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Is taking the laptop to the meeting a good idea?

Of course, the project leader needs to have one -- but the programmers -- especially those who only need to get straight instructions on what to do next on the project -- do they need to take laptops?

I feel it takes longer to save notes in a software -- and it's lot easier to just jot down "things to do" in a simple note book. That way you can keep up with the discussion and not lose track of what someone else is saying by spending too much time entering text in the machine.

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closed as off topic by Robert Harvey, David Thornley, Jon Hopkins, Walter, ChrisF Jul 21 '11 at 20:42

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Don't really see this as specific to programming. That said, I despise hearing people with notebooks clicking away or having to go over things mulitple times because they aren't paying attention ... or snickering at some joke they got in email. – GreenMatt Jul 21 '11 at 14:38
Quake > Tic-Tac-Toe – davidhaskins Jul 21 '11 at 14:52
@davidhaskins: Just don't shout "Yes! Quad-damage!" during project status updates. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 21 '11 at 14:58
I noticed the tag meatings. Should that even be an option? Maybe someone could change that to meetings. Moo! – jp2code Dec 30 '11 at 15:45

14 Answers 14

up vote 26 down vote accepted

If your meetings are held for the purpose of doing actual work like coding, then you should have laptops in your meetings. Otherwise it is my opinion that there should be no electronic devices of any kind in meetings, including blackberries and such.

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People who are coding during a meeting are not usually paying attention. Then you have to start repeating things. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 21 '11 at 14:43
@Frustrated: Right; it should be a coding meeting if people are coding during the meeting. – Robert Harvey Jul 21 '11 at 14:45
@Frustrated: See here for an illustration: – Robert Harvey Jul 21 '11 at 14:59
Indeed, people who bring laptops to meetings generally aren't paying attention and cause the meeting to be longer for everyone else. Plus the typing sound is annoying. Especially when they are chatting instead of paying attention. – HLGEM Jul 21 '11 at 15:10
I generally agree, however, there is a definite exception in my book. Most times it is beneficial to have someone documenting the discussion, issues, and outcomes from the meeting. In this case, having a single designated person taking meeting minutes on a laptop absolutely makes sense. – Beofett Jul 21 '11 at 19:01

If you're just using the laptop to take notes, I would argue a pad of paper and a pen is probably faster for most people, so the laptop is not necessary and possibly distracting (if you start doing other tasks such as answer email). I would even argue about "of course, the project leader needs to have one". Why do they need one? If there is a presentation and the slideshow is on the laptop, then fine, but otherwise, why would it matter?

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@greengit: Your boss is mandating that people use their laptops in a meeting for note-taking? Sorry to hear it. :( – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 21 '11 at 14:43
not just note taking -- we also do coding at times in meeting -- but she wants EVERYBODY to have the beast with them no matter what – treecoder Jul 21 '11 at 14:45
@greengit: wait - so people just start coding while the rest of the team is in discussion? What is the purpose of these meetings, anyway? Usually when my team has a meeting it's for a reason, such as status updates or discussing defects. I can't think of any good reason to code during our meetings, other than to annoy teammates. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 21 '11 at 14:47
If I'm gathering requirements (yes...I'm a developer who also gathers requirements) and I have a whole lot of folks who want me to distribute those notes after - it makes MUCH more sense to do it in OneNote and then hit a button to distribute - rather than writing it all down and then typing it up and then sending it out. – Catchops Jul 21 '11 at 15:04
@greengit: I'd like to see your boss crank out a simple UML diagram faster than you could sketch one on a piece of paper. – TMN Jul 21 '11 at 17:36

We do what makes people comfortable.

We try to make no Judgments on what people do or how they do it. If they want to bring their laptops that's great!

If they are more comfortable in the meeting that way no one has any qualms with it.

If a pad of paper or a recorder is better for them, have at it!

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Depends on the role one has within a company. If the programmer may be asked to troubleshoot production issues on a moment's notice, then having the laptop in the meeting is a way to stay connected should something occur and require some attention. Similarly, if the programmer will be demonstrating something from their machine, I'd imagine taking it into the meeting may make sense in this case as well.

If the intention was purely for note taking purposes, then I'd likely argue it depends on the person as I'd imagine some people could type the letters and hit Ctrl-S pretty quickly while others may be able to print or write by hand pretty quick.

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Someone said something like this, i think it was Raymond Chen from theoldnewthing: In a meeting you can distinguish programmers from managers this way: The ones who have laptops and the ones who have paper notebooks, curiously the first one's are the managers and the second ones are the programmers. I dont know where he made that observation (he works at MS), but its funny.

