Seems like my smartphone buzzes every few minutes – a gentle reminder that something or someone is trying to get my attention. A meeting I am scheduled to attend, an email that requires a response, a phone call that needs to be answered – there always seems to be something calling for our attention in today’s fast-paced world. Look around your world today, it is not uncommon to see people trying to multi-task in order to fit everything they want to do into the allotted 24 hours of each day.
On a college campus, the signs of multitasking are easy to spot. I have seen two students walking from class together – all the time on the phone talking with another instead of the person with whom they are walking next to. At the dining hall, four roommates can be sharing a meal while texting instead of interacting with the person across the table. And this phenomenon is not unique to college campuses or the 18-25 year-old generation. Next time you pull up to a stoplight, look around to see how many folks are texting, talking, or answering email while trying to drive.
I was dumbfounded when I spent a holiday with another family and instead of actually talking and interacting with the people who were present at the time, the parents of the other family spent the majority of the day posting pictures and providing status updates to their online community. Instead of actually immersing themselves in the gift that was a beautiful day, they chose to remove themselves from live events and focus their attention on their online presence (ex: the couple was sitting next to one another and made at least four comments about each other’s Facebook status updates online instead of speaking with one another).
Truth be told, I am not a model to emulate. Often when team members come to me with questions, instead of listening and giving my full attention to the other person, I want the interaction to begin and end quickly so I can get back to the project I was working on.
What do these examples say about our ability to be present to others. This is a skill that can be developed and is appreciated/valued in the interview process. Being present to others in your daily activities will make you a better interviewer and employee. During the interview process, having the ability to be present affords you the opportunity to make a connection with the hiring manager. It also lessens the likelihood of not fully hearing a question. As an employee, being present to clients will help you to address the needs of your customers. Being present to those you supervise will help you be a better boss and build a connection with your employees.
Maybe Woody Allen had it mostly right when he said, “Showing up is eighty percent of life.” Maybe he should have said “Showing up and being present is eighty percent of life.” So, how does one get better at being present? Just a few ideas:
1) At least one hour during the day (mealtime, when you are out for a walk with a friend/spouse, etc.), remove yourself from all technology. Emails, texts, and messages will still be there in 60 minutes. Don’t cheat by setting on vibrate, when you hear or feel the phone vibrate, you will be distracted and not fully present to the other person.
2) Physically remove yourself from televisions, computers, tablets, or phones. Go for a walk in the woods, play a board game, exercise, or read a book. Sounds easy but many of us have lost the ability to become engrossed in a novel because of our desires to “check-in” with our electronics (Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid? July/August 2008).
3) Set ground rules: turn off all electronics at a designated time each night. No one will fault you for not responding to a 11:00pm email. By setting this timeline, your work family will learn not to expect a response after a certain hour. This act also gives your employees permission to unplug – and they will be grateful for this.
Enjoy the hour of silence, you may find it helps center your thoughts and make you even more productive at work and at home. Sometimes when we remove all the distractions and noise, we can see and hear the answers to the problems we face.