Perhaps some of you saw Anderson Cooper’s recent 60 Minutes piece on "mindfulness." According to Wikipedia, mindfulness is "the intentional, accepting, and non-judgmental focus of one's attention on the emotions, thoughts, and sensations occurring in the present moment."
The concept is pretty closely linked to meditation. Cooper said learning about mindfulness has changed his life.
I don’t meditate. I’m almost certainly not as mindful as I should be. However, the holidays and the New Year got me thinking. It seems this holiday season a larger number of people than usual stayed home, relaxed, enjoyed time with their friends and family, and just relished in a long break.
"I brought my briefcase home, but don’t think I opened it once," was how one friend described his holiday.
Perhaps because the pace of our lives is so hectic and intense we now make an extra effort to "check out" when we can. Often that means Christmas-time and perhaps a period in August.
These past couple of weeks, though, gave me time to reflect and focus on the unquestionable linkage between time and quality. Instead of being "mindful" and really in the present, we’re often thoroughly focused on getting things done for the future. In the process, we read and rapidly respond to countless emails, social posts, calls, etc.
For those of you old enough to remember, we’ve become the guy on the old Ed Sullivan Show whose accomplishment in life was keeping many plates spinning at the same time. Really, that’s not much of an accomplishment.
As the pace of the world inexorably continues to accelerate, it’s clear that only a deliberate, "mindful" way to manage our lives will make it possible to achieve quality – in our work, in our relationships, and in our sense of personal fulfillment.
As the Cooper piece revealed, there is no easy fix. I wish I could offer one. Slowing down, in the interest of quality and real productivity, requires for most of us a new approach to how we manage our lives, certainly our professional ones.
Absent such a commitment, though, our capacity to be the thoughtful, "trusted advisors" we claim or want to be in our organizations and to our clients will only suffer. Like most, I’m able to provide counsel on the fly. I can reply to emails from clients with thoughtful answers and perspectives. If I’m honest, however, there’s little question my or anyone's work would be better and more helpful with the benefit of a little more time, more thought, perhaps more data analysis, and certainly more listening to others.
Perhaps this comes down, in part, to prioritization. Many executives look at the work their organizations do and try to eliminate the low-value stuff. That process should be personal, too. Maybe it’s worth doing a sample inventory of all our work activity during a one- or two-week period and label everything "do it," "delegate it," or "ditch it."
Finally, another lesson is to appreciate the importance of time off, whenever it is. This includes letting your junior people know they're allowed to truly unplug when they're on vacation. That it's really OK not to keep up with emails and that they don't have to call into the Monday morning staff meeting while on holiday. (I knew one CEO who expected people to call in even when they were on vacation, regardless of virtually any time zone differential.)
Whatever works for you, I’d encourage you to start this new year by slowing down, trying to be a bit more "mindful," and being in the present. As hard as this may be, I suspect the rewards will be well worth it.
I know I’ll be trying.
Bob Feldman is cofounder and principal of PulsePoint Group, a digital and management consulting firm. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column focuses on management of the corporate communications function.