Ban laptops and cell phones at meetings

I’ve been known to ban all laptops and cell phones in meetings. I understand that sometimes people use them to take notes or look things up – but most often I find people use them to concentrate on something else other than the meeting. This is bad because:

  • If you are sitting there obviously not participating, it makes the other people in the meeting feel like you don’t care.
  • If someone actually has a question for you, the meeting has to stop while someone catches you up. Then the meeting takes much longer.
  • Since you were at the meeting, everyone thinks you agreed to what was discussed but not only do you not necessarily agree, you might not even know what’s going on.
  • You were invited to the meeting because the organizer thought you had something to contribute to the discussion and you are not giving 100% thought to the meeting.

Meetings without electronics are much more productive, more fun and shorter! So I was happy to see this article today, Companies go ‘topless’ at meetings.

Many companies are banning
electronics during meetings after getting increasing complaints of
sidetracked workers slowing down productivity, the Los Angeles Times
reported Monday.

"Laptops, Blackberries, Sidekicks, iPhones and
the like keep people from being fully present. Aside from just being
rude, partial attention generally leads to partial results," said Todd
Wilkens of Adaptive Path, a San Francisco design firm

I have my doubts about how wide spread it is, but I wholly endorse it.

I should point out that I’m one of the worst – if I have my laptop at a meeting there’s a very good chance I’ll end up not listening to at least part of the meeting while I answer an email or check some fact online. You simply cannot read and listen at the same time.

So here’s to no laptops and no cell phones at meetings!

The book that changed my life the day I read it

I had just finished reading the The Art of Possibility when I ran into a work acquaintance in the lobby of the hotel I was staying at. He introduced me to someone and said "and Stormy’s on maternity leave." Surprised, I said "no I’m not!" (Why would I be at a conference if I was??) He went on to tell me that so-and-so had said that I wasn’t really truly back to work, that I worked from home a lot and didn’t work full time. I was furious. I thought I knew what was up and it made me mad. I work from home a couple of days a week – and I’m not sure everyone is happy with that – and I don’t officially work Fridays. (I do some work on Fridays but I don’t get paid for them so that I don’t have to work them.)

My first response was to call so-and-so and demand an explanation. However, just having read the The Art of Possibility and thinking the authors had made a lot of good points, I felt like if I called in anger, I would not have learned anything from the book. So I thought about it and tried to apply the ideas from the book to my situation. (Well, first I griped to someone I trusted to handle it well, and twittered about it, then I thought about it.) I tried to think about the interactions between the three of us as a game. I wasn’t just a player – I was the one deciding what game I was playing. I realized that I didn’t know what so-and-so’s motivations were. What I did know was that:

  • So-and-so had said something about my work hours or habits to at least one person. For unknown reasons. (Idle conversation, jealousy, excuses, as a good example, … I had no idea.)
  • It was likely that so-and-so would continue to talk about my work hours to people. Confronting him was likely to make him talk about the confrontation and my work hours even more. Not to mention that if his intentions were good I would look petty.
  • I work 80% for 80% of my full time salary – I don’t on Fridays.
  • I don’t (or didn’t) tell people I don’t work Fridays because I was afraid it might hurt my career.
  • I had no proof that it would hurt my career.
  • My career is going really well in spite of the fact that I don’t work Fridays.

So I changed the rules of my own game (part time might hurt my career, keep part time a secret, etc.) and blogged about it. On my work blog. Now everyone knows that I don’t work Fridays (most of the time), they know how I feel about it and why. So even if so-and-so continues to talk about my hours in ways that are misinterpreted, my version is out there and has been read by a lot of people. People that I care about and people that are interested in my career and what I have to say. (At least I assume that’s why they subscribe to my work blog!)

I think the The Art of Possibility is one of those books you could read again and again and still get new things out of it, so I’m keeping it on my book shelf. It’s a short read and I recommend taking the time to read it.

Book Review: Cast in Shadow

Fifty pages into Cast in Shadow by Michelle Sagara, I almost quit reading. I’m glad I didn’t as I did enjoy the book. The main character is human but she lives in a world of aliens in the style of C. J. Cherryh. Like C. J. Cherryh’s books, the characters seem really alien and it takes a while to figure out their culture. (Which is part of the fun of reading.) Unlike C. J. Cherryh, the alien characters end up feeling human.

I’m not sure if it’s because she makes you feel their society so well, that they no longer feel alien or if it’s because she shows that even though they have a different culture, they aren’t so different from us. I think it’s the latter.

Learning Lessons While Dreaming

A few days ago I read a story about a woman who went to Auschwitz as a girl with her little brother. On the way there her brother lost his shoe. She chewed him out and called him a "stupid boy!" Soon after that moment, they were separated and she never saw him again.

Last night I dreamt I was driving and my seven year old stepson was in the front seat. I was really mad at something he’d done and I said "If you can’t listen then I don’t think you should go to South Dakota with us." He started crying and then I lost control of the car and we started spinning off the freeway.

