This meeting is the only thing I’m engaged with right now.3 min read

We’ve all been there. You’re in a conference room, and there are people all around the table with laptops in front of them and eyes on the screen. If you ask them a question, there might be a 50/50 chance that they look up and say “hmmm?”

Meetings are expensive propositions for any business. You take a number of high-cost employees with a finite capacity every day for getting anything done, and dedicate a non-trivial slice of their day to sitting in a room with others. But is that time being used effectively? Does each person need to be there? And, while they are there, are they onlythere?

While I won’t profess to have all of the answers, I’ve found that for me my meetings are more effective when I leave the laptop closed, or don’t even bring it to the room at all. What I do bring to every meeting is a high-quality notebook and a pen that is a joy to write with. For me, that usually means a fountain pen.

This may seem odd to people who haven’t seen analog tools being used in this way in business meetings before. But what I’m projecting when I write in my notebook is that I am here and that I am only here. I’m not on Facebook. I’m not answering some unrelated email or chatting with someone. I’m not writing code. I’m here, in this meeting with you, listening to what you have to say. And if my eyes go down to the notebook and I set pen to paper, it’s because you said something that I want to remember or follow up on outside of the meeting.

Writing with a fountain pen on paper is slow. I’m banging this article out in a few spare minutes of my time on a Sunday afternoon because, with a computer, it’s easy to write at a pace that allows me to engage deeply with my writing. But pen and paper are a much slower medium. I have to be careful what I write. I can usually only get a few trigger words here and there to help refresh my memory about the context of the conversation, or a quick action item. Most of my focus ends up remaining on the conversation.

You don’t need a fancy fountain pen to try this. I prefer it because I use pens a lot and I want to enjoy the experience. But having a pen that is nice to use is important. You don’t want to fight with the writing tool while you’re trying to be effective. A great disposable pen that I can suggest is the Uni-ball Vision stick rollerball style pen. For notebooks, I’m not a fan of Moleskine (the paper quality is quite poor) but if you want that style of notebook, I can recommend products from Rhodia or Leuchtturm1917. For a modular notebook system, I really like the Arc system from Staples. Don’t get too hung up on the tools except to pick something that is of high enough quality and thoughtful enough ergonomics that you will want to use it and not feel like you’re fighting with your tools.

Bottom line: disengage from the distractions that your laptop brings to your meetings and engage with the people who are in the room with you.