Workshop Rules

I have two rules in my workshops: don’t smoke, and put away cell phones, tablets, and laptops. No one questions the first rule, but many professionals want to keep their electronic devices for multitasking during workshops. I created this blog to provide an analogy to smoking that I hope helps people see the benefits of putting aside electronics and focusing on our workshop activities.
3 minute read.
Cultural norms
Not smoking is an obvious rule in today’s world, but not long ago it was culturally acceptable to smoke in professional settings. Tobacco companies even used scientists and educators in advertising campaigns because our professions are considered to be forward-thinking, using facts to make decisions, and in an ideal world we work to benefit society. But even scientists and educators are fallible, and in the 1960’s and 70’s our minds overrode scientific reasoning because of cultural acceptance. In other words, we do not make decisions based only on facts, we make choices based on what’s socially acceptable.
Cell phone and media is addictive and leads to reduced mental well-being but is still culturally acceptable therefor as accepted as cigarettes once were. I believe it’s our responsibility as scientists and educators to make decisions based on facts, scientific research, and what’s best for society. Even if we don’t feel distracted or addicted there’s evidence that other people may become distracted or addicted therefore we should strive to create a culture of awareness; just like lighting up a cigarette in the 1960’s encouraged people to do the same, checking your phone or email during team meetings encourages others to do the same or interrupts their thought process. This contributes to less effective meetings and wasted time, which leads to deadline pressures and a false sense that checking messages throughout the day is a necessary. In other words, even if you ignore addiction to media, our work is less effective when people are distracted.
Multitasking is a myth for most people. We are more effective when we focus, setting clear goals and monitoring our progress for effectiveness rather than jumping between topics. The combination of improved learning and neutral-to-positive impact on the group is why I maintain the two rules of not smoking and not having access to phones, tablets, and laptops.

I stand by these rules because of my observations, review articles, and original studies such as:
In my workshops I say that we can change the rule if a group of students presents their personal observations and fact-based evidence demonstrating that changing the rule would be either positive or neutral for the learning and well-being of our group. That’s fair, and how I believe scientists and educators should make policies that influence society.

In addition to the two rules of no smoking and no phones, my workshops have a few guidelines that promote better physical and mental health. These have less established evidence, but I have personal observations that support what early research is suggesting. Please see my workshop guidelines to learn more.
I wish you health and happiness.
Post-Script: continuous improvement
If you’re smoking and would like to stop, or have any unhealthy behavior you’d like to analyze, please see my article on steps away from addiction or speak with your doctor about modern medicine to reduce nicotine cravings. To increase focus and reduce chattering mind, consider mindfulness and meditation; I experienced benefit from both and modern research is supporting the benefits of this ancient practice on health and mental well-being.