• Alana Stern

"Meetings Are Where Work Goes To Die." Yay/Nay?



Agree or disagree? Even BC (Before COVID), work meetings had the tendency to become long, unfocused drags. There is no doubt that with the new normal of more and more working from home, it can be difficult to stay focused during online meetings. Here are some tips for keeping your attention on the meeting.

Let’s Get Physical

Sometimes doing two things at once is good. Ironically, doing something mindless at the same time as a task that needs your attention, helps keep your brain focused on the main task.

Think back to school days. What helped you focus during class or long lectures? For a lot of us, I’m guessing it was doing something with your hands, or rocking on your chair. Even if the hyperactivity is inside your head, doing something physical can help burn off some of that extra energy. Moving around actually increases the same chemicals in the brain that ADHD medication does. If you can join the online meeting on your phone, try walking around or pacing instead of sitting. Maybe you can even use the treadmill. That’s the beauty of online meetings.


If the situation does not allow for this kind of movement, use your hands:

  • Doodle

  • Use an adult coloring book

  • Knit/crochet

  • Squeeze a ball

  • Get a fidget toy

  • Click your pen

  • Twirl your hair

  • Get a fidget toy

  • Chew gum or suck on hard candy

  • Sip a cold drink (water is great for focus).

Remember that it should be something mindless, so that you can focus on the meeting.


Taking Notes



If you need more blatant directing of your attention, take notes. Literally, with a pen and paper, not on your laptop or phone, where distractions lie close by in wait. Furthermore, the physical act of writing activates more brain parts than typing does. Even if you never look at the page again, write a keyword or two for each sentence. Use bullets to create an outline. Offer to write the minutes of the meeting, or pretend you have to. Ask for the agenda beforehand and take notes on a printout of it , which already gives you the big-picture outline. If there’s a presentation, ask for the slides before and write on a printout. Try changing the color of your pen when your attention dwindles. Or if you’re a mind-mapping fan (a lot of ADHD brains love this creative, non-linear and big-picture method), draw a mind-map. Learn how here.

Participate


One of the easiest ways to stay engaged in a meeting is to actively contribute to the discussion. If you don’t have anything new to add, you can try every now and again to paraphrase what someone has said like this: “So just to be clear…” “Let me make sure I’m understanding this right…” Near the end of the meeting, run through what you thought were the main points and ask if others agree.


Friendly Environment


Make sure you set yourself up away from distractions, including your phone, which is like virtual crack for some of us! Try changing your seat after a while for a new perspective. If you need to be creative in the meeting, place yourself opposite a view of greenery if possible. It generates creativity. If the meeting has a set end time, visibly track the passing of time so you know where you are. TimeTimer is my favorite app for this, but if you want to stay away from your phone, have a clock or watch in view. Analog is better for getting an actual feel of how time passes. Or download a random reminder app. It vibrates at random intervals. Keep your phone in a pocket, and every time it vibrates, bring your attention back to the meeting if it has wandered off. You can also set a vibrating alarm at certain intervals for the same purpose. Keep a notepad nearby to “download” any interrupting thoughts out of your head to address after the meeting, like things you want to remember.

The Usual Suspects


Don’t forget the usual enemies of focused attention – lack of sleep, dehydration, social media notifications, bad air-circulation. Set yourself up for success by avoiding these before the meeting starts.


Finally, remember that ADHD is not an excuse, it is an explanation. Accept that (especially virtual) meetings don’t work well with your kind of brain, and then use the above supports to level the playing field for yourself. I’d love to hear in the comments what works for you.

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