you are disappointed is a reaction of a lousy school teacher. Effectively, you just got a very clear signal, but you prefer to ignore it and shoot the messenger. Instead, when I talk with my colleagues, I emphasize that multitasking is valuable information for the facilitator and a sign that it’s time to change something. I ask people to tell me if they catch themselves multitasking. Sometimes I even ask people directly how often do they feel distracted at the team meetings.

I use this information as one of the inputs for making meetings less formal and more engaging. For example, we changed traditional person-centered reports “what did I do last week, what are my plans for the upcoming week” to project-centered reports “within the scope of a project X, the progress is this, and what’s left is this.” On a different note, we start meetings by discussing something beyond the scope of work. A topic “One good thing that happened to you last week” is precisely that.

A meeting agenda in Todoist

A meeting agenda in Todoist

Does it help? I don’t have data, but my gut feeling tells me that it does, with our discussions becoming more engaging and vivid.