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    I bring my laptop to meetings in case I need to make note of things I’ve promised to do, or take minutes, etc. I don’t use it to do other work during the meeting because that would, in fact, be a distraction and I should have just stayed at my desk instead.

    I was pleasantly surprised that this article is at least restrained in its suggested applicability. It focuses on the author’s preferences as a narrative of personal experience, unlike most of the rest of the preachy articles in this space. It ends with a recommendation, but doesn’t push a number of questionable studies to suggest you are wrong if you disagree.

    Different tools work for different people, and the “no laptops in meetings or lectures” crowd don’t often make room for this subjectivity.

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      If there’s a designated note-taker at the meeting then that person can just note action-items in their notes and send them out at the end, saving you the trouble. If that person is you then of course you will need your laptop :)

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        Minutes are great! I’m still going to bring my own laptop in case I want to make my own notes, though. It’s really no trouble at all!

        The frustrating part about this whole debate when it happens is that people are trying to inflict their own personal mores onto others. If you want to use pen and paper, and that works for you, that’s great. I’m an adult, I know that I am happy typing my thoughts into a text file, and I refuse to be subject to other people’s taste.

        There is, after all, literally no accounting for it!

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          I think the reason people (including me) have strong opinions about whether or not other people at a meeting are using laptops during the meeting is because when somebody is speaking and other people are looking at the screens instead of at the speaker then the speaker can easily feel like they’re not being paid attention.

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            That problem goes way back. My solution was always the same: encourage the speaker not to do that. Better if they have little attachment to audience during the delivery to prevent worries from screwing them up. Introspect later.

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              I’m not sure I follow. Making eye contact with audience during presentations is a highly recommended technique. You appear to be suggesting not doing this. Am I correct?

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                No, Im saying you do your part in the presentation but dont really pay too much attention to audience reaction till later. Stay detached. What they’re doing is on them.

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                  That’s asking a lot of the speaker. This is quite hard to do.

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                    Also, unless the speaker is on a strict script, it’s inadvisable. Reading and reacting to the audience’s reaction to your presentation is essential.

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                      Just ignore the ones that are not actively listening, focus on the one that clearly are. If none of them are actively listening, you should probably rethink the purpose of the meeting.

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                        Your original statement is about a speaker so affected by the audience that they worry about whether people with laptops are paying attention to them. That person can’t focus due to their worries or assumptions during the presentation. I said they should worry and assume less to focus just on delivering the content. If you think that’s too much, I wonder what your alternatives would be at that point.

                        There are two that come to mind. One is asking the person to put away their laptop. That can create conflict plus disrupt any positive thing they’re doing. The other is that the speaker who can’t speak easily with a distraction present will then analyze their audience in real-time, try to determine what they’re thinking about the content as the content is delivered, and continuously adapt their presentation based on that. It just seems like a lot more work and stress on that particular, easily-worried presenter than the basic technique of being detached from an audience for delivering pre-made content. Save that energy for any Q&A or discussion later.

                        Note: The detachment technique also has high ROI. You work hard to learn it. You then benefit from it repeatedly during rest of life and career maintaining it just doing it occasionally.

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                    That depends on the type of the meeting.

                    If it is only about information transfer, then I agree. However speaking in front of a group of people is one of the worst ways to transfer information, so the meeting of a whole should be discussed.

                    If the meeting is about deciding things, then as a speaker I feel it necessary to “connect” with my audience. The heart of a meeting should not be information but prioritization and valuation. I want to get a feel which aspects are important to which people. If people are distracted with note keeping the process becomes less efficient.

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                    There are myriad other things that can be a distraction; e.g., having exterior windows with a nice view, or glass walls in a busy office, or other sources of stress in life that cause us to zone out even if not looking away.

                    We’re all adults, and we bear responsibility for our own attentiveness. I think it’s better to directly attack what seems to be the real problem: your colleagues paying attention, or not, for whatever reason.

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                      for whatever reason.

                      That reason being, here, a laptop. For what it’s worth, I feel the same way about phones and tablets in meetings.

                      There have been studies on this.

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                      Also, everybody who uses a laptop at a meeting is goofing off. If @jclulow is the exception to that, they should be pissed at everyone else making it so presenters and meeting organizers need to ban laptops to hold their audience’s attention, not the presenters making the only reasonable choice.

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                        That implies jclulow should be doing something to get a crowd to change their behavior. That’s hard work if it succeeds at all. Also, seems like victim-blaming a little bit.

