A Realistic Approach to Being Present
You waited for the other shoe to drop before COVID-19. You will wait for the shoe-drop after COVID-19.
Leaders and managers exist because:
- Solutions are hard to find.
- Improvement needs relentless attention.
- Chaos demands active intervention.
The present sucks. Why practice being present? But…
You’re absent if you’re not present.
You’d be a better leader if you were present when you showed up.
A realistic approach to being present:
47% of the time people are thinking about something other than what they’re doing. (Matt Killingsworth)
#1. Being present isn’t liking everything.
Leaders turn toward storms. I’d choose sunny weather over turbulence any day. But turbulence is opportunity.
#2. Control freaks should love being present.
The present is a control freak’s paradise.
The present is your point of control. You can’t control the past or the future.
But most control freaks are frantic because it’s safer to focus on things you can’t control.
#3. Remove avoidable distraction.
It’s hard to be present when you have the attention span of a squirrel in traffic.
- Read email on a schedule. Try doing email at the top and the bottom of the hour, for example.
- Turn off notifications unless you work in a crisis management center. You’re a lousy leader if people can’t live without you for 30 minutes.
- Close unused browser windows. You won’t come back to them later.
- Schedule a few minutes of down time every 60 to 90 minutes. No one can pay attention all the time.
- Do one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is an evil myth.
#4. Write down three daily goals.
Goals help you focus.
Focus is being present.
#5. Walk around noticing.
You might notice what you see. Or you might set out to notice something specific like the energy level of your team members.
Noticing is being present.
What distracts you from being present?
How might leaders improve their practice of being present?
7 Ways to Tame Your Wandering Mind and Achieve Better Focus (New Scientist)
How to Focus a Wandering Mind (Berkley)
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I meditate several times a day to be present. Being in the present moment help me become more aware of my thoughts and feelings.
After meditating, that increased awareness gives me greater clarity to sort out
-what’s true and false
-what’s relevant and irrelevant
-what’s productive and what’s a waste
Thanks Paul. I assume you mean that you take a few minutes to get quiet and focus on your breathe. ???
It seems like being present and meditating are often connected. Meditation is a form of being present.
Great link to multi-tasking as an evil myth, confirming that multi-tasking makes you stupid — or at least makes you do stupid, error-prone things much slower than doing them right the first time! Now back to being mindful, present, and focused on the rest of the day. Take care and stay safe, Dan.
Thanks Paul. It’s a kick in the pants to realize that multi-tasking hinders performance. I’ve been working to focus on one task at a time… closing email, browser windows, and documents so I can remove avoidable distractions. I think it’s a good thing. 🙂
With working to focus on one task at a time, you’d probably appreciate the book on Personal Kanban listed at https://www.personalkanban.com/. It promotes visualizing work and limiting work in process in a practical, personal presentation.
Multi-tasking is sometimes a necessary evil, but your point is that you can’t truly be present if you are multi-tasking.
If we are respectful of those we are with, we need to be self-aware (mindful) if find ourselves inappropriately multi-tasking (not truly present).
Thanks Rurbane. You could also say that driving a car is multi-tasking. I think the problem emerges when we think we can do two meaningful tasks at the same time.
Someone also said that multi-tasking is actually multi-shifting. We do one thing for a minute then we do the other. You listen to the phone…then you read your email…then you go back to listening to the phone.
When I read today’s discussion, I identified with the multi-tasking attempts which just delay completing other tasks.
In a previous job, cell phones and iPads were not allowed in the office space (security requirements). Although, I felt less efficient in meetings, I felt more present in the discussion. Scheduling “away time” and email are good strategies – I will try to stay away from the squirrel in traffic or “drive-by” discussions.
Thanks Kishla. Great illustration. I appreciate your insight and pursuit. Cheers
I think we have all had that manager who was present but absolutely no help whatsoever! I typically work in plants that are exploring new technology areas, so it is a learning experience for everyone involved. That means that we especially need proper attention and guidance from our management team to provide training and support to make new processes work. That being said, all of the pilot plants where I have worked so far have failed. It’s amazing how you can see them failing from the inside-out. My current plant appears to be going in the opposite direction, however. We have very strong presence from our leaders who set clear goals and expectations, and they are all willing to go far beyond their roles to help when needed.
Being present is not just a good leadership tool. It can also save your life. For a leader, being present means that you stay on top of things. You notice a team member doing something great and are able to praise them right away. You see someone struggling, and are able to correct a problem before it balloons out of control.
