Meeting attention for software engineers
Much of my day-to-day work as a software engineer involves multi-tasking, more multi-tasking, and then multi-tasking while multi-tasking.1
Transitioning from that to sustained focus in online, multi-person meetings is hard (relevant Calvin and Hobbes comic).2
Synchronous meeting time is precious3, expensive and valuable. So I’m sharing some tips that are helping me make the most of that time:
- 🖥️ Make the meeting fullscreen. Fullscreen means I’m less likely to get distracted by other things happening on my computer. I have a second monitor, and I’ll make sure nothing is on it.
- 📸 Camera on. If my camera’s off, I will feel less engaged and accountable to others in a meeting. (I know that’s not the case for everyone.)
- 🖇️ Links shared in meeting go into a new window. New window instead of new tab, so I’m not distracted by other tabs. (In this case, fullscreen isn’t possible; I use Rectangle to quickly move the video window to left side, and the document on the right side.)
- ⏳ Ask for time. If someone shares a link to a document, task, patch, spreadsheet etc, then starts immediately talking about it, my attention gravitates towards the document. Then I’m usually asking the other person to repeat themselves. If you hand out links in a meeting: offer a minute to the other person(s) to review. On the flip side, I need to get better at asking for time to scan through the contents before discussion continues.
- 🔁 Summarize often. When the discussion is transitioning from one topic to the next, summarize what we’ve discussed. This helps reinforce the previous discussion points, gives time for note taking, and also provides for a mental pause before going to the next thing.
- ⌨️ Keyboard out of reach. I have an external keyboard; when I join a meeting, I move it a few inches out of reach. It’s still there if I need it, but I’m less likely to wander from the meeting. If I’m not taking paper notes, I hold onto a begleri or a miniature, mostly non-functional ney that I carved, to occupy my hands and divert nervous energy that might otherwise end up looking through open browser tabs, emails, patches etc.
- 📕 Take notes on paper. This helps me concentrate on what the important points are, since I can’t write everything down. With digital note taking, I found I’m often taking transcript-style notes which I overall don’t find particularly useful. One exception I’ll make for this is copy/pasting links shared in the meeting chat into a text file (I don’t recommend handwriting URLs!) and I’ll file those away after the meeting’s done.
- ㏄ Enable captions. Google Meet allows for closed captioning, which makes all kinds of silly mistakes, but sometimes seeing what someone is saying in written form helps drive home the content in ways that auditory only doesn’t. (It can also be helpful if there’s a flaky connection.)
If you’ve got other suggestions, I’d love to hear them!
e.g., programming, debugging, etc ↩︎
Most things here also apply to 1:1 meetings and in-person meetings. ↩︎