5 Tips For Staying Focused During a Work Meeting

By: Elesha Piper

Not all meetings are created equal. Some are short and sweet. Others are so long they test your ability not to fall asleep in public. When you’re in the midst of the latter, here are a few things you can do to stay alert and interested. Or at least appear to be!

Be smart about how you use your break time

Even the most demanding executive team won’t expect you to sit through a daylong meeting on budget projections without scheduling breaks into the agenda.

The key is how you use those breaks. Resist the temptation to spend the entire time glued to your phone checking and responding to work emails. Your brain needs some non-screen time to take a breather from the onslaught of profit and loss PowerPoint slides.

Tip:  Put an out of office message on your email for the duration of the meeting. Let people know you’re unavailable and will get back to them at a later stage. This stops getting those pesky follow up ‘Did you get my last email??’ emails and phone messages!

If the break time permits, head straight to the nearest park and take a walk around. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, taking a stroll through green environments can even put the brain into a state of meditation.

No time for a walk? No problem. Deep breathing exercises will reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, and help you feel more alert and invigorated by the time you step back into the boardroom. Find a quiet room nearby for a couple of extra minutes and focus on your breath.

Check out these 5 Breathing Exercises To Increase Focus for your next meeting or download the app Breathe To Relax, which guides you through short sessions of diaphragmatic breathing.

Eat well

What you eat before and during meetings is incredibly important to stay focused and avoid the energy slump that makes the final few hours of a meeting seem like an eternity.

Firstly, never ever go to a meeting hungry. It’s a sure way to not be able to focus on a single detail. Instead, your brain will be looping in circles around the toasted sandwich and coffee combo at the cafe next door.

Meeting organizers take note; a mindful approach to planning catering is one of the best ways to maximize productivity during long meetings with a bunch of important info attendees need to take in.

Fruits, fresh veggies, healthy fats (think avocado, olive oil, nuts, etc.) and proteins are all great choices to keep the brain firing on all cylinders. Think twice about including food loaded with gluten, like bread and pasta. When your body processes gluten, the result is a heavy, sluggish feeling. Not ideal when you need to pay attention to detailed spreadsheets and pie charts for hours and hours.

For breakfast meetings, eggs are a great source of protein (a nutrient that helps delay hunger) meaning your concentration will stay on track. Chicken is an ideal lunch choice, it too is an excellent source of protein and beans make an great substitute for meat-based proteins to keep the vegetarians in the room happy.

Substitute a platter of heavy, sugary danishes for afternoon tea with a delicious fruit platter. You’ll avoid a sugar high followed shortly by a crashing slump in concentration.

Skip the coffee

Drinking enough coffee to fill a bathtub might is tempting when you’ve got a long meeting to slog through but sipping green tea is actually a better option.

Green tea contains two essential compounds, caffeine and I-theanine, which help improve focus and memory, but the caffeine is released slower than coffee. This means the caffeine high from sipping green tea is sustained for longer whereas coffee peaks and drops off quickly.

Unlike coffee, green tea also hydrates as well as water does and has a bunch of other health benefits; it’s packed full of antioxidants. You’ll be doing good things for your health as well as remaining alert and interested (or at least pretending to be!) in the meeting.

Engage in the discussion

If the meeting is longer than a Tolstoy novel and death by a PowerPoint slide deck is beginning to feel like an actual possibility, one of the best things you can do is to engage in the discussion. When we’re not playing an active part in the meeting, we tend to switch off. Speaking up will help you stay focused.

Look for opportunities to ask a question, make a comment or just lend your support. Jotting down key points is a great way to prompt thoughtful questions and stay present.

Speaking of staying present….

Practice mindfulness

In case you missed the memo about the practice of mindfulness that is sweeping the globe; mindfulness means being focused on the present.

Paying close attention to everything happening around you in the moment will help rein in a wandering mind. Which makes it an ideal technique to employ during long meetings when your ability to stay awake in public is put to the test.

Sit up straight, look right at the speaker and bring your focus to each word spoken. If you find your mind wandering to other topics—future meetings, your to-do list, the color of your colleague's tie—acknowledge the feelings, but then commit to refocusing your attention on the meeting.

Keep calm and doodle

According to a study by Jackie Andrade, Psychologist from the University of Plymouth, UK, scribbling random doodles in your notebook is actually a super effective way for your mind to stay engaged during meetings.

In fact, you can retain 29% more information just from the simple act of doodling. That’s pretty impressive. Need more convincing? Check out The Doodle Revolution, led by Sunni Brown author, founder and Chief Infodoodler of Sunni Brown Ink, a visual thinking consultancy. What are you waiting for? Pick up a pen and get doodling.

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