The other day I was waiting for my wife Hilary at a local restaurant. Out of habit I sat down in the lobby, pulled out my iPhone, and started reading email and Twitter. I often fill even a few minutes of down time by fiddling with my phone, but for some reason this time was different. Do I have really such a short attention span that I must find a way to entertain myself for even two minutes?
It’s normal that those emails I glance at have me thinking about them for another thirty minutes. Often well into dinner or whatever other social event I am at. And why? I can’t do anything about them. If a client needs help I have to wait until I am back at a computer with dedicated time to actually solve their problem. So I didn’t actually gain anything by being momentarily occupied with my phone.
This is especially noticeable during meetings at work. First we have a meeting that may or may not be important, but then half the people spend their time staring at their phones or laptops. Then when asked their opinion it has to be explained again since no-one was fully present.
While at conferences and other social events where I don’t know anyone I use my phone to pretend to be busy. That way I look less awkward and don’t have to go to the effort of joining conversations and introducing myself to new people. Later it always frustrates me, but I never seem to change the habit. My phone has become an odd crutch.
So I decided this time would be different. I put my phone away and just looked around the room. People watching can be quite interesting and somehow relaxing. After a few minutes I struck up a conversation with the Maitre d’. Odd how you can actually engage people when you give your attention to them. When I found out Hilary would be a bit longer I wandered over to the bookstore next door.
Then when we did sit down to dinner my mind was free of the distractions of email and work. Instead I had things to talk about related to the books I had just been browsing. Things I knew Hilary and I have a mutual interest in.
Email, Twitter, and Facebook can all wait. Be present. Your colleagues, friends, and family deserve it.