Improve your Focus in Stand-ups: 4 Tips

Recently, I’ve had a tugging on my heart: I’m not an active listener when it comes to our remote stand-ups. We live in an age of multitasking. Our computers can do twelve things at once, so why can’t we?

A stand-up is a daily meeting method that’s popular with agile product development teams. The idea is to stand during the meeting to keep it short (usually <15 minutes) and to the point. Each developer answers three questions: what did I accomplish yesterday, what will I do today and what obstacles are in my way.

The temptation to do other things while someone else is talking is especially prevalent during virtual meetings. We all lead incredibly busy and demanding work and family lives, so common sense tells us we should combine work whenever possible.

Don’t do it. Not only is multitasking a productivity killer, it’s also bad for your brain. Most of all, it’s extremely rude and disrespectful to the person speaking – and it’s irritating to your coworkers.

Suppose they were right there in front of you. Would you sit and check your email on your phone, fix a syntax error in your code, or text your family or friends about what’s for dinner? Humans are creatures created in the image of God: they all deserve our full attention whenever possible.

Stop and think about the benefits of giving the other person your full attention. You’re saying to them, “Your work is valued. I honestly want to hear about what things you accomplished yesterday and where you’re planning to head today. To celebrate your victories and be empathetic to the roadblocks impeding your progress. I want to help where I can.” Doing so instills a sense of teamwork. It helps us fight the ever-present individualism in our culture that puts us at the center at the expense of everyone else.

Here are 4 practical tips that I believe can help improve focus during remote stand-up meetings.

1. Resist the temptation to cmd + tab

It can be easy to want to delete your 1,854 coupon emails from Belk or catch up on Slack notifications, but don’t! I promise your inbox won’t implode if you wait another 15 minutes before deleting them. Your computer has hundreds of gigabytes of storage. It can wait.

If you need help controlling your over-tabbed browser, this Trello blog post offers a solution.

2. Don’t just “tune in” for your cue

It’s tempting to listen for our name and then spew off a list of things we did and the thousand things we need to get done today. If it’s not our turn, we can turn down our listening knobs to unhealthy and disrespectful levels.

It’s noticeable when we’re distracted or only giving half of our attention in meetings, and our coworkers are not pleased. In a USC Marshall School of Business study, 76% of full-time employees surveyed think checking texts or emails was unacceptable behavior in business meetings.

3. Don’t work!

You can’t concentrate well on two things, anyway. There’s a reason your brain doesn’t have 2 CPUs. Marvelous things when you focus on a single task. Split it up and you end up not actively listening to the person speaking as well as writing sub-optimal code.

In fact, studies have shown that multitasking is actually impossible. Your brain doesn’t perform two tasks at the same time. Rather, it splits by jumping back-and-forth between the two and even reduces your IQ level!

4. Keep hands visible to the camera

If my audio were unmated, would my teammates hear the click of a mouse or keyboard? If they would, it’s a good sign I’m trying to do too much. Putting your hands in a visible position shows others, “I’m listening. I’m disarming myself so that I can focus on what you’re saying.”

What if we put these habits into practice every day? What if we followed the radical and counter-cultural advice of the ancient Christian philosopher Paul of Tarsus: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.”

I’m not close to having arrived at putting others first, but I’m going to start striving every day to integrate these habits in an effort to move towards more respectful and profitable stand-up.