Stop Second-Screening at Work

There's a modern term called second-screening that, I think at this point, we all engage in in some form or another.

For most people, it involves splitting attention between your smartphone and a movie or television show (get it? two screens). For others (myself included) it's putting a video on in the background while you work; and then for a handful of others (also known as almost everyone that works a white-collar office job), it doesn't always involve a second screen, but the concept is the same: we're all fucking distracted in one way or another.


It may seem paradoxical as a people manager, but I generally abhor meetings. I find about 80% of them to be a waste of time ("should have been an email"), and most of the remaining 20% to have either the wrong people, run too long, or start too late (the biggest exception being one-on-one meetings that can happen just as easily in a coffeeshop as in a conference room).

Regardless of the value of any given meeting, though, the one thing that they all have in common (excluding said one-on-ones) is that just about everyone is only half-present.

They are on their phones or (more often) their laptops, tip-tapping away getting other work done at the expense of everyone else in the room.

It's hard to judge... there really is more work than people to go around, and managers can sometimes get a raw deal with the meeting-to-maker-time ratio, but I've also become increasingly aware of the potential impact of my own behavior on others as the bulk of my work moved out of the computer and into the conference room.

Hello Paper, My Old Friend

So, a while back (I can't quite remember when) I actually stopped bringing my laptop to meetings, opting to bring a simple notebook and pen instead.

If you've read much of my writing in the past few years, you know that I've been trying (and failing, and trying again) to declutter the unnecessary technology in my life; so this experiment was one that felt pretty in-line with my (admittedly aspirational) values.

The first thing I noticed after getting over the feeling that something was missing, was that I was very much the odd man out. Not only was I the only person not on a laptop, I actually felt like I was doing something wrong by not even having one in the room.

The second thing I noticed was that I was actually able to pay a hell of a lot more attention (because, as you can imagine, there wasn't anything else to pay attention to). In fact, I somehow felt more productive by not trying to multitask (also known as whole-assing one thing instead of half-assing two).

It's like the world's most mediocre superpower.

And like all superpowers, this one has its own kryptonite.

Death By Video Call

It's easy not to take a laptop to an in-person meeting. You just... you know... leave it at your desk. But you know where you can't leave your laptop behind? Video calls.

This is a thing I'm still struggling with, because those video calls happen to take place in the exact same app where other conversations are happening. I can't just close everything down and hope the inconvenience of opening them back up is enough.

My current solution, where practical, is to take these calls from my phone and physically step away from my desk, but that is only helpful in scenarios where there isn't a shared screen I need to look at (and tends to stand out in a call where everyone has their cameras on).

So far, there isn't a great solution for fighting the ever-present distractions in this scenario (at least for me), but I'm working on it.

If you happen to have any suggestions, I'm all ears.


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This is post 051 of #100DaysToOffload