“Wherever you are, be there. If you can be fully present now, you’ll know what it means to live.”
“Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it.”
“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.”
It’s easy to outrun zombies and robots.
Giant leaps in your personal and professional life follow in person interactions, not online messages. Sharing ideas and taking action with real people is far more productive than sending emails and obsessing over daily tasks. Most people believe that human beings are more valuable than tech gear and to-do lists. Yet, many of these same people spend their days looking down at laptops, tablets, and phones while ignoring the people right in front of them. Others spend their days rehearsing daily tasks and worrying about the future instead of engaging in the present moment. People that are constantly plugged into gadgets are robots. People that are never mentally present are zombies.
How To Spot A Zombie Or A Robot
Robots and zombies are easy to spot. Do you know someone at the office who pulls out her phone to read a text message while you’re talking to her? Robot. Have you ever had to repeat yourself to a colleague over and over again before his eyes unglaze and he finally understands you? Zombie. Did your boss ever call you into his office and have an entire conversation with you without looking up from his computer screen? Robot. Did you ever ask a group of people a question after a presentation and watch each of them stare blankly back at you? Zombies. Understand that people who are always plugged in and never present cannot succeed. Achieving your goal and fulfilling your purpose in life is impossible without engaging in reality and interacting directly with other people.
When I first started working in the biotechnology industry after graduate school, I was hooked on gadgets and busyness. I would go to group meetings and slyly open my laptop or iPad while pretending to listen. I would sneak in emails and online messages while occasionally looking up, smiling, and nodding. I had mastered the art of convincing both myself and my colleagues that I was taking it all in. Most importantly, I always felt extra productive. It was like I had superpowers. I could carry on a conversation with someone in front of me while responding to emails and text messages on my phone. I could stare another person right in the face while going over my entire to-do list in my head. I was multitasking my way up the ladder of success. The only problem was this sinking feeling I had.
I was a robot and a zombie. Over time, my sinking feeling grew into a sense of impending doom. I always felt behind – like I could never catch up to myself. I also felt confused – like I could never figure out exactly what I was doing or why I was doing it. My brain was scattered. The problem was I was constantly plugged in. And when I wasn’t plugged in, I was living in my own head. My default state was to get online and answer emails or to worry about what I was supposed to be doing next. As a result, I was always busy but never productive. My actions carried little weight because they were all executed online or in my head. My online connections meant nothing because I never had time to nurture them in person. The only way to turn things around was to unplug and get present.
Multitasking Multiplies Failure
Your brain cannot do two things at once. A study out of the University of California, Irvine found that people who are interrupted by technology score 20% lower on standard cognition tests. The study also showed that the typical office worker gets only 11 minutes between each interruption, while it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task after an interruption. Another study showed that most college students are only able to concentrate on work for 2 minutes before distracting themselves with email or social media.
Never sacrifice effectiveness and quality to efficiency and quantity. Completing one major goal beyond everyone’s expectations is better than finishing several tasks half-ass. Likewise, developing one meaningful relationship is better than connecting with a million people online. This is true in business and entrepreneurship as well as in your personal life. Diffuse efforts will always fall short. There’s no way to compensate for a scattered mind. Start concentrating the bulk of your energy onto no more than 1-2 people, clients, or tasks a day. Instead of trying to reach as many people as possible, aim to engage as many as possible. Instead of trying to do as many things as possible, aim to do the most important thing possible. Learn to focus your efforts and you will dramatically enhance your own business and entrepreneurship development.
Plug In Privately
Pulling out your phone in the middle of a presentation or conversation is a personal relations disaster. You are better off slapping the presenter or other person in the face. Everyone knows you’re not taking notes on your iPad or computer during the meeting. You’re checking your email or playing on Facebook. Choosing to view a computer screen over a person’s face is disrespectful. And most people do not quickly forget being disrespected. Instead of disrespecting the people in front of you, connect with them. All it takes is one personal connection to completely change your life. The guy sitting next to you on the plane, the student stepping up to your conference booth, and the little old lady standing behind you in line are all potential clients, collaborators, fans, followers, and business partners. Stop ignoring the people around you. Stop thinking like a robot and start engaging people in public. Learn to separate your electronic time from your public time. This lesson is critical not only to making money but to developing as a leader.
Leadership influence relies on presence, not technology. Reserve computer time for when you’re alone. This will benefit you in two ways; first, you will be more productive. This is because working alone, without distractions, and in limited bursts will focus your mind. Second, you will appear more poised and powerful. People who are always multitasking, hurrying here and there, and frantically jumping online whenever they get a spare second appear weak and sloppy. It’s impossible to appear poised and powerful while stooped over a computer screen. How often do you see the U.S. President, the U.K. Prime Minister, or any other world leader staring down at their phones, tablets, or computers? Never. This is because writing emails and working online is not prestigious.
No one wants to follow a zombie or robot. Most people treat stress like a badge of honor. These people run around, whipping out their smart phones, constantly checking their inboxes, and bragging about the lengths of their to-do lists. They believe that this behavior shows the world that they care. It’s like they’re trying to prove that they work hard. But instead of looking strong, these people look sloppy. They come off as incompetent, unorganized, and unprepared. Understand that frantic behavior is not influential. Never let them see you sweat. Learn to hide your work ethic. Working hard in private and being completely present in public has a powerful effect. The key is that you have to work hard in private in order to be present in public.
Presence Dominates Everything
Wake up. The fastest way to get ahead of other people is to be absolutely present in public. Did you ever go to a meeting and not really pay attention? You probably thought, “no one else is really paying attention” or “this meeting isn’t that important”. Either way, you decided to take a mental break and focus on what you’re going to do after the meeting. In other words, you decided to be a zombie. Then, all of the sudden, some jerk starts asking questions. He brings up a really good point, and another one, and another one. Eventually, an entire discussion breaks out. Now, you start to get anxious. You can’t remember anything the presenter said and you have nothing to contribute to the discussion. Zombies are expendable. If your mind is always someplace else, it’s only a matter of time before you are replaced.
Presence is an important career choice. The next time you’re at a meeting or having a conversation with someone, try being completely engaged. Watch the effect it has on the people around you. Notice how it automatically makes them engage. Avoid becoming a robot or zombie by unplugging and being present. Of course, it’s good to use technology and to-do lists to help you stay connected and focused, but these things shouldn’t be your default means of connecting or making things happen. Use them to coordinate your efforts with other people, not to replace other people.