If your meeting is not relevant to me, I'll try to get out my laptop and get some actual work done while my time is being wasted or if we meander into areas that are not of relevance.
If you ban laptops, and for some bizarre reason I still have to attend and your meeting is not interesting to me, i'll code on bloody pen and paper and enter some of that code into the computer once I get back to my desk, or i'll try to do SOMETHING productive. Trust me, you don't magically have my cognitive attention...
I had a consultant/workmate try to ban laptops in her meetings. No prizes for guessing whether I think it was the laptops or the meetings (or the consultant) that were the far bigger waste of time/attention/money...
Hire competent people and let them decide what the best use of their time is...or at least admit that you think its justified treating other's in the workplace like children...
I get that. I really do. But there's so many things on that list these days. Its what I feel if i'm told to close a laptop when its quite clear i've already made a decision on whether what is being said is relevant to me or whether i have better things to do. I'm also aware of the social power/authority plays involved in such, as well as traditional etiquette.
But i'm also getting to that stage of life where I'm no longer as concerned about whether some numpty feels i'm disrespecting them by prioritising my time against their preferences or being "rude" by being practical.
I'm aware you can't do this in many workplaces/contexts where you basically have to be submissive/concordant with a workplace culture that says otherwise.
But my life is too short for me to worry seriously about such things anymore. I don't go out of my way to offend, nor do i take said actions as some kind of social/political power play. If a person doesnt want to work with me because of that or gets offended, well, rack another one up on the board...
Its not black and white, granted...but I think its more statistically valid that people who make a big fuss about such are more likely to be on my own "waste of time/oxygen" list...
Or, if that is not acceptable due to workplace hierarchy, talk to your manager and explain the problem. If being present is a political necessity, chances are so is not secluding yourself behind a screen.
And may be you missed the point that, like being physically present, opening laptops in the meeting also has significant signalling effects.
I'm not yet powerful enough to get out of the fraud/shit-show entirely :P
In many organizations, the 'more powerful' are even more greatly hamstrung by mandatory (and fruitless) meetings.
The amount of lunacy and idiocy going on during these "quick" meetings has been driving me nuts. Imagine a room full of VPs, each making no less than $200K a year, discussing the need to spend $1K on hardware.
And the punch line - we just spent more salary $ during this meeting, than it would take to rent these for a year from OVH or AWS.
I wish companies had a "meetings budget" and had to justify the ROI of each meeting... One can only dream :)
So we might see posts like $2k for a planning meeting show up on the report, and suddenly people started paying attention to what time was spent on - both for meetings and otherwise.
And making arguments like the one in your example. It also meant being able to make actual estimates over whether pursuing a certain optimization would be worth it vs. buying more hardware.
Amazingly each place I've done this at, they were initially confused why I wanted to do this, as apparently it was weird and unusual to have engineering issue such breakdowns
By "longer than 90 minutes", he means that the total time spent by the people participating in the meeting should not be longer that 90 minutes (so 2 participants -> 45 minutes, 3 participants -> 30 minutes, etc.).
This fits your logic perfectly.
That committee included one of the founders (I can't for the life of me remember if it was Yang or Filo). I had to buy $4k worth of hardware once and they spent 20 minutes grilling me about load data etc. from the current server.
It just baffled me at the time that a multi-billion dollar company saw it as worthwhile for one of its founders to spend 20 minutes discussing a $4k purchase.
Not to mention the signal value about how little they trusted the judgement of their engineering team.
I concluded that it basically was about two things:
1) to keep said person away from more important decision, at the cost of annoying a lot of other people. 2) as an intentional barrier to make people think twice about asking for more. To #2 on one hand I appreciate fiscal responsibility, but at the same time I've seen too often how making people overly stingy often wastes huge amount of resources trying to engineer around something that could be solved for a tenth of the cost by throwing more hardware at it.
I agree with the spirit of the article, but the problem remains that most meetings are, at best, fora for discussing things that could be discussed in a more decentralized manner, and, at worst, complete wastes of time where one person is flexing control muscle in order to inflate their self-importance.
The problem with "meeting culture" is completely unrelated to the problem addressed in the article, except to say that the problem addressed in the article wouldn't be such a problem if the "meeting culture" problem were addressed instead.
