Doing this activity during meetings may make you look bad

Let’s face it, some meetings are just boring. As your boss drones on about mission statements, endless priorities, and administrative things that you probably don’t care about, you might find yourself doodling in your notebook to pass the time. 

What does that say about you? Can drawing during meetings make you look bad?

Not necessarily, according to Alison Green, a former chief of staff for a successful nonprofit and who now runs the Ask A Manager website. 

While it is true that drawing pictures in meetings could mean that you are unfocused or bored, believe it nor not, drawing, fidgeting, and keeping yourself busy with small physical movements is a part of what makes us human. 

Fidgeting is rooted in human history

“There’s a growing understanding that some people focus better when they can do something with their hands,” Green wrote in response to a question about doodling in meetings. 

Along with drawing, many people fidget with their hands, bounce their legs, or tap their fingers on the chair. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are “checked out” of the meeting. It could just mean that these people need to be doing something physical, even if it’s small. 

In fact, there is an entire body of science around fidgeting. The need to move around, even while sitting still, has a deep-seated place in human history. 

“Floating attention is a safety feature that probably dates back to prehistoric times when the ability to focus 100% on a single task was not entirely desirable”, wrote Fast Company. 

In fact, so-called mindless doodling has been linked to improving our memory and attention spans, too. That is pretty incredible! 

Unfortunately, many people instinctively believe that if you aren’t sitting still and looking directly at them, you’re not focused. As a result, Green recommends paying attention to how your drawing, fidgeting, or tapping is affecting those around you. 

Ensure your drawings are not a distraction

“If the meetings allow for it, make sure you’re actively participating,” Green said. “Nod, ask questions, contribute ideas. That kind of participation can carry a ton of weight if people would otherwise be wondering how present you are.” 

In other words, make it clear that your tendency to draw in meetings is not consuming the entirety of your attention and that you are still focused on the meeting and what is being said. 

“It might also be worth revisiting what kind of drawing you’re doing,” Green added. “People may assume drawing a detailed cartoon takes a lot more focus on the drawing than random doodles do, whether or not that’s true.”

Drawing more detailed pictures of dogs or landscapes could be distracting for those around you as well. In contrast, lines, shapes, and other random doodles could make it easier for those sitting next to you to focus. 

“If cartoons are the only thing that works for you, then so be it — but if you have options, there are some optics there to factor in.”