Why We’ve Gone Gadget Free at Meetings

Yeah, you read that right: our digital agency has gone gadget free at meetings. Take a deep breath, all ye techies, this is the best decision we’ve made since coffee, and I’ll tell you why.

Let’s start with some brain science. Assuming you haven’t been living under a rock – no judgment to rock dwellers – you’ve heard plenty about our inability as humans to productively engage in multiple tasks at once. I’m not going to dig into the neuroscience here (nor am I qualified to do so), but the short of it is that when you multitask, all you’re really doing is rapidly switching between tasks. And every time you do this, there’s an associated cognitive cost, including decreased work quality, reduced empathy and substantial reductions in cognitive and emotional control.

Not compelling enough? Multitasking is also linked to significant drops in IQ. So much so that IQ drop seen with multitasking parallels that of people who missed a full night’s sleep or are flying high with Mary Jane.1

Jenn, if I wanted to read about neuroscience I’d follow Psychology Today on Twitter…

Fair point, reader. What does this have to do with gadgets and meetings? Everything!

When you go into a meeting and bring your gadget of choice with you, no matter how well-intentioned you are, the second you look down at your doo-dad, you’re multitasking and splitting your attention, reducing your ability to participate and add value.

I cannot count the number of times I’ve watched someone repeat themselves in a meeting because someone else wasn’t paying attention and asked a question that had JUST been answered. And I’m guilty of it too. Putting the annoyances and inefficiencies aside, when you’re checked out, your ability to contribute goes down the toilet. It’s also disrespectful and a waste of everyone else’s time.

Soapbox dismounted, and assuming neither psychology nor emotional pleas resonate with you, let’s talk money. Meetings are hella expensive. One study showed that a single weekly meeting of mid-level managers cost an organization $15M per year.**


To bring it closer to home, if you have an one-hour meeting with 10 team members, that’s 10 hours of company time. Assuming a $250/hr shop rate, that’s $2500 worth of billable time. Gone. For ONE meeting.

What’s my point? Meetings are pricey, so make them count!

How do you do this? We have 5 guidelines for gadgets at meetings:

  1. No gadget unless you have to have it: Our number 1 guideline is that no one (bossman included) bring a laptop, phone, etc. into a meeting unless it’s necessary for the meeting. For example, if you’re hosting a presentation on your laptop, you need your laptop. If you’re a PM who needs to reference resource allocation for the upcoming quarter, by all means, bring your gadgets and spreadsheets. It would be inefficient not to.
  2. If you must bring a gadget, use only as directed: There will be times when devices are necessary. That’s fine, but anyone who needs to bring a device with them keeps it on standby mode until they need to use it, and returns it to its rest once done.
  3. If a meeting is important enough to attend, it’s important enough to attend: If you’re going to attend a meeting and so use company resources, then make the most of that time, pay attention and participate. On the flip side, if the meeting is not important enough to pay attention to, then it’s not important enough to attend. Is there actually a better use of your time? Discuss it with your boss. I bet he or she will appreciate your desire to save them money.
  4. Moleskine, for the win: Need to take notes? We do too – and we do it with pen and paper. Not only does handwriting engage more of your brain than typing and help you better retain what you’re discussing, you’ll get those writing muscles twerkin’. Your non-carpal-tunneled-wrists will thank you.
  5. There are exceptions: Sometimes you need your gadget handy, even if you’re not using it for the meeting. You might be waiting for an important call with a client or something – we get it. What’s important is that you’ve communicated with your team that you may have to step out, and that this behavior is the exception, not the rule.

Have other tips that have made your meetings more efficient and productive? We’d love to hear them, so comment away!