Posted on: March 26, 2024 Posted by: Comments: 0

We’ve all had those meetings: Every attendee in an 8-person, 10-person, 15-person group goes around, one by one, and gives a general, rambling update. Today’s post on how to stay focused in meetings is designed for times like that and more, as well as for neurodiverse people who find meetings challenging.

If you’re prone to a wandering mind, or your brain makes meetings challenging for you, what are your best tips for how to stay focused in meetings? In general, how do you pay attention when you’re tired, distracted, bored, not feeling well, or all of the above?

{related: how to manage ADHD in the workplace}

How to Stay Focused in Meetings

Take Detailed Notes

Engaging your brain by taking notes — even if someone else is the designed notetaker — keeps your brain active and provides an opportunity to move (a small part of) your body. If you’re a Hunt-and-Peck Typer or a Loud Typer in general, taking notes on paper or a digital notebook will be less distracting to coworkers, so keep that in mind. (I used to have a cubicle next to a man who typed like his laptop personally offended him.

On the other hand, for some people taking notes prevents them from absorbing what’s being discussed in a meeting. One option is — if you can do it discreetly! — doodling. (Does anyone else doodle compulsively during phone calls to focus better?)

Speaking of notes, if something unrelated pops into your mind in a meeting and you don’t want to forget it — “Oh right, I need to pick up my prescription after work!” just jot it down and put it out of your head.

{related: munching during meetings}

Make Your Phone Less Distracting

Americans check their phones 144 times a day, according to a recent survey. I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to know my magic number.

So, during meetings, put your phone away, on Do Not Disturb — or at least place it face down. In case you don’t know, in Do Not Disturb mode — both on iPhone and Android — you can set exceptions for selected contacts to get through.

Sometimes ADDING minor distractions actually helps you focus better during meetings. For example, setting periodic alerts on a smartwatch or fitness tracker can remind you to pay attention.

Speaking of another distracting screen — the one on your computer — you can hide self-view in Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet. (I did not know this until writing this post, in fact, so I’m sure not everyone does!) As Scientific American noted early in the pandemic, staring at your on-screen reflection can be exhausting.

{related: five ways to improve your focus}

Bring a Drink or Chew Gum (When Possible)

If you’re attending the sort of meeting where gum-chewing is acceptable, bring a super-minty flavor or some strong mints to wake up your mouth, and in turn, yourself. (Anyone else love Mentos?) If you have ADHD and/or are autistic, gum can be more acceptable than a fidget item. Just don’t be an open-mouth chewer or smack your gum, of course (but you know, I bet there are people out there who do that for ASMR videos.)

Sipping water — or coffee or tea, for a caffeine boost — can make you more alert when you feel like you’re flagging. Put ice cubes in your water bottle to make it extra cold, or use a freezer stick. (Unfortunately, non-plastic ones don’t seem to be available.)

{related: how to focus on work (when other things are going on)}

Use a Fidget — Discreetly

Maybe you don’t like gum, or it’s not acceptable at your office. If you’re neurodivergent, it can really help to do something with your hands while your brain needs to be occupied elsewhere. Obviously, I’m not suggesting you bring a collection of fidget spinners, or a big Pop-It, but something like this marble fidget can be pretty discreet.

However, because not every workplace is inclusive of neurodiversity, to say the least, you might not want to risk using a fidget item at all.

Try These Options for Video Calls

Fortunately, you have a lot more leeway when you’re on a Zoom call! Use a squishy toy or a fidget cube, for example.

Try some creative or unusual solutions, too. Some people knit or crochet during video calls to stay alert or to focus better. You can also color in a coloring book — perhaps Work Sucks!, if it’s apt? I’ve even seen out-of-the-box suggestions for doing Kegels or origami (perhaps not Kegel origami, but you do you).

If you’re working from home and feeling like you’re going to nod off, turn off your camera to stretch and walk around for a minute or two. Get a drink of water from the i. A standing desk, walking pad, or DeskCycle can also help (and provide physical benefits, too).

{related: executive functioning tips and tricks}

Readers, let us know! What ways have you found to stay focused in meetings, both in the office at at home on video calls?

Further Reading:

4 Ways to Stop Zoning Out in Meetings [Fast Company]

How to Stay More Focused in Meetings [Executive Leadership Support]

Maintain Focus During Virtual Meetings [Harvard Business Review]

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