Your Greatest Gift
Staying present, choosing focus, & where to start
Have you ever pondered what the greatest gift is that you can give someone? You might immediately be thinking about something that could cost a lot of money, but what I’m referring to doesn’t cost a dime, in fact it’s free! What I’m referring to is the gift of your presence! Not just your physical, but also your mental and emotional presence. Dedicating your whole self for a block of time.
Now, I’m sure you're wondering exactly what presence is (and maybe why / if it qualifies as a gift). But before we look at that, let’s explore what your presence is not! Have you ever been on a Zoom call and you could clearly see that the other person was not fully engaged with you — it was obvious they were doing something else, even while on a call with you? What about on a phone call, where you could tell the person on the other end was distracted, or maybe just task-oriented and you got the feeling he/she was checking you off their list? Maybe you’ve experienced distracted listeners while talking with your friend, spouse, or significant other, only to realize they were worlds away.
All of these are examples of someone not being present. I know you’ve experienced it! And we’ve all been guilty of not being actively present, as well. We experience the flakiness of human presence every day, in multiple situations at home, at work, in school, or on the dreaded Zoom call. It’s actually easy to spot when someone is not being present in the moment, but can you tell when YOU are not present?
Just like we experience the lack of presence from others, we can experience it from ourselves as well. Let me give you an example. As I’m writing this column (yep, this one), I hear my email notification ding on my computer. I immediately stopped writing and looked at the email that just came in — at that moment, I lost focus and presence on writing and shifted my mind to the email. I know you’ve done something like this as well — let a notification decide when you check your email, when you get distracted, right?
The thing is, society (or our boss) have conditioned us that each email is critical, and we must respond quickly — which could not be further from the truth, but more on that in a future column. What you may not realize is that the focus you had honed in on the project you're working on or with the person you were talking to — that focus is lost when you give into notifications and ongoing distractions! Statistics say that when you lose presence or get distracted from a task, it takes up to 20 minutes to get back in the flow of your task.
Think about that for a minute — whether you realize it or not, you just lost 20 minutes of productivity, so the task you were working on, now takes you longer to complete, or if you do start back on it immediately, you're likely to make a mistake or miss something critical. So in my example, the solution is simple — close my email. Choose to stay focused on writing and get it completed faster, with a clearer thought process, and then I can move onto the next thing!
But most people don’t want to admit that this happens — or admit the time these small distractions cost us each day. We believe we are great at multitasking, but in reality, there is no. such. thing. as multitasking! Read that again. No such thing as multitasking. Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your brain doesn’t work that way. Your brain is linear and can only process one thing at a time.
The term multitasking originated in the 1960’s as a way to describe how computers (NOT people) alternately work on multiple tasks sharing one resource, the CPU. For more on this, you can read a column I wrote in 2019 at https://www.sidmeadows.com/blog/i-m-a-great-multitasker.
Why is this important, especially now? We live in a world full of distractions. Each and every minute of the day, something is vying for our attention. The notifications on our phone, the ding of the supposedly urgent email, the kids running in your office, and I’m sure you could list a dozen more. So, for us to be our best and perform our best, we have to give ourselves and others, the greatest gift we have to offer — the gift of OUR presence!
There are so many benefits to being present, that could (and should) fill an entire column, but for now, I’ll highlight just a few for you. Choosing to be actively present leads to: improved social skills, improved creativity and problem solving, greater appreciation of the people and things around you, less stress and overthinking, and fast task completion. And on and on.
So, how can you become present and give yourself and others your greatest gift? Well, I can promise you, the tips I’m about to share are going to challenge you — especially those that have the misconception that are great multitaskers!
Step 1: Close down everything — yes, silence your phone, close your email, all of it! Removing any and all distractions will make a huge difference.
Step 2: Focus on what (or who) is right in front of you — at this very moment! You’ll be amazed at how quickly a meeting can go, or how fast you can solve a problem when everyone is present and focused.
Step 3: Just breathe — everything that you think you are missing will be there when you finish the task you are focused on, right now! In fact, it may help you to focus on your breath a few minutes before the meeting starts — to clear your mind of the clutter and noise.
Step 4: Since you're now focused and present, ask those you’re engaging with to do the same thing. Yes, I’m suggesting you start the meeting or conversation with a request for everyone to shut everything down and get focused. And, if they don’t or lose their presence during your time together, politely call them out — and yourself for that matter.
This will be one of the most challenging things you take on in 2021, but I promise you, it will be one of the best things you do — not just for yourself, but for those you are engaged with, including your family and friends!
So as you move forward, give those around you your greatest gift! The gift of presence.
As Leo Tolstoy once said, “There is only one time that is important — NOW! It’s the most important time because it is the only time that we have any power!” Please visit my blog and share your thoughts at www.sidmeadows.com/blog