EDIT: found it:

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I used to work for Microsoft and meetings where everyone brought their laptop was very common. I hated the practice myself. – ozz Jul 21 '11 at 14:46
I guess, that is because meetings should be done fast so everyone can get back to what they want to do; people chatting on their laptops tend to not pay attention so parts of the meeting have to be repeated for them. The only reason to bring a Laptop is if you have to show your co-workers some program. – Bernd Elkemann Jul 21 '11 at 14:55

I used to take notes on paper, but have been using my smartphone with a mind mapping app for a few months. I always have it with me, and it's easy to take out to quickly jot down a note, look up an unfamiliar acronym or technology so I can better follow a discussion, or refer back to an email thread to answer a question, then put it right back away.

I think that last part is important to not be disruptive or get distracted. I have one germane purpose for taking my phone out, I accomplish it, then put it right back. If you can't discipline yourself enough to keep to that rule, you should stick to pen and paper.

That's also why I think laptops aren't as well suited for meetings. It's more difficult to discreetly keep opening and closing the lid, so people tend to just leave it up in the most prominent place in their field of view, making it very difficult to put it out of their mind.

As a final note, if you're consistently having problems with people using electronic devices in meetings for unrelated reasons, that's a pretty good sign the meeting isn't effective. I've found that if everyone who is there has a good reason to be there and actively participate, those sorts of problems almost never happen.

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+1 for discipline. – Malachi Jul 21 '11 at 19:59

Laptops and other electronic devices are bad if your role in the meeting is to listen and participate. Laptops are useful if your role is to be a domain expert who answers questions for the other participants.

I find laptops useful for:

  • Non-IT meetings. I attend to see how other departments use software and answer their questions. If someone asks "What was our sales last month", or "How do I do X", I can quickly look it up and give a response.
  • New project meetings with users. If the user wants a change I can often mock it up during the meeting while the project manager is talking about other things.
  • Conference calls that only peripherally involve me. I can get work done while still being available to answer questions. (This is useful for any meeting where you are only peripherally involved, but there is the danger of being distracting to other people.)
  • Problem solving meetings. Meetings of two to five IT people where some of the people are brainstorming together and others are researching and experimenting on their laptops. People switch between researching and discussing as needed.
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I can't quite see the problem - it simply depends how fast you're typing, what else. Handwriting is typically about 20-30 words per minute. Proficient typing starts at around 90-100 words per minute. But there's people who can't type any faster than 10 wpm or so, obviously they're going to go for a pen. Personally, it takes me much longer to write things down by hand. It's also less readable (my handwriting is ugly). Not to mention less searchable. It is however superior when it comes to sketching diagrams and the like.

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according to wikipedia, "Using stenography (shorthand) methods, this rate increases greatly. Handwriting speeds of up to 282 wpm have been achieved in shorthand competitions" – Ben Voigt Jan 1 '12 at 1:01
@BenVoigt good point. I didn't even know that stenography is so much faster. It's not a very common skill though, these days - I also wonder what the learning curve is. – Konrad Morawski Jan 2 '12 at 10:03

I see nothing wrong with taking a laptop or notebook pc to a meeting if you think there is going to be compelling information that you will need to keep track of. I personally love OneNote just for that reason. It is easy to use and you can keep notes very quickly as the discussion progresses.

Some meetings just don't lend well for laptops or notebooks...experience will just need to lead you to making the decision as to which meetings those are.

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In principle i agree. But not everyone is totally professional and I have even caught my self at times getting distracted by an email when I should have been paying more attention to the meeting. We usually have a note taker that sends out minutes so that they can jot down notes for everyone and no one else needs the distractions. – Chad Jul 21 '11 at 15:05
Totally agree - you need to turn off IM, email, and your browser while you are in the meeting. Too many possible distractions. – Catchops Jul 21 '11 at 15:17

It depends...

Well it's much easier to go through lots of papers on your laptop then when you have printed them (several times I wished there is CTRL+F in real life). Also, if you don't understand something, it's easy to find explanation via quick googling or searching on wiki.

However, laptop might draw atention on himself. Not only from your colleagues who might start looking what you are doing, but also might disturb concetration of the person who is holding the meeting. There is also danger of constant interrupts (IM, outlook, etc.).

Personaly, I find myself to easier remember things if I write them on paper.

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Taking laptops into a meeting is a terrible idea - it violates one of the basic rules of office politics - she who controls the minutes controls the reality of what happened in the meeting.

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All the more reason to bring one then . . . – Wyatt Barnett Jul 21 '11 at 18:48

I personally am vastly faster with a laptop than a pen and paper, and my notes can be emailed, saved, and dealt with much easier than with a pen and paper. The preference here is subjective. You know what they say- you can't GREP dead trees.

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Personally, I kind of live out of evernote and I take a laptop to just about every meeting -- why scrawl things I can't read on a piece of paper I will lose?

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You can create a special "Meeting Notes" Notebook, or you can use Pear Note if you are own a Mac. I find this to be a good note-taking tool! The application integrates text notes with audio and video so you can record little snippets from meetings so you aren't "speed scribbling" down notes.

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