If you enjoy this article, I have related article on the topic of self-research (human guinea pig) meditation called Coffee Bean Meditation.
Do you like meetings?
No one that I know likes meetings, but we all get roped into them. Maybe leaders should take a class on how to make meetings fun? That might liven things up a little. And after that, politicians could learn how to make press conferences more interesting.
The Fundamentals of a Good Meeting
Maybe it’s personality type? Ask your dog to come with you to a meeting. The dog will run in circles and happily drool all over your lap just for the chance to be with you. Ask your cat to go with you and he will stare you down, daring you to move first. If he does not claw your eyes out, he will just get up and let his Booty do the talking.
I get invited to a lot of meetings. Sometimes they can be helpful for information sharing or team communication. Most times, meetings are just boring. I prepare myself for every meeting by bringing a pen, my notepad and a sketch pad. We have pens and paper in a meeting in order to give us something to do while our body is held captive.
The Research Questions
To make meetings more interesting, I set up a research project with the following three questions:
- How many minutes into a meeting does it take before the mind leaves the body?
- How many distractions do we experience in a meeting?
- Can a meeting-mindfulness practice improve our attention?
For this project, I studied my own behavior over the course of one week of meetings. I did not sign any form of consent, nor did I ask for the permission of my co-workers. I went ahead and observed my own behavior and the behavior of my boss and co-workers. You may think I was a stalker, I think of myself as a researcher. Same thing. I did not do this for my own glory, it’s all for the next generation. They are my motivation.
For the first two questions, I researched myself in one two-hour meeting. To test the first question, I timed from the start of the meeting until my first distraction. I was an attention rock star for the first 15 minutes and then I began to wander. This confirms the literature that shows that for most of us 15 minutes into a meeting is when our minds are set free from the anchor of the body.
As to my second question, I tracked the number of distractions (which in itself was one giant distraction):
- 1 Time I whispered to the person next to me (I sat 2 meters from the speaker, so it was difficult to get away with talking to someone else)
- 2 Episodes of food consumption
- 2 Instances of daydreaming
- 6 Instances of doodling (see pictures below, included as research evidence)
- 7 Times I felt bored
- 11 Times I was impatient, I asked the speaker to hurry up and get on with the meeting (I think it was only in my mind, but I had lost my conscious memory by that point)
- 17 Instances where I felt myself getting sleepy
- 18 Times that I or my coworkers checked our cell phones (apparently checking your cell phone is easier and less rude than talking in a meeting???)
- 120 Instances of meeting-tracking-distraction (Not included in the distraction count, as this all for research)
In total, I experienced 61 recorded distractions over the span of 120 minutes, making for one distraction every 2 minutes.
Investing in my Attention
My next experiment was to try to actually pay attention in a meeting. I want to note that I think it is stupid to call it “pay attention.” We pay taxes, which is not fun at all. Why make attention something we have to pay for? I find it strange that we have to pay for our attention, rather than get rewarded for it? I like the idea of being rewarded every time I put up my hand, look at the speaker or just show up. Happy face stickers, fancy coloured paperclips and coffee grounds would go a long way.
I tested a meeting-mindfulness practice and whether it can improve our attention. For a while it worked and I was focused. I recorded nice things like:
- Being appreciative of being awake, of being warm on a cold winter day in Alberta and for humor. I like to laugh at my own jokes.
- My breathing. I realized it is uncomfortable smelling my own breath. This was an eye opener.
- Being aware of my body. I realized that I needed Aspirin, for my Asspain.
- Relaxation. I felt sleepy.
After a while, I began to cycle. Paying attention to my attention span played tricks on my mind. I noticed that:
- It is hard work to sit up straight. Slouching is easy and more fun.
- Office chairs are uncomfortable. I would rather sit on the table, or on the floor with my dog.
- Noticing: The walls, the pens, the paper clips. Spending time staring at the walls made me feel like I could see the atoms moving inside of the walls. I needed my medication after that.
- I became confused. At the same time I tried to relax (aka: slouching) and sit up straight. These two strategies worked against each other. Half of my body was so relaxed that I was draining towards the floor, while the other half was strong and upright like Superman. This made me feel self conscious, afraid of looking like I was having a self-induced stroke.
Then I realized that discomfort is my friend. Tight shoulders, a stiff jaw, constant fidgeting are all strategies that my body uses to wake me up and get my attention. Why fight that? It is more fun to listen to my body rather than to the speaker. The only time this becomes an issue is when I am leading the meeting, which happens about half of the time.
Research conclusions: Rules for how companies can help you and I feel less distracted and less bored:
- Keep meetings short. Most distractibility begins after about 15 minutes, so limit the meetings to 15 minutes.
- Talk to us, not to your computer. Peak distractibility occurs whenever the speaker or the reader must read directly from a powerpoint.
- Reward our attention. If I have to pay for it, I will not be happy.
- Pillows will make long meetings more bearable.
- Gum for the times when we become aware of our breath, or the breaths of other people.
- Provide Aspirin… Aspirin for my Asspain.
- Let me bring my dog.
Keep it real
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