Doing the dishes during meetings

Published on 2023-04-25
Reenactment. No meetings were interrupted when taking this photograph

When I started working at Sony Mobile in 2013 I noticed something that I had never experienced before: People brought their laptops to meetings.

I get bringing the laptop to take notes but these were developers, and they were definitely not taking notes.

Now, other people might be able to do things on their computer and be attentive in a meeting, but I sure as hell can't. Just ask my wife and she'll tell you that while I might respond when she's talking to me while I'm deep in the zone I have definitely not registered anything she's said to me.

Because of this, I almost never bring my laptop to meetings and if I do I use it to take notes - in Markdown, in Vim, in a terminal.

Should I happen to open a browser window and look something up or maybe just try to squeeze in a few lines of code whenever the conversation takes a turn I don't need to be involved in...

... poof, I'm gone until someone asks me something and I have to ask them to repeat it because I definitely was not paying attention.

Nowadays, the overwhelming majority of meetings I attend are online. This means that I have to sit in front of my computer to attend the meeting which means that my computer is right there.

Whenever someone starts going off on a tangent, it's really easy to just slip into the browser or IDEA "until they're done"

My brain: "hmm, what if I try this implementation instead"

[topic change that I don't notice]

Someone else: "What do you think, Raniz?"

Me: "Ehrm, sorry, could you repeat that?"

Maybe the real problem here is that I attend meetings that don't interest me. And that might very well be true at times, but most meetings will have discussions that I'm not very interested in which means I'm likely to just try to distract myself a bit by going back to work.

I'm also a fidgeter, which means I need to keep busy by doing something. Usually this means I click pens, play with paperclips or something else that keeps my hands occupied.

But I have come up with a better solution, one that might sound a bit odd but that is more or less perfect for me: Leaving the computer and doing something else.

This might sound a bit odd, but from experience I have concluded that doing chores like:

  • Doing dishes
  • Doing laundry
  • Cooking
  • Baking
  • Putting away my kids' toys

leaves me with enough brain capacity to actively listen to audiobooks - something that I really like because it means I can get chores done and "read" at the same time.

Actively listening to audiobooks and actively attending meetings should take about the same amount of brain power. And should I need more I can just pause whatever I'm doing and focus on the meeting.

The main problem with this is that in some meetings I can't just turn off my camera and leave the computer. Especially in smaller meetings with new people I'm probably expected to be seen on camera all the time. I might solve this by turning off my camera after a while and then go do something else, or I might have to find something I can do at my desk that occupies me enough that my IDE or browser doesn't steal my attention.

So, the next time you don't see me in a meeting I'm probably off doing something else so that I can focus on the meeting.