Screen Absorption and “The Organized Mind”

Being present with colleagues.

March 16, 2015
Does this happen to you? You show up a few minutes early to a meeting, and everyone sitting around the table is absorbed in their various screens. Nobody is talking to each other. Folks are reading e-mail on laptops, iPads, and phones. Everyone is busy checking their calendars, finishing a note, and trying to get caught up. Pre-meeting time is precious time. No sense wasting these scarce found minutes with chitchat.
Our workplace screen behaviors are a reflection of our social screen behaviors. Whole families spend entire restaurant meals absorbed in their giant cell phones. Friends text (or Instagram or Snapchat or KakaoTalk) while standing 3 feet apart from one another. We sit in bed next to our partners at night, and first thing in the morning, pecking and swiping away at our various screens.
Our screens are apparently more interesting than our colleagues, our friends, and our families. The constant flood of e-mails requires tending. The stream of information flowing towards us on our screens threatens to drown us unless we constantly keep it at bay. How we deal with e-mails and messages reminds me of those residents living adjacent to the Mississippi river during flooding, desperately stacking sandbags in the hope that the levee will not overflow.
Daniel Levitn, in his book The Organized Mind, makes the point that highly successful people often have the gift of being fully in the moment with whoever they interact with. Super high achievers are surprisingly often terrific listeners.  They may not spend very much time with you, but when you are with them they will make you feel like they don’t need to be anywhere else.   One reason why superstars are so present is that they have lots of help.  Unlike us, who keep our own schedules and manage our own communications and make our own appointments, they have people who do this hard work for them.  They are not worried about where they need to be next as someone else is doing all the worrying.   They are not anxious about falling behind on e-mails as someone else is sorting and triaging.
Since reading The Organized Mind I’ve vowed to at least try to act like a really successful person. If I am in a conversation I am actively trying to devote all my energy to that conversation. If I am in a meeting I am trying not to think of the next one. If I am in a meeting I am working hard not manage messages and task associated with another meeting. If I get to the meeting early, I try to talk to those with me around the table.
This effort at being present is, of course, doomed to failure. Actions will fall short of aspirations. No matter, as being in the moment with our colleagues is too important not to at least attempt.
Stop doing e-mails during meetings. Whatever it is, it can wait.
Put down the screen. Have a conversation.


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