While most of us wish we could be in more than one place at a time, it is of course not physically possible. With so many distractions and completing priorities, all too often we are not mentally where we should be. This could be at work, at home, vacation, wherever. You are physically in one place and yet your mind is in another, racing ahead to what you want to say or other thoughts. When you do this you miss out on so much, and others--family, friends, co-workers--may miss out on the full amount that you have to offer.
Sometimes it unfortunately takes a powerful experience to remind us of the importance of focusing. One night while playing with my 4-year old daughter I kept trying to sneak in a few emails. I was completely caught off guard later that evening after I said "I love you" to her at bedtime. She responded with a comment about how I love my job more. From her perspective, since I must leave everyday to go to work it must be more important. Another time I was nearing the end of a long meeting with several executives and I was startled when my brain was pierced with, "David, what do you think?" I had already raced ahead to consider about what our next steps would be--I had left the moment and prematurely moved on to somewhere else. Meanwhile a substantive conversation had continued.
It is essential for you to be where you are. When you are in the moment you will find a much richer experience not only for yourself, but also for those you are with. In doing so, you will reap benefits that will enable you to be more successful and take more out of each moment.
- You will be a positive example. The people you are with will realize that you are paying attention to them and what they have to say. Bill Clinton is famous for his intense focus on who he is with, which makes the person feel like the most important person there. If a leader is constantly checking email in a meeting, others will also likely take a peek. If that same leader is absolutely focused, so too will others. I once had a direct report thank me for not ever glancing at emails or answering the phone during our touch bases. I had never given it a second thought to do otherwise, but to him this was important enough that he felt compelled to bring it up.
- You will learn more. Productivity research has shown us that we are not that effective at processing multiple pieces of information simultaneously. In fact, when you try to attend to multiple tasks you could be losing 40% of your productivity. Through giving your attention to a task you will also not miss important stuff. If you've ever watched a fast-paced movie you know that if you get distracted you will quickly find a need to ask someone what happened or rewind the move. By tuning out for even a minute, you could miss a critical scene. A movie is easy to rewind, but you do not have this luxury at work or with clients.
- You will be more creative. Through focusing on where you are, you will have a better understanding of what is going on. You will then know the right questions to ask, which will lead to better decisions and fewer mistakes. When you focus on what a person has to say you open up your mind to forward thinking possibilities. Research on appreciative inquiry has shown that this can shift thinking from task-based to innovative, resulting in unique ideas that can propel you and your business forward.
- You will get more done. It doesn't get much simpler than this. In the truest sense we cannot multi-task. People who are good "multi-taskers" are really just more adept at switching from one task to another. Once you prime yourself to be in the moment you will need to prioritize better, which will require you to drop certain activities and meetings that add limited value and drain your resources. This will result in you being more efficient because you will force yourself to choose only those things that matter the most.
- You will have less stress. There is a reason why yoga, meditation, and even hypnosis have experienced a surge in popularity. People are desperate to find ways to unplug and focus. In fact, nearly 60% of the 20 million Americans that practice yoga say they do so for stress relief. If you focus on where you are, your mind will not constantly be bouncing back and forth and you will find that you are more relaxed in your endeavors.
Looking ahead is critical, and there is nothing wrong with daydreaming. You just need to do these at the right time and not at the expense of what you should be focusing on. My challenge to you is to commit to being where you are. The next time your mind is wondering or you begin to disengage from a conversation, force yourself to snap back to the present. When you do, you will reap these benefits and take your performance to another level.