What if meetings cost you currency? If that idea fills you with fear — or elation — you might have a few too many demands on your time. And if you’re now checking your BlackBerry to see what you missed while reading that sentence, you may be one of the many modern-day multitaskers who’s overtaxed, overstressed and overwhelmed.


“You have this younger generation who have grown up with multitasking and know how to do their math homework and IM and download music all at once,” said Gina Trapani, the editor of Lifehacker.com.


Advances in technology have created a paradox of productivity: We all seem to get more done while feeling like we’re accomplishing less. Instant messages compete for our time along with e-mail and voice mail. Multitasking is required, but many tasks require undivided attention.


That’s why Mike Monteiro came up with meeting tokens — poker chips good for 15 minutes of a colleague’s attention, inscribed with a warning, “Don’t Waste My Time.” Monteiro, the director of San Francisco-based Mule Design Studio, designed the tokens after tiring of lengthy office meetings.


“I think this actually could work,” he says, although he hasn’t used them in his office.

In his utopian vision, workers would receive a pack of tokens each Monday. A 30-minute meeting with two colleagues would cost four tokens; an hour-long call with 12 folks from three departments: an unaffordable 48 tokens. Some bags would contain the prized Red Merlin, which ends any meeting on the spot with its imposing slogan: “We’re DONE Here.”

That token is named for Merlin Mann, part of a generation of productivity gurus.

Mann has attracted a following among “knowledge workers” with an empowering message: your time and attention are scarce and valuable, so give them away wisely. (How to tell a knowledge worker? Smooth hands and an ability to take lunch whenever, Mann says.)

“My attention has become a little bit too much of a bargain,” Mann, a friend of Monteiro’s, said in a presentation at this year’s Macworld Conference and Expo, a trade show for Apple products held in January. “It’s become far too easy for people to take my time and attention.”

Mann runs 43folders.com, a website of motivational musings that gets 2.5 million unique visitors a year.

What follows are tips from Mann and Trapani, whose Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide To Working Smarter, Faster, Better will be published this month.

• Check Yourself: One of Mann’s tips is to reduce the number of notifications that steal away your attention.

For instance, stop your e-mail program from checking new mail every five minutes. Each new message distracts you from your work, and tends to move less important issues to the top of your list.

• Prioritize: Trapani suggests filing e-mails into archive, hold or follow-up folders she calls the “Trusted Trio.”

•The “Qualified Yes” One of Mann’s favourites: learn to give a “qualified yes,” an affirmative response to a request that puts the ball in the other person’s court. Get a request for a long meeting? Ask for five bullet points that could be covered in 20 minutes, Mann says.