Pay Attention In Meetings

“Hey, I must have missed if you said this during standup but…”

Meetings - very few of us actually like them. They are a large part of our day, but also a massively draining part of our day. For me personally, I never feel productive after a long day full of meetings. I feel like I didn’t get anything done, didn’t respond to enough emails, or didn’t respond to enough Teams/Slack/Discord messages.

So what happens?

The next day, full of meetings - you decide that you have to multi-task during your current day’s meetings.

You go to your morning standup and while the other members of your team are giving their updates you’re replying to an email from yesterday, and then a couple of direct messages from any number of the instant messaging platforms. Then, it’s your turn to give your update; so you do and a couple of minutes later the meeting comes to a close. You’ve done it! You made it through standup without having to pay attention.

An hour after standup, you realize you have no idea what anyone else on your team is doing that day, or did the day before. Oh, and did they answer that question that came up yesterday? You have no idea, and now you have to send that embarrassing “Hey, sorry I must have missed if you said this during standup but…” message.

This is just one, small example of not paying attention in meetings. What if this was a meeting with product owners on a feature? Or the team to pair program? Or a requirement gathering meeting? Or a product review/demo?

We need to do a better job of giving our full attention to the meetings that we accept and attend.

What should we do during meetings?

We should be giving our full attention to the meetings that we are in. This means:

  • Don’t respond to emails
  • Don’t respond to Teams/Slack/Discord/etc messages
  • Don’t catch up on Social Media
  • Don’t watch something streaming on another screen
  • Don’t research a problem completely unrelated to the meeting at hand.
  • Don’t use this time to look at your phone/respond to texts/etc

If you accepted the meeting, you made a commitment to be there. If it cannot be your priority for that time slot, you should ask to reschedule to a time where you can be fully attentive.

What are some ways to be more present during meetings?

Take Notes!

I’m an offender of almost every one of the “Don’t”s above. It’s tough. As a dev, when I’m on my 4th or 5th hour of meetings I start to zone out, and go on autopilot. I’ll respond to Teams messages, reply to an email, or even try to organzie my email during a meeting. I was able to recognize this, and realize I needed to make some changes in order to give the meetings my full attention and the meeting hosts the respect they should have.

The most impactful change that has helped me so far, was to take notes during my meetings. I’ve been really enjoying using OneNote for taking notes. It gives me the ability to create sections so I can group items together, great formatting, syncing with my account so I can pull the notes up on different devices, and of course much more.

Honestly though, what you use to take notes matters less than the actual act of taking notes. Some of the time, if I’m in a hurry, I’ll just pull up a plain old Notepad and take notes that way. Later on, I can copy them in to OneNote and format them as necessary.

When you’re taking notes, you don’t really have a choice other than to be very attentive so you don’t miss anything. You don’t have to tell other people in the meeting that you’re even taking notes. These can be solely for your eyes only if you want. Alternatively, if you feel they are useful, ask the team and the meeting host if they would like a copy of your notes - I’d be willing to bet they would! Since I’ve started taking my own notes, I’ve been able to send them off to the meeting participants on numerous occassions and they have proved useful.

I’m not suggesting you take notes on every single meeting. I will let you make that call of where you think you should take notes. But, for me, taking notes during meetings has proved to be the most impactful in getting me to be more present and attentive during meetings.

Disable Notifications

Most of the time during meetings you will see an email notification, or an IM come through. This immediately steals your attention away from the meeting. Try tweaking your settings so that when you’re in a meeting you don’t get any notifications that will come through as a distraction.

Make sure to apply some of these same practices to your phone as well. Set your phone to silent, or turn off notifications during certain time of the day if you’re able to.

Re-evaluate Your Schedule - “Do I even need to be here?”

How many of us have gone to a meeting and a couple minutes in say to themselves: “Do I even need to be here?”?

In my own process I’ve been going through with this, I’ve been realizing that some of the meetings I am in, I don’t really need to be there. Either the content doesn’t pertain to me, or I can’t add value beyond the participants already involved. Knowing this, or realizing this while in a meeting can make it extremely difficult to pay attention.

One way I’ve been trying to address this is asking if the meeting organzier would please provide an agenda for the meeting. This gets them thinking about everything they would like to cover in the meeting, and the desired output of the meeting. Some of the time, a 30 min meeting can end in 10 min because everyone came prepard and some time you can realize that the meeting doesn’t pertain to you and you can request to be dropped from the participant list.

Turn on Your Camera

This is not going to be the most popular option, and it may not be for everybody. That’s fine - I understand there are different challenges around this one. For me though, turning on my camera continues to help force me to pay attention in meetings. When you’re camera is on, its obvious if you’re doing something else other than just listening or taking notes.


  • Pay attention in meetings that you have accepted and made a commitment to attending.
  • Avoid multi-tasking during meetings
  • Take some steps, like taking notes, to help you pay better attention during meetings.

What other ways do you find useful for helping you pay better attention during meetings?