                        I’d still rather test your initial claim about everyone using them to goof off before expecting people like jclulow to do anything. I’d like some studies as @friendlysock posted on the matter with some numbers showing what percentage were goofing off along with how often. If barely at all, it wouldn’t be a concern to me. I’m also interested in whether the meetings were seen as useless formalities on top of what the company’s culture is (esp on multitasking). In the former, the meeting shouldn’t be happening at all, it should be shorter, or that person shouldn’t be there. In the latter, company that encourages workers to juggle multiple tasks at once shouldn’t be surprised if they’re doing it at meetings.

                        There’s possibly data to use in academia: management students running surveys and studies mention often meetings in their work. I don’t know what the data quality is like, though.

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                      people are trying to inflict their own personal mores onto others

                      At the close of the article, I’m very careful not to be prescriptive. I bolded the I in the list at the end in order to emphasize that this is my behavior and this behavior has benefitted me and those whose meetings I attend. The prescriptive elements of that list are preparation items.

                      I found through experimentation that not having my laptop in meetings works best for me because it forces me to be prepared moreso than being able to pull out my laptop in a pinch. Spending a minute or more mid-meeting getting the projector to work, flashing a high-resolution screen, or passing around a 5 pound laptop are major disruptors to the flow of a meeting. Meeting presentation orchestration is an art form!

                      I want people to do what works best for them. Even more, I want people to try different habits to see if something new benefits them.

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                        At the close of the article, I’m very careful not to be prescriptive. I want people to do what works best for them.

                        Yes, that was great! Sorry, I had tried to make clear that I was impressed with this in my original comment. Thanks for writing a constructive article.

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                    I worked at a company where meeting culture was as such that only one person brought a laptop for meetings (for projecting stuff, etc.). I now work at a company where everyone brings a laptop to meetings. I must say, meeting culture is better at the company I now work at. Primarily because those people who are bored by a meeting can “opt out” and do other stuff, rather than participating in the meeting with meaningless contributions.

                    Opting out of meetings is usually not always possible, because sometimes you don’t know if your presence is needed or not. Maybe if people were better at making agendas, it would be easier to make that call.

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                    I unapologetically catch up on email during ‘status update’ meetings where my actual part is only a small fraction of the time. I have tried to use my laptop less during more substantive ones.

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                      Those meetings sound like the kind that can be entirely replaced by email.

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                        they can, but they are often not (:

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                        As long as those status update meetings are regularly scheduled and efficiently run, they’re probably OK. That falls under the “weekly cadence calls” category in the article. My org back then had these that had 10-15 people on the call giving 2 minute updates on the progress of several teams comprised of probably 60 people. By the time I left, we’d gotten pretty efficient at passively listening to people basically give standup-like updates: here’s what we did last week, here’s what we’re doing this week, here’s what we’re blocked on so someone please take an action item to unblock us. When someone interjected during an update, we could keep discussion to a minute or two and take things offline. We always designated someone as the notetaker/action-item-assigner who would keep minutes and distribute them.

                        Nowadays, I use my one existing weekly – importantly: for which I am remote – as a way of working on mindless, kata-like tasks: IDE-suggested refactoring, build system refactoring, etc. That way, I’m still listening and am able to interject, but can use the time to work on some light technical debt.

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                          “That falls under the “weekly cadence calls” category in the article. My org back then had these that had 10-15 people on the call giving 2 minute updates on the progress of several teams comprised of probably 60 people. “

                          That’s something like I’m talking about in another comment under useless meetings category. Like adsouza said, that sounds like an email could replace the whole meeting with much time saved. Alternatively, a wiki, a forum, or something similar. People could meet in chat or in person on those few things you have discussion on. In one organization we worked, we did these cadence calls on a regular basis until we lost the manager that was interested in doing them. It took a while to fill that position. Our productivity went up on those days because the time listening to people drone on about stuff that doesn’t affect us was time we were not working on our end of the company.

                          “as a way of working on mindless, kata-like tasks: IDE-suggested refactoring, build system refactoring, etc. That way, I’m still listening and am able to interject, but can use the time to work on some light technical debt.”

                          If in such meetings, I think that’s a great idea on making the time useful. Especially how you’re specifically doing stuff so “mindless” that you probably won’t miss anything important in the meeting. I’d guess it also lets your mind kick into gear better on important stuff later.

