Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to be "Present", "Safe", and "Refreshed" in a Multi-tasking World

I am literally writing this essay flying to LA, listening to a great playlist on my I pad put together by my son Bryson (check out the band “Best Coast”, they rock) , keeping an eye on my work emails and hoping to have a few minutes to read todays “Huffington Post” headlines on-line before I land. Over the past few years in a job that requires extensive travel, I have become completely dependent on technology to enable me to be effective anywhere and anytime regardless of time-zone and location. I long ago dismissed the outmoded notion that an “office” is a static location in some corporate building where one schedules meetings. My “office” is wherever I have power and internet connectivity, wherever I can access my company’s network and connect to a good cell signal, whether in a remote airport gate, a hotel lobby, a street corner coffee shop, or a foreign train station. Technology has allowed me to be effective literally almost anywhere, anytime and I am constantly using this enhanced capability to “multi-task my brains out” in order to accomplish my goals personally and professionally. It is in this context that I want to share some thoughts or ideas on ways to be most effective in our wildly muti-tasking world:

Be Present: It is so tempting to always be doing two or three things at once. Think about it, we are often doing work emails while watching news or financial headlines/updates, while staying current in our personal social networking community. Heaven forbid that we might miss a posting from a group of friends with photos from a concert/party, or be slow to respond to a text from a work associate with an urgent, though maybe not important ( see a past essay “5% for #2” on that topic) request. In a recent executive review at work, we had an interesting experience. A large group had gathered in a conference room to discuss upcoming priorities and almost everyone had their ipads or laptops powered up and connected to the network. As we dove into the agenda it became clear that most folks participating in the meeting were ALSO doing emails, checking updates, etc. As it got to my turn to lead an agenda item, I covered a slide or two but then paused with a moment of silence to see how long it would take the group in the room to realize that I had stopped talking. Gradually, people raised their heads to look up at me and I waited for the last individual to look up, ultimately nudged by their neighbor in the conference room. I suggested that we weren’t holding the meeting to hear ourselves speak, and that if they wanted to be in the meeting then they should really be “in” the meeting. Choosing to be fully “present”, with all of your thoughts, experiences, and perspectives deployed to the moment at hand is extremely valuable and potent regardless of environment. When the moment arises, choose to be focused and great at the singular topic at hand, rather than distracted and merely adequate across a range of “muti-tasking activities.”

Be Safe: There is a growing realization and concern that multi-tasking in the wrong moments and environments can be dangerous and potentially lethal. Recently I was walking near a busy intersection in Santa Monica where I noticed a young woman walking next to me, ear buds firmly in place, and texting furiously on her iPhone. I stopped as we approached the busy corner, seeing the light turn red and cars starting to pull out ahead of us. Without even looking up, the young woman stepped off the curb heading blindly into traffic. I grabbed her arm to stop her, which caused her to raise her head to see me yelling for her to stop. While she seemed “pissed off” that I had grabbed her arm, she stepped back to the curb and went back to her texting. Unbelievably and blindly dangerous for what??
In a related vein I will add my voice to the growing chorus of organizations and individuals crying out against texting and driving. We as a nation have come to the realization that driving drunk is dangerous, potentially lethal, and thus unlawful and unacceptable! Recent studies show disarming similarities between texting and drinking when driving ( and we must take action culturally and legally now! The famous director Werner Herzog recently completed a short 35 minute documentary film that highlights the stories of a number of individuals and families involved in and affected by texting while driving. Please take a moment to watch this poignant film ( and take a note of the topics that were being texted at the moment of impact. It’s horrific, tragic and ridiculous how meaningless the topics are that distracted drivers to the point of turning them into killers!

Be Refreshed: Even in moments when we are being “Present” and “Safe”, multi-tasking will be pervasive broadly across our busy days, weeks, and months. It’s hard to put the technology down, even to grab a few hours of much needed sleep, knowing that there are emails, messages, contacts, etc. waiting out there! Try to find ways to step away from being connected ALL of the time, just to give yourself a much needed break. One example that works for me is an annual fishing trip “off the grid” that is coming up next week. Once a year I take a few days with some old friends and go fishing in rural western Ontario completely off the grid (I will save stories of the outhouse and the propane fridge for a future essay). At first it was more than disarming heading off from the dock and watching the cell coverage diminish and then go completely “dark.” Now with a few years of experience under my belt, I crave the idea of getting off the grid to take a break from the tempo and incessant onslaught of messages, if just for a few days. I prepare well for those few days every year, insuring that my team members cover the active projects and issues, with others tracking my emails watching to deal with any emergencies that might arise. It’s through that preparation that I now not only crave a few days “off the grid”, but come back “refreshed” and more than ready to dive back in!

It’s absolutely amazing what technology has allowed us to accomplish in our work and personal lives every day. I have no doubt that there will be new tools and applications in the years to come that will continue to enable us to “multi-task with abandon”, clearly at even greater speeds with greater impact than we can even imagine today. My council is for all of us (starting with yours truly) to take steps to be “Present, Safe, and Refreshed” so that we can convert this amazing “multi-tasking tempo” into a productive, healthy, and high impact life!

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