I’ve always prided myself on being present, both in my public relations career and my personal life. I pay attention to who I’m with, where I’m going, what I’m working on – while being a champion multi-tasker at the same time. Being a parent teaches you that you can edit a document while listening to someone practice piano or make dinner while you participate in a conference call. But that isn’t the same as participating in an in-person meeting and checking emails and having the ability to thoughtfully answer at the same time. While I’m someone who does her best work while there is a lot of stimulus around (I do wish I had a TV in my office…), am I really giving my best or am I just satisfying my need to get everything done, be current with all the news big and small and check more things off my to-do list?
I recently read an essay from Kristi Hedges on Forbes.com on just this topic and saw myself reflected in it.
While smartphones, texting and laptops make multitasking possible, are they eroding our ability to be present? I sat in a colleague’s office last week without a phone or laptop and had the most productive conversation I’d had in a while. I wasn’t distracted by beeps or calls and it was refreshing. I’ve observed some of the smartest and most productive people I know listen to a conference call and try to be present in a conversation with me. Admittedly, I interpreted this form of multi-tasking as just plain rude – disrespectful to the people on the call and disrespectful to me as the person in the room. I know I am guilty of stealing glances at my phone during a less-than-exciting meeting or answering a quick calendar request while sitting with someone, but I’m going to try and focus on being present – and doing one thing at a time – as much as possible.
The concept of “being present” is often associated with mindfulness and spirituality, but that isn’t my thing. I think giving your undivided attention to a client, colleague or team member is part of being a good professional. I would never want someone to interpret my obsessive multi-tasking as rudeness or a sign that their conversation isn’t important to me. So if you are the recipient of this behavior, call me on it. Ask me who I’m texting that might be more important than you. Old habits die hard, but this old dog is going to try and learn a new trick or two.