How To Improve Your Ability to Concentrate During Meetings


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How can you beat the boredom of meetings?

You can break the bigger meeting down into smaller chunks in your mind, so that you can better handle each chunk.

Dr. David Burns calls this technique, Little Steps for Little Feet.

You can then use these smaller chunks, or “little steps”, to practice your ability to concentrate.

You can use Little Steps for Little Feet technique in meetings to beat the boredom, defeat the distraction, and increase your ability to concentrate.

In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated, Dr. David Burns writes about using Little Steps for Meetings.

How Meetings Test Our Ability to Concentrate

According to Dr. Burns, we have lots of scenarios in which we might find ourselves struggling to concentrate.

Dr. Burns writes:

“Suppose your job involves attending lots of meetings, but you find it difficult to concentrate due to anxiety, depression, or daydreaming.

You can’t concentrate effectively because you think, ‘I don’t understand this as I should. Gosh this is boring. I’d really prefer to be making love or fishing right now.'”

Listen for 3 Minutes, Take One Minute Breaks

We can use Little Steps for Little Feet to practice building our ability to concentrate and deal with distracting thoughts.  According to Dr. Burns, one way to practice is to listen for 3 minutes, and take one minute breaks.

Dr. Burns writes:

“Here’s how you can beat the boredom, defeat the distraction, and increase your ability to concentrate:

Break the task down into its smallest component parts! For example, decide to listen for only three minutes, and then take a one-minute break to daydream intensely.

At the end of this mental vacation, listen for another three minutes, and do not entertain any distracting thoughts for this brief period. Then give yourself another one-minute break to daydream.”

Give Yourself Permission to Dwell on Distracting Thoughts

According to Dr. Burns, you should give yourself permission to dwell on distracting thoughts.

Dr. Burns writes:

“This technique will enable you to maintain a more effective level of overall concentration. Giving yourself permission to dwell on distracting thoughts for short-periods will diminish their power over you. After a while, they will seem ludicrous.”

Key Take Aways

Here are my key take aways:

  1. Listen for 3 minutes, take one minute breaks.  Use timeboxed breaks to focus and concentrate.
  2. While you’re focused, stay focused.   During your 3 minutes of listening, stay focused and don’t let yourself be distracted.
  3. Give yourself permission to dwell on distracting thoughts.  Giving yourself permission to dwell on distracting thoughts, reduces their control over you.

I like the idea of using timeboxed breaks to sustain focus and concentration. I use timeboxing all the time for results, but I haven’t tried deliberately interspersing day dreams in my meetings for better results!

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  1. I am not very sure whether one wants to take a one minute day dream break in between a meeting because you never know, that one minute discussion might be of utmost importance and relevance to you. How does one deal with that?

  2. @ Ashim

    It happens to me all the time 🙂 … I just apologize and ask them to repeat or rephrase the question.

    The real checkpoint is at the end of the meeting. No doubt, you covered a lot of material in the meeting, but test yourself with the following: “what are 3 key take aways?”

    3 key take aways helps me every time. Another test I do is, “what are next steps?”

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