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                        I get where the author’s coming from here, but I don’t agree exactly. I have had the problem of over-focusing on the laptop, on exactly how my text is formatted, on some email or something, etc in meetings to the extent that I miss things I really should have paid attention to. I find I’ve been able to come up with enough techniques to not fall into that trap while using a laptop, though:

                        • I already have all notifications for everything turned off - too distracting while coding
                        • Take notes only in a plain text file, and do not attempt any kind of formatting that you have to think about for more than a second
                        • Skimming a light blog/news/forum site is okay, but don’t let yourself get sucked into anything too interesting, or start troubleshooting or coding

                        Where I do agree with the author is that this stuff works for me, but I make no claim about whether it’ll work for you. Figure your own stuff out, and don’t worry too much about what anyone else does or thinks you should do, or what some study says. And the reverse if you’re running the meeting - trust that everyone else has their attention figured out, and don’t try to force them to do things the way that works for you.

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                          Figure your own stuff out, and don’t worry too much about what anyone else does or thinks you should do, or what some study says.

                          Yes, this is the intended takeaway! But I’d add one less obvious takeaway: experimentation. By eliminating distractions, you’ve already experimented and found that eliminating those distractions did not negatively affect your productivity (counterexample: disabling notifications accidentally disabled the “production is down” buzzer). I wish more people would experiment with their personal behaviors.

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                            Completely agree about personal experimentation. Along those lines, a recent book I was reading on health and nutrition felt the need to include a passage after quoting a study on sleep times saying basically that you need to listen to your own body first and not try and adjust yourself to match the results of a study that’s computing population-wide averages. It feels natural to me, but I guess a lot of people feel the need to adjust themselves based on some external source of authority.

                            I would also clarify on eliminating notifications - I was going for a short post, the longer version is that it’s a tricky balance. If you make it too hard to notify you, then you can indeed miss important things until it’s too late. Too easy, and you get pulled out of your coding zone because of the receptionist’s email about cleaning out the break room fridge. I tend to fiddle with my exact Slack setup a lot for this. Mute excessively noisy channels, set up a gentle app icon alert for direct mentions and here alerts in select channels seems to be about right for me. I’m going for it feeling noticeable but not shocking or attention-getting, so I can look at it after I’ve finished a thought or a short task instead of feeling jerked away from whatever I’m doing.

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                          People bring laptops to meetings?

                          I joke, I am in meetings with people and their laptops everyday. Notepad and pen/pencil is all I’ve ever brought to one. Its extremely obvious to me as to why you shouldn’t have your laptop out on the table as a meeting goes on.

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                            If I cannot bring my laptop to your meeting to take notes, I’m not coming. I find writing by hand tedious, and I don’t have any need to add the management of paper notes to my life.

                            If I can’t use my laptop to take notes at your meeting, then it’s extremely obvious as to why I won’t be in attendance.

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                              Thank you for your input. I’ll be sure to no longer invite you to my meetings.

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                            This could be a disappointingly cynical view, but I’m guessing I’ll get a few who agree :)

                            I work in meetings constanty because a vast majority of the time I spend in meetings are wasted.

                            Many are called to solve an issue that a simple email could solve. As soon as a request goes out, hangers on who don’t want to miss the chance to appear important or are interested in looking busy ask for a CC.

                            When the meeting actually happens, the participants include:

                            • the filibustering tech pedant
                            • the junior dev who aggressively focuses on self promotion
                            • the PM who doesn’t fully understand the project
                            • two people who forget to mute their phone
                            • and you / the person that needed a simple question answered

                            and it invariably stretches to an hour with the potential of a follow up.

                            “Not going” isn’t an option either: the PM is going to make decisions about the project based on their limited knowledge, the tech pedant is going to discuss a tangential project that links in to yours and the junior dev is going to sign you up for tasks. And when it’s time for performance appraisals, cross team managers will use how many meetings they saw you in as a proxy for your performance.

                            (And this doesn’t even touch on how business lines are aggressively split up so making a decision about the company web page requires five teams from three different branches of the company to be present…)

                            Corporate culture is broken; working during meetings is a symptom.

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                              I’ve gone back and forth between taking digital notes (laptop and phone) and taking notes by hand, and currently I’m in the camp of notes by hand are the way to go. One of the primary reasons is what the author mentions about notifications. I would love to say I can control myself enough to not be pulled away, but that’s rarely the case.

                              Something about having a blank piece of paper and a pen focuses my mind enough to drill down into something with much more intention, whether that’s a meeting, or thinking through a problem.