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  • Lacy Starling

#51: Be Present

I have one unbreakable, untouchable, non-negotiable rule in my strategic planning sessions—no electronics. If I'm working with a person or a team, I want all electronics off and away. Phones in a basket by the door. Laptops closed and in bags. No screens, no beeping, no booping, no staring at the top of a person's head while they say "Just gimme one sec to respond to this." (Does that phrase make anyone else's head explode with rage?)


I have this rule for a few reasons.

  1. Electronics create barriers. A laptop screen between you and the person across the table from you is a literal barrier to open communication. Holding a phone screen in front of your face places that object in higher priority than the person sitting across from you. Connecting with your team is a critical part of a strategic planning session, and you cannot be connected if you are erecting barriers.

  2. Electronics are a distraction. Not just the beeps and boops and pings and ringtones and vibrations, although those are awful, too. (And prevent you from entering the brain state you need to be in to do deep work.) Research has shown that even having your phone on the table, in silent mode, is a distraction.

  3. Electronics don't help you remember. More research has found that taking notes by hand helps with recall better than typing them into a computer or putting them (god forbid) into your phone. In strategy sessions, I encourage everyone to take notes by hand, using good old fashioned paper and pens. Someone can consolidate the information later, but for the moments that we are in session, there is nothing better than setting pen to paper.

  4. ELECTRONICS ARE RUDE. This is the most important one, but the one we all seem to forget most often. If I'm spending time with someone and am constantly looking at my phone, it is pretty damn obvious what is more important to me—the electronic tether. I am never more hurt than when a friend I'm meeting for drinks sits down and immediately puts their phone on the table, or is constantly looking at their smart watch for notifications. The same thing in business meetings. I once worked with a man who, no matter what, would always have his phone in front of him, even if he was supposed to be running a meeting. The rest of the team and I would just sit there, looking at each other in disbelief while he made us wait for him to finish typing an email or responding to a text. It was incredibly rude and demoralizing.

So, for these reasons (and more that I'm probably forgetting), electronics are verboten in my meetings, and in my social interactions. If you want to meet with me, meet with me. And if you are so buried in work that you can't be away from your email long enough to have a serious conversation or interaction, distraction-free, I can help you with that. But first you'll have to put away your phone.

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