Don't call a meeting if you don't really need one. Hint: most projects really only need 2 meetings: one at the beginning, and one at the end. Everything in-between can be dealt with in a much more streamlined manner. This, unfortunately, includes "Agile" development "stand-up" meetings. With the correct tools they become completely unnecessary, and only serve to hinder (or artificially accelerate) development milestones.
I'm sure that there are some teams out there who do this correctly, but I haven't been lucky enough to come across any yet.
It's paternalistic and condescending and always written by those that don't like to multitask already to make themselves feel better about the multitaskers around them.
And it completely ignores those of us with various forms of Attention Deficit (I would venture a much larger component of millennials and software engineers have this compared to previous generations) who know what works for us and what doesn't.
If you give me 3 1-hour-long tasks and tell me I have to work on them sequentially with no switching, I will get bored in the middle of each one, get distracted by something shiny, or stare into space if you try to keep me from doing anything else. I'll need to take a break between each one because my brain is so strained from having to focus on one thing.
In all, I expect each one to take me 1.5-2 hours plus another 30 mins for breaks between, so maybe 5 hours total at a minimum.
On the other hand, if I can alternate and context switch between all 3 as soon as my brain gets bored, I'll be able to keep engaged and work continuously. Sure each one may take me 1.25 hours, but I won't need a break. And the whole thing will get done in 3.75 hours, not 5.
(Numbers completely fabricated, obviously)
The same applies to meetings. I'm not defending coding or working on a challenging problem while listening to a presentation. That will certainly occupy my mind and I won't hear the presenter. But checking some non-complicated emails? Organizing some files or documents? ANYTHING menial is perfect because it allows my brain to stay engaged while also paying attention to the presenter. Without this minor distraction, if I am forced to listen to a boring presentation with my full focus, I will unquestionably lose the focus and find myself drifting off and wondering how much I've missed.
The exception is when someone feeds me dense enough information that I cannot process together with other things but I cannot focus on it very long without needing to reprocess it which is why that rarely happens and this kind of information is usually provided (and requested) on paper.
So yes, I agree with you; I have never been diagnosed with anything but I always have been capable of getting work done while others are sitting through slow talking people in meetings (usually the case). It actually helps me not just completely shutting the presenter out and hear nothing at all.
Joel seems to think similarly:
I guess maybe the point should be that there is no one size fits all solution for stuff like this (and also floor layouts - I find myself MUCH more productive in open floor layouts. I find a private office a productivity killer . Joel disagrees)
Why would 'millenials' suffer from Attention Deficit more than other generations?
Waiting on IO and refocusing is such a slow task that time scheduling other CPU-heavy jobs during that time can optimize performance a lot.
As a fellow ADHD'er, I realized some time ago that while multi-tasking, I was just doing multiple things poorly. I'd lose the stack, forget tasks, lose conversations - basically be a waste of space, except for the very rare times where I could write brilliant code due to hyperfocus.
When not on medication, I will be forced multitask, but I do so with "tasks" which require differing amounts of concentration - so I can leave one part of my mind stewing on a problem while looking at cat pictures.
Also, bosses + coworkers prefer if you always seem busy – so, while planning code, take a block of paper, and draw flowcharts, class diagrams, etc – it helps visualize the thoughts (so you keep them even if interrupted), and it makes you seem more effective.
1) All meetings are capped to be maximum 15 minutes long. No exceptions. (This means everyone have to be prepared, and there are pre-designed meeting plans to follow).
2) There are two slots each day that can be used anytime: one "briefing" in the morning, and one "debriefing" in the evening. If something urgent happens, there is also one possible slot mid-day for emergency meetings, to be used sparingly.
"If I'm not paying attention, it's because your meeting is boring or irrelevant."
I am not talking about people who open their laptops in a few (or even most) meetings where the content is boring. I'm talking about people (including myself until recently) who open their laptop or pick up their phone in every single meeting they attend. If you are not that person, no reason to be offended. If you are, then please explain to me how every single meeting can be irrelevant.
"I have ADHD, I can multitask. In fact, I work better when I multitask."
Somewhere between 5% and 11% of all children in America are believed to have ADHD. Even if quadruple that number for people in the computer industry, that still leaves the majority of the population as non-ADHD sufferers. Those are the people I'm talking about. The majority. Also note that I'm not just talking about people in the computer industry, but all information workers. The incidence of ADHD in the general population is not nearly large enough to explain the epidemic I'm describing.
