With the “topless” (as in laptopless) meeting idea getting so much coverage, I thought I would put up the “rules” I came up with back in 2006 when I jokingly coined the term. (Note that this banning of laptops can and should spread to other attention-sucking devices. I’m looking at you, Blackberry. You too, iPhone.)
- Topless meetings must be announced when the meeting is scheduled, not directly before or during so that people can plan to be topless.
- The meeting shouldn’t be more than an hour long, unless there are scheduled breaks for email/IM/etc.
- The meeting should never be more than 4 hours long in any case.
- The “topless” designation should be used mainly for brainstorms/design reviews/essential discussions.
- If you can’t be topless, you shouldn’t be in the meeting. Join when you can be topless.
- One exception made for a single note-taker/documenter of the meeting.
- Could be used for internal and client meetings
I’m as guilty as anyone of getting sucked into an email during meetings, and the divided attention (and the lowered discussion) really lowers the energy and productivity of any meeting.
And if you are one of those people who think all meetings are a waste of time, I say: nonsense. Meetings are not just about communication, though they are often treated as one-to-many information distribution sessions. Meetings are a waste of time when they are used to talk about work that’s already been done or work that is yet to be done. They are valuable so long as everyone is there to contribute and pay attention. People dread meetings because they are often not focused and drag on for longer than necessary—which is what happens when people don’t contribute or pay attention.
Meetings enhance productivity when people use them to do the kind of work that is best done in collaboration with others. Good meetings are about getting somewhere: a decision, a new idea, etc. Working through ideas often means making those ideas tangible through sketches on whiteboards, quickly showing examples, etc. That needs face-to-face time and focused discussion. It needs topless meetings.
Kudos to Jesse, Andy, and Todd for eloquently stating why meetings still matter. I ruthlessly stole and mashed up their thoughts for this post.