Midway between juxtaposed thoughts about a report I was struggling to complete and a phone call I just missed, I decided to check my email, look at LinkedIn and scan my Facebook feed – all while taking a brisk morning stroll in beautiful Beaufort, S.C., what I have come to consider one of the most pleasant places on the planet.
Then I stumbled on a post by Rohit Bhargava — a marketing author, keynote speaker and "nice guy" — and everything became clear.
This multitasking is crazy.
Or to paraphrase what he stated so much more eloquently: when you aren't fully present, you miss 100 percent of the experience in the places you're thinking about as well in the place you are in.
I stood there, momentarily paralyzed, on a trail full of trees draped with Spanish moss, overlooking a river dotted with sailboats. And then I did the only logical thing I could think of doing.
I walked down the dock to enjoy the view.
Catching Our Collective Breaths
In the post that struck such a chord, Bhargava explained why he wasn't going to SXSW this year.
"Rather than being the ultimate breeding ground for a rampant fear of missing out (FOMO), SXSW seemed like the ultimate example of always missing out (AMO). No matter what you did or where you went, you were sure to miss at least 95 percent of everything else."
People are always on edge, worried about what they're missing. They pick at gourmet treats — worried that an even better gourmet treat will be just around the corner. "There was a hard cost to attending any session: the real time reminders of all the others you had chosen to skip," he wrote.
But Bhargava argued that there is a better solution: mindfulness, a concept that has roots in Buddhist and other contemplative traditions where conscious attention and awareness are actively cultivated.
It is most commonly defined as the state of being attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the present, said Kirk Warren Brown, a psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who has been studying and practicing mindfulness for more than 20 years.
Lest you feel any pangs of skepticism or dismiss this as the latest mind tripping fad, rest assured. Bhargava has impressive credentials. He's the author of five best selling books, including the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Non-Obvious, and founder of the Influential Marketing Group. He advises global brands on communications strategy and storytelling.
His signature annual "Non-Obvious Trend Report" has been viewed and shared more than half a million times and his thinking has been featured in global media, including the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, NPR and the New York Times. A two-time TEDx speaker, he's delivered keynote presentations in 27 countries. And he's an Adjunct Professor of Global Marketing at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
Mindfulness isn't some quirky concept: it's already mainstream, Bhargava said.
Starbucks, Google and other large brands are investing in mindfulness training for employees. Even the Seattle Seahawks are turning to yoga and mindfulness as a way to improve performance, and businesses like LinkedIn are training leaders on a new form of compassionate management.
The results are higher performance, greater job satisfaction and increased focus. In other words, mindfulness is working, Bhargava wrote.
Reality the Office
Sitting on a dock by the river is a lovely way to spend the day.
But you can only sit there so long before reality dawns: you won't be able to enjoy that view very long unless you get back to your desk to earn a paycheck.
So once I was settled back in my office, I contacted Bhargava to find out what he thinks mindfulness brings to the workplace.
"Mindfulness in the workplace is one of the techniques that leaders and the most ambitious achievers in corporate environments are using to center their own thinking and how they manage their time. This focus is translating into the style of leadership they then use with other members of their teams and companies overall in order to improve performance of the entire enterprise," he said.
So Much to Do
But between the tasks and technologies, the meetings and the mergers, do leaders today have the luxury to live in the present? Do they have time to "think"?
Bhargava said the complaint about not having time to think is a common one. "We all fall into this trap. However, most of us also realize that time and scheduling is just a system of prioritizing. When you don't have time for something, it is because you are choosing to prioritize something else in that time."
He noted the obvious: We are all thinking continually. "The challenge we describe is that we often find it difficult to take time for unstructured thinking. Some of the most effective techniques of mindfulness, come from resetting a moment through short pauses," he said.
For example, consider taking a one-minute silent break between meetings. It's an insignificant amount of real time, but it helps people refocus and move from one task to the next, and leave behind the stress from one meeting before they move onto the next meeting.
Here and There
It's impossible to exist in two places at once. But we try. We run. We rush. We panic. We dodge one reality to create another. "Sorry I'm late," we tell our boss. "Traffic was terrible." Or we pretend the car broke down, the train was late or something, anything, beyond our control kept us from arriving on time.
What advice would Bhargava give to business people struggling to straddle too many places? "The only advice that really can help someone trying to be everywhere at once is to focus on being more strategic to make priorities," he said. "Strategy is simply the art of knowing what to do by eliminating all the things you absolutely won't do."
He recalled listening to business consultant Jim Collins discuss about how leaders prioritize. Collins, he said, "offered the brilliant suggestion of creating a 'don't do' list."
"Most of us are used to creating 'to do' lists, but how many of us create a list of things we should stop doing immediately? Probably very few of us, yet this simple trick might be the most effective way to manage time and contend with the ongoing stress of over scheduling."
It's could make us more productive — and may even give us more time to spend at our own dock by the river.
Title image by Asa Aarons Smith/all rights reserved.