Being Present

November 5, 2011

As with any thought intensive job, there is a need for a certain level of intelligence place on the employee. However, in most of these cases, another attribute can be even more valuable than shear intelligence… being present. Of course, I don’t mean just showing up for work on time; I mean an employee who is able to focus on the task at hand and not fall into auto-pilot on the “boring” tasks. As one actively trying to improve his work and dabbler in the methods of Zen meditation, I found this post on being present to be a great source of information and motivation. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll attempt to expand on the lessons in the linked article, and provide my own insights on making the transition from mindless drone to attentive superstar.

Getting Started

As is true in many new transitions, getting started is half the battle. There are some smaller steps to getting started which will ease the transition, and provide their own individual benefits as well.

  • Meditate before starting work. Taking some time out to clear your mind or explore yourself can be an extremely useful means to start any action. And since being present is a state of mind, gaining a fuller control over one’s thoughts is only way to do so.
  • Eliminate Distractions to a reasonable extent. Put in headphones at your desk (even if you don’t want to listen to anything) and your coworkers will likely assume you’d like to be left alone. Don’t outright ignore people – you won’t make any friends like that, but make it known that you’d like to be left alone from time to time.
  • Take breaks when appropriate. From time to time a task comes along that for one reason or another is difficult to implement. Maybe the code you’re trying to enhance is buggy, or the domain logic is rather complex, though doing everything in one sitting is a great indicator of being focused, if you find yourself getting drained or slowing down, take five. Go fill up your water bottle, take some time to chat with a coworker, or send that email you’ve been meaning to write. I find this little breaks give my mind a chance to ontinue processing and make more sense of a situation. Of course I tend to take these breaks as the code dictates – following individual logic chains to their conclusion before halting work.
  • Be patient and persistent – none of this will happen overnight. Set reminders for yourself – for example, I’ve created some wrappers for my common git commands that write entries to an Engineering Journal. So every time I checkout a branch, it writes a timestamp with the branch name to the file (for better time tracking), and outputs a specified set of text to my console. This serves as a wonderful reminder to focus on the moment. Presently, it takes the last quotation from the originally linked article – “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.”

Keeping it Going

Once you’ve gotten started, it should be relatively easy to continue along at a brisk pace. Keep your reminders active, and remove them only once you are certain you are able to maintain momentum.

Hopefully, these tips will enable you to be more productive and more in the moment in your daily activities and your job. I know that by doing the above I’ve noticed myself not taking less time to accomplish a task, but producing a higher quality product as well. Of course, these tips will only be most effective if you truly are passionate about the job at hand, or else you may find your mind wandering to escape.

Are there any other helpful hints/tips you’ve discovered which help you be more productive at work or in other activities? If so, please let me know in the comments.