It seems like being present is a fight every. single. day. Would you agree? I mean, there is so much information bombarding us at work, online, from our loved ones. And then–if you’re anything like me–there’s our brain, which never seems to take a breath.
“Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
That, my friend, is the essence of being present: being all in. Giving each and every situation and person our full selves. How do we do this? While there’s no way I’d try to convince anyone that I have this “present” thing down, here are five tangible ways I know we can all get better at it.
1. Help others understand your goals
Being present for others requires that we also set aside time to be completely present for ourselves and our work. It’s vital that we communicate to those in our sphere what we’re working towards; otherwise everyone involved will experience frustration.
When James and I first got married, we shared an office and our desks faced each other. This setup was both fun and highly frustrating. God gave me the ability (perhaps enhanced by growing up with seven siblings) to focus on my work hard core, shutting out everything around me. This led to James feeling neglected and unheard because, while for me being in the office signified work time, for him it was his place of relaxation after a long day working on his feet.
The eventual solution was to move my office to our basement, and I had to explain that this move was not to put space between us. Rather, I wanted to be focused on work when I was working and focused on my family the rest of the time.
Every day when I set Reagan up for playtime, I explain to him what’s going on: Mommy needs to work for one hour so that she can play with he and Cassidy the rest of the morning. It’ll be a while before he gets it, but I keep saying the words.
We also need to communicate our goals to our friends and colleagues. There was a point a few years back where I’d receive work-related texts 18 hours a day. People tend to expect a quick response to texts, so I let people know specific times during the day when I would be responding to these messages. This let them know I wasn’t ignoring them, and also provided structure for me to focus on what needed to be done.
Practicing mindfulness is a great way to become more engaged and present. This two-minute video is one of the most helpful explanations of meditation and it’s benefits that I’ve ever seen. (Bonus: it’s entertaining, too.)
Basically, meditation teaches us to sort through the noise in our brains, which in turn enables us to go about our day with more calm and thoughtfulness. We begin to process information better.
You can see three of my favorite guided meditation sources, which are especially good for beginners, in this post.
3. Put your phone down
Yup, I struggle with this one a lot. Why can our phones do so many things? How can we set our phones down when they’re our tools for taking photos, tracking our diets, checking the family schedule, emailing a colleague, researching ideas on Pinterest (yes, it is research), watching movies, and—wait for it—contacting people?
As a girl who likes to plan on paper, I get lots of questions about why I don’t use my phone as a calendar. This is one of the main reasons: because if I don’t use my phone for all the things, I’m more able to set it aside at times.
Facebook, however, isn’t in my bullet journal, so the temptation remains. Add in Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube and it feels like a lost cause.
So here’s the deal: discipline yourself to only check social media at specific times. My personal favorite is right after the kids lay down for a nap, and while James is prepping dinner. Sure, we get on YouTube as a family—with the right channels, it’s like Encyclopedia Britannica for the 21st century child. But for the most part, I like to set the phone down during kid-centric hours.
Here’s one seriously important hack: mark your important people as Favorites and use the Do Not Disturb function on your phone liberally. Or, if you feel the need to stay tuned in to text messages, assign specific text tones so you know whose texts must be checked immediately.
Do the same thing with ringtones. My siblings NEVER call, but if it quacks like a duck, I pick up the phone. Nine times out of ten it’s something quasi-urgent. 😉
4. Say goodbye to multitasking
We as women are known for our ability to multi-task, and that really is a good thing. How else could we process the continuous onslaught of information thrown at us each minute of the day? How would we be able to make lunch and feed the baby while simultaneously policing the other kids and texting our husband?
But here’s the kicker: studies now show that multitasking is the enemy of focus, and focus, my friend, is the cornerstone of productivity and successfully accomplishing your goals. When we multitask, by definition we are failing to give priority to any one task. In so doing, we fail to give anyone or anything the best part of ourselves or our efforts.
This post contains some great tips on ways to avoid multitasking. Take some time to check it out. This is one thing we’re all guilty of.
I end with this point because, hey—we as women aren’t really designed to compartmentalize. Everything affects everything else. It’s part of our DNA.
Here’s what I mean when I say compartmentalize: put walls around certain portions of your day. High, high walls.
Our time is precious. I get that. And so are our people. This is why we are even talking about being present.
One way to compartmentalize is by getting rigid about when you do and don’t work. As a work-at-home mom, this is incredibly difficult for me and yet equally essential. Unless I stay up late (as if my brain would even function past 8pm) or get up incredibly early (and sacrifice my morning routine), there are only 3-4 hours during the day in which I can do career-type work.
This is why I have to practice laser focus during those hours. I tell my son—over and over and over again—that he needs to give Mommy her morning hour of work so that she can play with him 100% when his TotClock turns yellow. The hour between 9-10am is sacred.
When 10am arrives and the clock turns yellow, that is also sacred. My laptop is closed and, for the most part, my phone is set aside. Until both kids lay down at around 1, it’s the three of us focused on learning and having fun.
If you had to choose just one…
All right, so we have five tips for becoming more present: communicate our goals, meditate, put the phone down, refuse to multitask, and compartmentalize. Where’s a girl to start?
Here’s my suggestion. Take a look at your life and at what your loved ones are telling you. What do they say when they complain about your lack of presence? Where do you know you need to grow?
For me, it’s putting down the phone. For you, it might be something completely different. Whatever it is, make a decision to spend one week focused on that skill and see what happens.