T his cool new planner I am trying suggests that naming a single word as a yearly theme is a helpful tool for productivity and such. So, I have been considering, and one word has emerged, mainly because I am spotty at it. Here it is:
Of course by now a lack of “engagement” has become a thing in business, (here’s a Tweet about how it’s not getting any better, either), and the distracted device owner is a meme. You know the one – you’re talking and they’re checking their phone.
This has bugged me since before social media actually – say you’re in a store, and talking to the person behind the counter, and they interrupt you to answer a telephone. You’re an actual human, looking them in the eye, and they prioritize a mediated conversation.
The lack of presence can be a deeper problem, too. Life moves fast, and if we’re not careful we can fall into a emotional hole where we start to believe the best times are cased in a future wish or a past memory. We lose sight of the present.
So in 2016, instead of accidentally thinking of time as a means to another end, I hope to use the management of time to free up my ability to live in the moment.
Why Presence Is So Important
1. Presence filters my mind.
When I was younger, a business catchphrase was, “knowledge is power.” It’s a principle of scarcity. The difference now is that knowledge isn’t scarce anymore. The information era has devalued information. A seven-year old can Google anything.
Now, the value is context. It takes a trained eye to understand the results. Time to search and wisdom to interpret has superseded information itself, and context requires face time.
2. Presence orders my dreams.
Since childhood, I have had a tendency to look for a next thing to which I can attach a sense of anticipation and future happiness. I can’t wait for Christmas. I can’t wait for school to end. I can’t wait for the next career opportunity.
I suppose such ambition has helped me accomplish stuff. But by looking ahead, what have I missed? Presence re-orders our work to the value of people. The word focus literally means, in Latin, “hearth, fireplace.” When we spend time at the hearth together, we discover what’s important.
3. Presence grounds my relationships.
Being “cerebral,” as my wife has affectionately called me, means that sometimes my body is doing something and my mind is doing something else. When I’m not fully present, I do a disservice to me and those around me.
Naming Presence as my word for the year helps me to be careful to not go through life checking boxes on obligations while thinking about alternate ideas, which is at best disrespectful and at worst destructive.
4. Presence nurtures my spirit.
This one is kinda theological but I think important to acknowledge. In Jesus, God becomes present to us. God decides we’re worth the trouble. Redemption isn’t possible without presence.
Having faith in Jesus means following suit in our lives – prayer, worship and community, which are acts of presence, are essential to the life of faith. We’ve put a lot of weight on knowledge, when perhaps it’s just as important to simply show up.
5. Presence protects my soul.
In an article for Humane Pursuits, Liz Horst writes that we build our days by our calendars but we remember the conversations, the books, the intimate connections. They are “rare moments, which feel as if they are occurring outside of time, carry you out of your awareness of time. Instead of calculating them from the outside, you live them.”
The other day on my morning commute I saw a woman, who had been forced to brake, strike her steering wheel and fling her arms about as a physical curse, then recklessly change lanes. Such frustration with delay, and the fear that we might “waste” time, is a thoroughly modern experience. Horst notes,
Clock-time belongs to what Josef Pieper calls the ‘workaday world.’ .. every action has an aim outside itself—the making of money, or the satisfaction of needs. Both the workaday world and the clock are necessary to life. But Pieper worries that ‘the world of work is becoming our entire world; it threatens to engulf us completely, and the demands of the world of work become greater and greater, till at last they make a ‘total’ claim upon the whole of human nature.’Liz Horst
Saying that life is greater than the sum of our calendar’s parts doesn’t mean I’m throwing away my cool new planner. Instead, I want to subsume the value of time management into the value of presence. How may I best use the time I have been allowed to manage so I can have more time that is unmanaged?
Presence is a plea to recognize the fleeting nature of this life, to fully appreciate the scarce and valuable commodity of time, and to be able to purposefully waste time on activities whose value isn’t easily quantifiable, which don’t serve immediate needs and which don’t add to the bottom line. It’s a recognition that in addition to our relentless chronos time, we might do well to discover kairos time – the supreme moments in which we live.
Creativity depends on it.
6 Little Changes I’m Making To Be More Present
So I have decided to commit myself to Presence in the coming year. Here are some specific things I am doing about it:
1. Delete social media apps.
Compulsive device checking – gone. I’m not deleting my accounts, but my involuntary need to check them while hanging out at times and places like my son’s concert.
2. Write personal letters.
In our digital age, it’s a handwritten letter that really tells someone you care about them.
3. Play games.
Supposedly I already do this, according to my wife. But I want to do it more. It’s playing video games or Barbies or board games that opens the door to my children’s deep thoughts.
4. Listen to stories.
I’ve got an open door policy at work, but I’ve realized I can be passive aggressive about it. When someone steps into my office with a story or a question, and I’d rather focus on my task, I have tried to pretend to listen while at the same sending subtle signals that I’m busy. That’s stupid. Now, I’ll stop to really engage, or if I’m the middle of something important, I’ll ask them to wait three seconds while I capture a thought for later.
5. Build together spaces.
At work, my team members used to be scattered across campus. It took a few years, but now we’re finally together, laughing and collaborating and learning. The goofy workaday conversations we have aren’t productivity killers. They’re non-utilitarian paths to greatness.
6. De-engineer the future.
In college I was so eager to begin my career that I ran up every mountain I saw. I have been the kind of person who looks 20 steps down the road for possible angles. My enthusiasm has served a purpose, and I still obviously like to plan, but now I’m discovering a deeper sense of peace by not getting ahead of God in my dreams and plans.
How do you work on being more present?