If you see me on screen looking down at my lap during a virtual meeting, I have a confession: I’m crocheting, a hobby I picked up during the pandemic. It felt like a guilty pleasure at first. During long Zoom calls where I was expected to pay attention but not actively participate — meaning I wasn’t facilitating or presenting — I started to pick up my WIP (work in progress in crafting terminology) and crochet hook, adding more stitches and rows as the video call went on.
I am someone who needs to feel productive pretty much all the time so that explains why the idea of making something material during long calls appeals to me. But I soon realized there was a positive byproduct of my mindless crocheting: a heightened focus on the meeting itself. Keeping my hands busy forced me to pay attention and relieved me of the temptation to multitask in other ways, like responding to emails or texts or scrolling social media, distractions that divide my attention and make me more anxious.
I no longer feel guilty about crocheting during long Zoom or Teams calls, thanks to stumbling across a recent New York Times article, “Knitters Say Stitching Helps Them Follow the Thread in Meetings,” about a movement to destigmatize knitting in the workplace. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told The Times that the fine-motor movement required for knitting, crocheting, doodling, or using a fidget spinner activates the same parts of the brain used for focus. These activities, according to the article, “really do help to sharpen awareness. But other activities that require too much concentration, like reading a social media feed or playing a game on a smartphone, can push a person out of productivity and into focused multitasking.” Doing something like crocheting, Dr. Ratey said, “will turn on the prefrontal cortex.”
So, there. You may not see me gazing into the camera during a work call, but I haven’t zoned out. I’m listening attentively to what’s being said. I also happen to be making progress on the cutest little blanket for my niece’s baby shower.
Michelle Russell is editor in chief of Convene.