5 Ways to be more present in the present

Over the last several years we’ve all seen the studies about how bad it is to multi-task. It makes us stupid, slows us down, it’s even expensive and dangerous!

But even though I know all those things, being more present in the moment and only doing one thing at a time turns out to be… well, hard. I’m actually pretty terrible at it! When I’m bored for 20 seconds I reflexively pull out my phone and scroll through social media, or there’s a game (actually more like 20) to play, I have my fantasy football team to check on… Wait, what were we talking about?

You see what I mean — it’s a lot harder to do than it seems. But I’m committed to the idea so I keep trying. I’ve actually been working hard at it — and found a few things that have been helpful on how to be more present. So I thought I’d share:

1. When I get home I put my phone down.

When I’m at home I want to be home. I don’t want to leave part of my brain at the office, I want to be home. One way I do that is when I get home I take my phone out of my pocket and put it on the shelf with my keys. I’ll leave the ringer on — if someone needs to get a hold of me they can. But just setting it down helps me to leave my work behind. It also means that when I get bored it’s not right there to distract me. It’s a little thing, but a first step.

2. I schedule time to do nothing.

This one is really hard for me. I like to get things done, I like to get things off my list. But it really helps me to do nothing sometimes. I go for a walk in the woods, sit down by the lake, and just sit with my thoughts. At first it felt stupid, unproductive, a little weird. But over time, I’ve come to appreciate the quiet that comes if I stick with it. Practicing being still makes me so much more able to go back and find that place of stillness when I really need it in the middle of a work day.

3. When I’m on the phone, I shut my eyes.

It’s hard for me not to get distracted, even when I’m on the phone! I start fiddling with email, or I get distracted by twitter, or I… Well, I get distracted. When I shut my eyes, 90% of those distractions go away, leaving me free to attend to the caller. If I don’t want to shut my eyes, I’ll take notes — not because I need to look back at them, but because I want to pay attention to the call.

4. I turn off all notifications.

It’s easy enough for me to get distracted, I don’t need electronics to steal my focus. So I’m maniacal about turning off notifications. I don’t get any notifications on my phone (it still rings for calls and texts, but nothing else) or on my computer. No beeps or pop-ups for email, IM, downloads, event reminders, none of that stuff. I need to be with the people I’m with, not the people sending me emails! Still not convinced? Try to engage in some creative task while you have your kids and kin texting you the whole time. How did that work? Case closed.

5. I Listen with my whole body.

Many years ago I was at a workshop where they were teaching this technique called mirroring, where you would adapt your posture, body position, even facial expression and respiration rate to match the person you are listening to. So if they leaned forward, you’d lean forward, if they put their hands on the table, you’d put your hands on the table. Mirroring never had any magical influencing powers for me, but I did find that it made me a better listener. When I’m concentrating on mirroring it quiets my mind. I’m not thinking about what I’m going to start talking about as soon as the other person stops talking, instead I’m right there with them.

This is really important work for anyone, but if you are leading an enterprise it’s especially important. When your calendar is packed back-to-back it reinforces choices that are bad for your leadership. It rewards you for being a fixer and makes it hard to be a coach. It keeps you in a reactionary mindset, and prevents you from thinking strategically.

I still have many miles to go in this journey, and this is definitely not the last word you will hear from me on this topic. Do these steps resonate with you? What are you doing to be more present? How is that working?

Photo credit: Waag Society (Flickr)


  1. Mark H. Davis says:

    Brad, great points about the need to “unplug” and just be still. I’m going to give some of these ideas a shot, though I admit that putting my phone down (not having it in my hip pocket) and turning off notifications will be a challenge for me. I find that I define “productivity” as an outward, proactive thing and therefore sitting and reflecting gives me fits, as if I’m not “doing” anything. When I’m able to, though, whether it be in prayer or planning, I am often surprised by the results.

    By the way, I read this blog during my lunch break (after finding the link on LinkedIn group), on my smartphone, while managing to eat an apple and chicken burrito. And to think I tell people that multi-tasking is not all it’s cracked up to be …

    Have a great day.

    • Mark;

      Being still definitely FEELS unproductive, it feels stupid; I almost NEVER want to do it.

      It’s only later, once I’ve been still and quiet that I can reap the rewards of having been quiet.

      Give it a try and let me know how it goes.

      Oh, and be careful, those burritos will KILL you…

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