Woman knitting during online remote meeting

How to Stay Focused During Remote Meetings

A simple and pleasurable solution to an increasingly common challenge

Gabi Moore
Jun 8, 2020 · 5 min read

I once heard from a child psychologist that a common mistake parents make is to believe that while their child is busy playing with toys on the floor, she’s too distracted to hear what they’re talking about. In fact, the more focused a child looks while playing with her hands, the more she’s actually listening and absorbing all that’s going on around her.

This idea really resonated with me when I started having endless meetings while working remotely. Many were presentations or large team meetings where my participation was not required. What I did have to do, however, was to actively listen and retain the information being shared. But sitting in front of your computer during a meeting is a recipe for distraction — you’re soon checking email, replying to chats, or even making edits to a project.

To prevent myself from getting distracted by the endless possibilities my laptop provided, I started doodling during meetings. The problem was that I don’t really like doodling, so I got bored with it very fast. So I decided to learn how to knit.

Knitting changed everything. All of a sudden, I could pay close attention to even the most boring of meetings. I would happily sit through an hour and a half of backlog grooming. I would not lose focus or get bored because I was effortlessly listening to every word being said. I started to actually enjoy meetings I dreaded before and, when a meeting was over, I felt like I was fully up to date with the work my team was doing.

The Two Rules of Maintaining Focus

What I learned was that the #1 rule of staying focused during a meeting is to not touch your keyboard, your mouse, or your phone (unless of course, those things are necessary for the meeting itself).

The number #2 rule is what makes #1 possible and easy: choose a manual activity that feels easy and natural to you so you can keep your mind focused while others are talking.

There are a few criteria I’ve found helpful when choosing a manual activity that truly helps you focus. For best results, pick something that:

Manual Activities to Try

There are probably hundreds of manual activities that fit all of the criteria above. If you’re looking for some ideas, here are a few things I have personally tried or know people who have.

Crochet scarf
Crochet scarf
Scarf I once crocheted in one day of back-to-back calls

⚠️ One word of caution:

When engaging in these types of activities during a meeting, it might appear that you’re not paying attention because you’re not facing the camera the whole time. In my case, I knit or crochet even while having meetings at the office, so by now most people I work with are used to it. But if you’re trying out something new, it’s a good idea to let your team know so they don’t think you’re distracted.

If you’re working from home and are not required to be at your desk, I’ve found that other types of activities around the house are great for helping me actively listen too. For these types of activities, I would recommend a wireless Bluetooth headset.

I hope these tips work for you, especially during these times when a lot of us are adapting to the new reality of endless calls and remote meetings. If you have other ideas for staying focused, I’d love to hear from you.


🙌 Big thanks to Dania Marinshaw for her help editing this article and to Jonathan Ruiz for the beautiful illustration. And a very special thanks to my wonderful friend Lisa Jones who taught me how to knit and crochet.

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