It is great to dream. Innovators are dreamers. Dreaming helps to create goals. Dreamers are necessary in any organization. However, one needs to be present in order to realize those dreams and goals, and to develop the innovator’s idea.
Being present plays another critical role in our lives. It keeps us safe. For people working in hazardous occupations, being present every moment of each day means that they will likely be able to go home safe after a shift. When we are driving on our vehicles, being present is essential in ensuring that we keep ourselves and our fellow road users safe. And any parent tells you that it is great to dream about your child’s NFL future, but it is better to be present to be able to stop them from throwing the ball through the neighbor’s window.
A good leader must be both a dreamer and be present. The dreamer will make a great strategist. The present one will be a terrific tactician. During time of crisis, being present is likely more important. You have to be immediately aware of the risks around you, and be ready to respond rapidly to changing circumstances. One the crisis is over, however, it is important to dream again. To consider “what ifs,” and to develop robust plans to deal with the next disaster. This concept is also critical when mentoring new leaders. Being mostly a dreamer is unlikely to get things done. Being present only will probably result in an organization just spinning its wheels.
Hey Dan! I am a part of the 47% of people who tend to think about other upcoming tasks while working on a different task. I like to make myself believe that constantly running through all the things I need to get done helps me feel in control. However, in reality, it only makes me feel more stressed about my overwhelming to-do list. I appreciated the idea of writing down three goals each day. One of my common mistakes with to-do lists is that I tend to overload tasks, which creates unrealistic expectations and anxious feelings as I feel that I cannot get everything done in only 24 hours. I am learning that making practical and attainable goals is very important when creating running lists. I would love to hear your thoughts on how to manage to-do lists for individuals with multiple obligations. As a full-time student and employee, I find that my to-do lists never include both of my academic and professional tasks simultaneously. While I enjoy compartmentalizing my life, I can see the value of practicing daily goal setting that considers all my running action items. In regards to your second suggestion about removing distractions, I like the idea of scheduling regular breaks for longer working blocks. Often I find that I am operating between the two extremes of either working in hyperfocus mode or deeply distracted and procrastinating the day away. Given these extremes, I find that my productivity comes and goes with peaks and valleys. However, creating personal incentives and structured breaks might be a great way to maintain a health productivity level and practice being present more often. Finally, your commentary about control freaks is very insightful. I never thought that focusing on things you can’t control, such as the past and future, as a safe coping mechanism for control freaks. This point has got me reevaluating the downfalls of daydreaming as it distracts you from being present and enjoying the current moment.
I like your tactic of writing down 3 goals per day rather than a lengthy to-do list.
I create a weekly to-do list.
I would keep experimenting until you’re happy with the results you’re achieving.
It is true that being present doesn’t mean you have to like what is going on. Honestly, it seems like I am least comfortable with what is going on around me when I am most present. During those times it is as if my adrenaline starts rushing and out of necessity my mind focuses. It is during times of ease that my mind wanders. In this way, I think it is helpful to step out of our comfort zone at times to help our minds stay present as we actively adjust to the changing situations.
You are right that multitasking is a myth. I can’t help but wonder why this gets passed along as an ideal trait. I have found that being present for specific tasks for a set amount of time accomplishes more than multi-tasking for a longer duration of time. It makes sense for one to use their full mental ability on a task instead of only partial attention. I have admired one specific leader that I know. She is very disciplined, and she focuses on one task at a time. This allows her to effectively address the issues presented to her, but it also increases her efficiency. She has put her computer on the wall opposite her door, so she faces away from the door. This keeps her from being distracted by watching people walk by constantly. It also helps her to focus when someone comes to talk to her because she has to turn away from her desk. She is noticeably present during conversations because of this small change in her office space.
I think that the author of this post is very perceptive in observing that a desire for control often gets in the way of being present. I am not a full blown control freak, but I do feel anxious when I feel like I have no control over a situation. I have definitely “zoned out” and stopped paying close attention to avoid the realization that I am not in control of a conversation or project. When I reflect on that habit after reading this article, I realize that if I let my mind wander away from the present, I am not being an effective leader or participant.
It sounds cliché, but I think active listening is an important tool for a leader to use to stay present. I definitely pay closer attention and stay more engaged with someone who gives validation that they are listening to me. Beyond just listening, Leaders can show they are present by noticing and looking for detail. Whether that detail is a physical characteristic of a product, or a nuance in an idea, a leader who notices and discusses detail is a present leader. I think that bullet point #1, “ Being present isn’t liking everything” makes an important point as well. A leader can be present even when offering criticism or expressing dissatisfaction. That is still more engaged than a disinterested or distracted leader.