"But I use my laptop to take notes."
The second sentence in the article clearly states that it is fine to do so "for the purposes of the meeting - to take notes..." I guess you must have been multitasking and missed that sentence. :)
"Maybe you should make your meetings more interesting if you want me to pay attention."
I will just quote from the article again: "As the meeting organizer, I should, of course, strive to make the meeting relevant and the decisions concrete. Otherwise, I deserve to be ignored for the latest tweet or alert."
If you look at the most productive meetings at places like Google, people have data and processing capability to hand, and end up referring to it. If that is "IM the guy in another state who isn't needed for the meeting but has the a answer to this specific question", easy choice.
But I also agree, if a meeting is not productive for you, there is no need to attend them (and meeting notes should be sufficient to catch up).
Another more constructive approach might be to make your meetings more useful/engaging.
Have an established topic, stick to it, only bring in people for whom it is relevant, make it short and to the point, choose a timing that don't interrupt people activities.
What I think is not so clear is whether or not it's okay to have people at a meeting who are mostly-not-present, but just background-listening. They might know that the meeting is mostly not for/about them, but that it might touch on their stuff, and they want to stay loosely informed. Of course, if someone takes good notes and sends them around, those might be just as good, but maybe no such notes exist.
Most of the time, I don't say a word during the whole meeting other than "Hello, my name is so-and-so and I'm a software developer at the company" and then "It was a pleasure meeting you, looking forward to next time!". I just quietly work away in a corner, pretending to take notes. The project managers feel more confident when they know I'm there, so I can be there just as well as anywhere else.
As long as you're not expected to be actively participating, there's no harm in not being actively participating.
Individual employees who try to change corporate behavior tend to be unsuccessful, especially against such ingrained concepts as "We should just call a meeting!".
If the owners (or stakeholders) of the company failed to address this, then they still can't be described as cowardly, just incompetent.
The employees, if they're being paid anyway, aren't going to rock the boat improving the productivity output of the employer, especially after they've been shot down once for attempting to actually be more productive. They'll just shake their heads in disbelief at the fact that the company is willing to pay them to be unproductive.
(I don't normally post spelling corrections even when they make me twitch as I'd never get off HN, but I made an exception here as the brand "Segway" was a deliberate pun.)
There are enough exceptions but that's not most meetings. Most meetings are not about a critical company policy or about a critical technical dilemma where core infrastructure has to be changed. Etc.
"New side project: price tags on Google Calendar events based on the inferred hourly rates of participants."
I'd argue if you're having trouble getting your employees to pay attention either they don't need to be there, or the meeting isn't being run properly.
The idea that we all still have to take notes using pen and paper astounds me, and seems horribly inefficient.
I find that if I sit doing nothing in a somewhat boring meeting, my mind will wander and I'll often zone out completely.
Whereas if I use my phone to play simple visual games which don't require any language processing (e.g. freecell), I'm much more able to concentrate on what the speaker is saying.
It's not quite as good as listening properly, but overall I think listening to everything with half an ear (or more) is better than missing parts of the meeting entirely. And if anything directly relevant comes up I can stop and focus.
If you will actually give people information that is important to their job, they will put a laptop or phone aside and listen to you very closely. But if they're always distracted by something else, could you be wasting their time with this meeting?
If the audience starts by looking at the phone/laptop, you have to basically buzzfeed people into paying attention ("Oh, here's a cat picture haha, now back to our MRR discussion") for enough time to get the 30 seconds of attention to get them. Because if not, people's attention is already captured by the device
If the policy is like "don't use your laptops for the first couple of minutes", then at least you timebox the important stuff and give the talker a chance.
That's a great idea and reminded me of an SAP SME we used to have who would insert meme photos at arbitrary points of a slide-deck. Worked well for breaking the zombie-trance of attendees.
Another rule I saw was to allow people to bring laptops but leave them on a table at the back of the room. Still available for reference and emergencies but the attendees had to make a conscious and obvious to go to the laptop.
Few people are wired to comprehend "tl;dr" versions of stuff -- if the meeting is going for eternity, please don't blame me for not listening.
For eyes forward meetings bring your laptop, they are mostly waste of time anyway.
I rarely, if ever, attend a meeting where every single person is expected to pay attention for the duration. On the rare occasion this happens, people DO pay attention. Maybe it's the meetings and environment that need changed.