The point of the Auschwitz story was the woman now tries never to leave anyone with a conversation she doesn’t want to be their last. Obviously my mind thought that was an important lesson for me to learn and taught it to me in a much more emotional way than any story I could ever read!

Shure headphones

I really liked my Shure headphones that Frank got me for Christmas a few years ago. However, when they broke – or rather just stopped working – I decided to just go back to the default iPod headphones. Not a good decision. The background noise on the BART train and on the airplane yesterday were so loud that I couldn’t hear my podcasts at full volume! (I managed to listen to one of my audiobooks on the airplane at full volume – I guess it’s no wonder my ears are ringing now.) So I’m buying a new pair of Shure headphones.

These are in your ear, fitted earphones that are noise isolating – meaning they block out external sounds. (Not always safe for running outside but great for noisy gyms, airplanes and airports. At the gym, I can actually listen to my own music and I don’t hear the music on the stereo speakers at all.)

They now have earphones that connect to both your audio player and your cell phone. Since I’m in the market for a headphone for my cell phone, I looked into that, but the reviews were terrible.

The earphones come in different levels of quality from 1 to 5. Since I’m not an audiophile and I mostly listen to books and podcasts, I’m getting the 1 version (SE110). (The price difference is substantial.)

Cheap mini-laptop

I bought an ASUS Eee PC last week. I was looking for a very light-weight and yet inexpensive laptop for travel that could run Linux well. I love it. My shoulder loves it.

After having used it on a business trip, here are my initial pros and cons.

The good:

  • It’s light. Only 2 pounds. I will carry my laptop around more now. (I carried it to dinner when normally I would have gone back to my hotel room to dump it off.)
  • It’s cheap. I got mine for $350.
  • It’s small. It doesn’t take up any room in my bag and it’s easy to carry one handed.
  • It runs Linux out of the box. (And for those not familiar with Linux it has a nice graphical menu to launch common applications.)
  • It comes on IMMEDIATELY. Hit the button, it’s on. (Well, maybe 5 seconds later.) For travel, when you want to take a quick note, or check an itinerary, this is really nice.
  • The power cord is also very small and light.

The not so good:

  • The screen is small. Like really small. Like my Dell Inspiron 700m screen now seems huge. I didn’t really have any problems with it – it just takes some getting used too. I did have to use the mobile version of Google Reader as the regular one was not usable on the small screen.
  • The battery only lasts two hours. Luckily the power cord is small so I just carried both and plugged in where ever possible.
  • The keyboard took some getting used to. (It’s small.) For me the biggest problem was they put the up arrow to the left of the right shift key and shrunk the shift key. I kept hitting up every time I tried to hit the shift key. If you don’t like small keyboards, you’ll hate this. (Frank doesn’t even like my Inspiron.)
  • The wireless didn’t automatically connect me to anything. I had to manually connect every time I opened the laptop.

I’m enjoying it. For a second computer for travel, it’s great. Note that Asus is coming out with a version with a larger screen for an unknown price.

Cynical people care

Ever known someone who tries to kill every good idea you have? Maybe it’s because they’re passionate and they’ve been burned. From The Art of Possibility:

A cynic, after all, is a passionate person who does not want to be disappointed again.

I’m betting every cynical person you know listens to you anyway. Why? Because they do care. They just might not really believe anymore – but they’d like to.

And way too often cynical people get laid off before someone figures out that they really care and shows them that they can make a difference.

Humans were not made to work in groups of a 1000

I read an interesting essay by Paul Graham today, You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss. Paul theorizes that humans are meant to work in groups of 8-20. So when you put more than that in an organization, you start to lose freedom in order to keep organization.

A group of 10 managers is not merely
a group of 10 people working together in the usual way.  It’s really
a group of groups.  Which means for a group of 10 managers to work
together as if they were simply a group of 10 individuals, the group
working for each manager would have to work as if they were a single
person—the workers and manager would each share only one
person’s worth of freedom between them.

He then goes on to explain that working for a large organization is like eating junk food.

The average MIT graduate wants to work
at Google or Microsoft, because it’s a recognized brand, it’s safe,
and they’ll get paid a good salary right away.  It’s the job
equivalent of the pizza they had for lunch.  The drawbacks will
only become apparent later, and then only in a vague sense of

Anyone who has watched a big company struggle to make a decision, or been part of that struggle!, will find themselves nodding at some point. Something to think about.

Who can fly the most on United?

I got a new offer from United: create a team and compete with other frequent fliers. The team that flies the most wins. The catch? It’s not who flies the most miles, it’s who flies the most miles MORE than last year. So if you flew a 100,000 miles last year, and you fly 105,000 miles this year, only 5,000 will count in the contest.

I actually think this is a good promotion for United. (A much better idea than the pay $20 for 1000 miles.) Frequent fliers love bragging about how much they fly and now they’ll not only be trying to fly even more, but they’ll be recruiting others to fly more.

Hmm. By the end of April, I’ll have flown as much as I did all last year. Maybe I should create a team … except I hate to do anything that might encourage me to fly more.