What an empowering post! It is mind-blowing that almost half of the time people are thinking about something other than what they are doing. It is so easy to caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, especially now when every news media outlet has some kind of alarming or depressing headline that keeps you distracted. I’ve found one of my biggest distractions and anxiety triggers is consuming news regularly. I’ve made it a point to cut back on my consumption and my anxiety levels improved significantly. It is hard because I’m always wanting to stay up to date on the news, but I also recognize I need to prioritize self-care during this time. One of my favorite grounding techniques currently is to be out with nature. Kayaking has been especially fun recently, and I love paddling up to where the turtles congregate and having them surround my kayak in hopes of getting a snack (I always do!). I also find going on walks, hiking, and just laying out by the bayou are great ways to practice being present and curb anxiety. In addition, tapping into my artistic creativity and entering a flow state is the ultimate form of being present. I’ve picked up some new hobbies and reconnected with old ones by sewing, painting, and drawing. I’ve also taken an interest in finding international recipes and attempting them at home. I think being present is truly about your mind being connected to your body. A complete blissful state of sensory awareness in the current moment.
Thank you Mr. Dan for your post.
I can say that I have had a problem being present lately. I do not envy any manager working under any circumstances during this Pandemic right now. Hearing small bits of information about this crisis in classroom settings and then eventually having this to come full blown over the United States into a pandemic has not been easy. Trying to give your children a sense of security when you didn’t know when the other foot was going to fall. I like your quote, “it is hard to be present when you have the attention span of a squirrel in traffic” Well my attention span has been just that with a lot of stress and anxiety added to it. But things are getting better.
I like to remove avoidable distractions, but one thing that I have not been able to do is to close unused browser windows. And by not doing so my computer decides to shoot down when it gets ready. I will attempt to write down three daily goals that I will begin to practice everyday. I think this will be helpful to help stay focus, be present and to help with distractions.
Distractions can really hamper a leaders ability to lead. Depending on the type of distraction for the specific person, it could take the employees mind off of the job for a minute or the entire day.
When I was working construction on the University Medical Center there was one employee who was distracted and it nearly cost many people their lives.
There was an incident with an employee operating a Komatsu 400 excavator. Even with policies in place to require an operator to boom down when moving under power lines, and the requirement of having spotters while equipment is moving, one employee still managed to drive his excavator through the main power line running across the job site shorting out not only the sites power (nine tower cranes and one thousand employees) but shorting out a New Orleans emergency call center. At the time no one was injured. The worst was the employee was trapped in his machine until Entergy was able to ground out the machine. Once the employee was safe an incident investigation was started to uncover the root cause of the incident. The next day there was to be a meeting to discuss the root cause of the incident.A few minutes before the meeting was to take place, the employee operating the excavator received a phone call. After his phone call he proceeded to leave the meeting. We stopped him as he was leaving and asked where he was going. He finally told us that his wife had a stoke three days prior and that was the hospital informing him his wife had gone down again. He was to go to the hospital immediately in case his wife did not make it. He had been working for three days while his wife was fighting for her life in the ICU. Of course we let him leave to address his wife’s situation, but it did give me insite to a better management style. While I interviewed is direct supervisors, I learned they all noticed a change in behavior of him. What they all had in common was they did not apply his behavior to the work site. They all assumed he was having personal problems which would be better left alone. It was his personal issues. Nothing more, nothing less.
This particular subject has more recently been a major player in my life. While juggling my new role as a parent and my current role as a student, and soon to be intern, it is easy to blur the lines between both. I have often had my attention pulled away from completing an assignment or the occasional social media black hole to care for a screaming baby. In an attempt to set a better example and truly immerse myself in either role I must adopt some of the strategies you mentioned. #3 most importantly remove avoidable distractions. I simply separate myself from my technology when watching my daughter or delegate childcare to focus on homework.
#5 Walk around noticing has also been a new experience since having my daughter. She, like most babies, demands to be held. This means no free hands for “anything” else. We walk around the garden, the kitchen, living room, not interacting with anything, but simply observing.
In your post you asked, “What distracts you from being present?” My most distracting situations seem to be an over focus on activities in the future without managing the task at hand. For example, planning my next semester schedule instead of checking off my current semesters “to do’s”. I am more of a planner and need to focus more on also becoming a “do-er.” It’s easy to get tunnel vision when we are always so conditioned to keep our eyes towards progress and future improvements.
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