Tailoring meetings to maximize focus
Most working professionals have been in daylong meetings, struggling to keep their attention, and have looked over to see colleagues making the ultimate meeting faux pas — doodling. But before making judgments, Jackie Andrade, professor of psychology at the University of Plymouth in the United Kingdom, says we can all learn a little more about people’s doodling ways.
Andrade recently conducted a study that hypothesized that doodling aids in concentration because it reduces daydreaming. In a situation of boredom where one or the other are going to happen, it seems daydreaming might be more detrimental to performance than doodling. Andrade tested this hypothesis by taking 40 participants and asking half to doodle while the whole group listened to a monotonous telephone message for the names of people coming to a party.
“The doodlers performed better on the monitoring task and recalled 29 percent more information on a surprise memory test when compared with nondoodlers,” Andrade says.
So perhaps managers should encourage their employees to doodle during meetings? Not so fast, Andrade warns, because the best way to alleviate any distraction is to be fully engaged in the task at hand.
“You are less likely to daydream when doing tasks that are well-structured and -organized, with specific goals,” she says.
Dr. Beth Milwid, an organizational psychologist and meeting facilitator, agrees, saying a successful meeting with engaged attendees — and no doodlers or daydreamers — must have a good structure and design to begin with, including:
- A well-defined start and end time
- A focused agenda
- A meeting facilitator
- A recorder to capture the group’s ideas
“If you feel the material discussed at a meeting isn’t particularly engaging, break it into sections and change subjects every 15 minutes,” Dr. Milwid says. “Rotating who is running the meeting and asking attendees to stand up and move around for a few minutes also are good ways to keep wandering minds engaged.”
A well-designed meeting caters to the way people actively listen and interact during a meeting. They need to participate and be heard, seen and recognized by the group.
“I always tell people their most valuable resource is their attention,” Dr. Milwid says. “Most people want to go home at the end of the day, feeling productive and having contributed in some way. Well-designed meetings ensure those criteria are met.”