To Be Effective First Be Present

We sometimes confuse being physically present to being mindfully present. We don’t get points for just showing up. To be effective we need to be mindfully present; participate; contribute value; to engage and connect.
One of my previous bosses was a hard-working executive. He felt that in order to be successful and productive he should multitask whenever and where ever possible.
He would take long flights to attend important meetings with customers. Only during those meetings, he would spend most of the time checking and replying to e-mails on his Blackberry.
Furthermore, in an attempt to make the most of his time, he would arrive to those meetings at the last moment. Hence, not allowing himself enough time to rest and recover from the flight. As a result, he would dose-off during the meetings. And once he even fell asleep in the middle of a business dinner with our most important customer. Much to their surprise and amusement (they all took out their phones to capture this embarrassing moment).
Needless to say, he wasn’t an effective leader. Worst yet, he lost the respect of his team, his peers, and his customers.

Physically Present vs Mindfully Present

Unfortunately, this ineffective behavior is not limited to the workplace. I often take my kids to our neighborhood playground. Almost every time we’re there I see fathers who left work early that day so they can spend some quality time with their kids. And yet, instead of being deeply engaged and present with their kids they are busy with their smartphones, leaving their kids to wonder if they really want to be there.
We can see a similar phenomenon in cafes and restaurants where friends or couples engage more with their phones than with each other.
Are we so connected that we’re actually disconnected?

The Fallacy of Multitasking

Multitasking is the norm these days (despite clear evidence that it prevents us from doing anything very well).
This is easy to understand. Our lives today are much more complex than those of our parents when they were at the same age. In the workplace, we’re constantly facing increasing demands and expectations to do more with less (resources), to be available 24/7, and to keep up with an ever-growing flow of information.
McKinsey & Company claim that many senior executives literally have two overlapping workdays: the one that is formally programmed in their diaries and the one “before, after, and in-between,” when they disjointedly attempt to grab spare moments with their laptops or smartphones, multitasking in a vain effort to keep pace with the information flowing toward them.
On top of that, we face more and more distractions every day. It used to be just phone calls and e-mails. Now there are SMS, IM, Facebook, Twitter, and countless other mobile apps.
To make matters worse, the great recession and unstable global economy have introduced greater uncertainty regarding our livelihood and future. This anxiety causes people to do what’s necessary to hold on to their current jobs or businesses.
Peter Bregman writes: “Doing several things at once is a trick we play on ourselves, thinking we’re getting more done. In reality, our productivity goes down by as much as 40%. We don’t actually multitask. We switch-task, rapidly shifting from one thing to another, interrupting ourselves unproductively, and losing time in the process.”
A body of scientific evidence demonstrates fairly conclusively that multitasking makes us less productive, less creative, and less able to make good decisions. If we want to be effective, we need to stop.

How to be More Effective

Both Peter Bregman and the McKinsey report offer great advice and suggestions on how to change our tendency to multitask and become more effective. Here are my additional two cents:
  • First, focus. Decide what are your true priorities in life (and work). Then make sure you are allocating these activities the right amount of time. If you’ve decided that meeting a customer is important to you, plan your trip such that you come to the meeting rested and prepared. Both physically and mentally.

  • Second, prepare, do your homework. Think and plan in advance what is it that you want to accomplish in each activity. What do you need to prepare? As well as who should attend and what should they prepare.

  • Third, delegate or abandon (filter). Review the list of activities that you have prioritized low on your list, or marked as less important. If you can delegate them, do it. Otherwise, remove them from the list entirely. You will feel relieved and less stressed. This will further enable you to be more focused and engaged in the activities you will do.

  • Lastly, remove all potential distractions. If you’re in a meeting don’t bring your laptop and switch off your phone. If you’re with a friend in a café keep your phone in your bag. And if you’re driving, do us all a favor and keep your phone as far away from your reach as possible.

Being present in every activity that you consider important, whether it’s planning, spending time with your kids, or just catching up with a friend over a cup of coffee, will enable you to get more out of it, perform better, and have greater satisfaction.

The beauty of it all is that you’ll actually get more done and done well.

So why not give it a try?



11 thoughts on “To Be Effective First Be Present

  1. Exellent piece. I would add that not only is multi-tasking a sham, but it is also indicative of a lack of time management skills. People that sit in meetings flipping through their Blackberry's or e-mails are not only disrespectful of others in the room, they are also announcing to the world that they don't know how to manage their life. They just don't know it.

    Simply this, if everything is a priority to you, then nothing is. Where is time management if there are no priorities?

  2. Ziv, Your comment about the playground reminded me of a picture I took once at an amusement park of a mother, father, and their 7-ish yr. old looking boy sitting on a bench, both Mom and Dad hunched over their smartphones, with the kid holding some souvenier and staring out into space. A classic case of not really being present. One of the big problems is that we do not get those moments back. I do not think when I am at the point of reflecting back on my life that I will regret not spending more time on Twitter. Thanks!

  3. David,

    Thank you for the great comment. I would love to see the photo you're referring to.

    Indeed, these lost moments are gone forever.

    I always remember this quote by Dr. Stephen Covey: "no one on his deathbed has ever wished he'd spent more time at work".

    Wishing you and yours a very happy, healthy, and peaceful new year.


  4. Ziv,

    Just ran across this post. It is a challenging economy where corporates are trying to make the best use of the resources available, and for staff to feel the need to constantly perform to remain viable. Reading the stats in the article where 40% of productivity is lost, I wonder what will it take to change this perception and behaviors, or is this the new normal?

  5. Hi Eugen,

    Thank you for the comment. You're making a good point. Hopefully people will realize the adverse effects of these behaviors on their quality of life and work.

    More importantly, it's leaders who need to set the right example with their own behavior, values and actions.

    Best Regards,

  6. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this article and also the rest of the site is also really good.

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