Need toothpicks to hold up your eyelids during meetings? Finding it impossible to give your undivided attention to weekly strategy and sales discussions that drone on and on?

Whether we admit it or not, most of us have caught ourselves daydreaming of Bahamian beaches rather than on the bore brandishing the bottom line.

We turned to question-and-answer-site Quora to find out tips for remaining engaged and focused during long meetings. Beyond getting a good night’s rest, here’s what respondents had to say about ways to stay alert.

Know what deserves focus

Meetings are a bit like alphabet soup, with different meetings requiring different approaches. It’s easy to see why our eyes glaze over. There are “political meetings, sales meetings, customary periodical meetings, emergency meetings, brainstorming meetings, client meetings,” noted Subramanyam Pidaparthy. The list goes on. “And then come meetings which decide our fate, our promotion, etc.”

Channelling your brain power and classifying how your organisation handles meetings will help you to allocate your attention properly, according to Richard Careaga. “Paying attention and focusing is hard,” he wrote. “If you waste it on the BS you have less left over on the important stuff.

According to Careaga, you need to know which meetings you can tune out. He defines a series of meeting types and how much focus each deserves.

Among them:

  1. The meeting at which someone wants to hear the sweet sound of their own voice and strut their stuff. Unless this person is in a position to directly affect you turn on your noise filter and tune out the bloviating.
  2. The meeting at which someone wants to sell you something.  The pep rally, the mission review, the state of the group and other big picture off sites, conferences, retreats or other production numbers are designed to emotionally condition you to buy into some otherwise implausible flavours of Kool-Aid. Here, the constant repetition of slogans makes it easy to identify the take-away. Just squirrel away a few of these to be able to talk the talk when needed.
  3. The meeting at which your boss wants to think out loud. Save your brain sugar for this one.

Jot it down, ask questions

Once at the meeting, bringing a notebook and writing things down can help keep you focused on the topic at hand. Doodling also has its merits, according to Marianne Baker.

“Taking notes is a great idea as well, and even drawing little diagrams of sorts (especially if you are more of a visual type of learner — this might help you to get a better understanding of what’s being said, as well as stay engaged and remember it better),” Baker wrote. “Also, in said notebook, prepare some points and questions in advance, things you would hope to talk about. Don’t barge in, but wait and listen and watch to see if your points are covered, or to find the right moment to ask your questions. If you are actively seeking out that information, your mind is less likely to wander.”

Another respondent, Keith Lavimodiere noted that the trick to staying engaged is to make the meeting fun.

His tips:

  • If you’re a word person, write interesting words used and highlight points
  • If you’re a numbers person look for key stats and write them down.
  • If you’re a visual person make pictures of new ideas discussed

Other respondents recommended sitting in the front row, standing up at the back of the room, drinking water or even drawing caricatures of the speaker (just don’t get caught).

Finding a passion

If you’re ticking all the boxes above and still having a hard time concentrating in meetings, you may want to consider another line of work, said Baker. “There are a lot of little life habits that can make or break your ability to concentrate, but at the end of the day…when I’m passionate about something, my energy and concentration on that thing are virtually endless,” she wrote. “So if staying awake through those meetings is still a recurring problem for you, it might be time to do a little soul searching and find that thing that makes you care like crazy.”

Share your thoughts and experiences on BBC Capital’s Facebook page or message us on Twitter @BBC_Capital.

Quora respondents are required to use their true names under the site’s Real Names policy. To help ensure legitimacy and quality, Quora asks some individuals, such as doctors and lawyers, to confirm their expertise.


This article was written by Maria Atanasov from BBC and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.