Learning To Be Present
by Gina Waldhorn, Co-Founder & COO
As I type this article, I am growing a tree. It is a virtual tree. I have planted the seed, and so long as I do not pick up my phone for the next 45 minutes to do anything besides look at my sapling, it will flourish into a fully-grown, lush, virtual adult tree.
I’m testing out the app Forest, which has been developed to help individuals be present, and stay focused; a mission I’ve become more passionate about over the past several years as an entrepreneur and manager. At Evol8tion, we’ve connected with hundreds of startup founders; collaborating towards successes and failures, observing what works and what doesn’t, to learn to better support the community and ourselves.
What works is presence.
I’m not always present. In fact, I just killed my tree because I saw a text alert asking me a question about babysitting a dog, and I sure do love dogs. But I want to be, and I have seen first-hand the exponential results that come from focus and presence at my own company, and at other startups. From my experience, here are a few examples that I would encourage founders to instill in their own routines:
1. Use a notebook. Yes, a paper one. Don’t have one? Call me, I have dozens of branded media shwag notebooks from my agency days, I’ll mail you one. A computer creates a physical barrier between meeting participants -- and email or Skype can be way too seductive if they’re open right in front of you. You also can’t easily sketch out frameworks, or doodle, which is proven to stimulate creativity. I purposefully use a small notebook, which means I spend less time writing what people are saying, and more time jotting down only what stands out, or when I have an idea.
2. Turn off your email notifications. I did this two weeks ago, and I feel reborn. Not only do I find myself spending more time on the task at hand (vs. abandoning it when a client email creeps into view), each time I do visit my inbox it’s like Christmas morning! A new stack of emails, hooray!
3. Use the phone (to talk to people). It’s a foreign concept to millennials, but picking up the phone or meeting in person (and being present in said meeting) can completely optimize your day. What may take days of emails or Skype conversations to resolve would probably only take one phone conversation. A verbal discussion also allows people to hear your tone, as sarcasm usually falls flat over Skype.
4. Allow yourself and others time to just think. Did you know that we do some of our best ideation when we allow ourselves to become bored? Sometimes I just need to hop on the cliché office beanbag, listen to some Dead, and stare. It’s important my team members don’t jump at the chance to monopolize my “time doing nothing” and I respect their time for zoning out as well.
I’ve seen how countless startups and revered global brands ideate, plan, and develop, and noticed some or all of these habits employed in those companies who find success. I’m excited about the ironic set of digital tools being developed to help foster true focus and presence. I also had the pleasure of meeting Tristan Harris earlier this year, who gives a fantastic TED talk about technology’s role in minimizing distraction, and it gives me hope.
If you have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them. And with that, I’m happy to report my tree is fully grown.