How to Be Present

I used to be impulsive. I used to check my phone first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I use to read and surf the web randomly during my work day. I would answer phone calls when someone called me — not based on my convenience. I was living as per other people’s “urgencies”. I would open the analytics for my website several times a day without pausing to think why I was doing it. I would check social media networks randomly for notifications, and in the process, get a dopamine hit every time. I was living moment to moment, reacting to things around me. I was driven by the latest and loudest. This behavior would further reinforce the habit of checking notifications to get my “daily fix”, and before I realized it, it became a vicious cycle. I became a slave to my technology devices and social media networks.

I became tired of living moment to moment and reacting to things around me. I would find myself without energy or the motivation to do anything. I was undermining myself. I could neither enjoy work nor play. I found myself spreading too thin with my projects; I was trying to do a lot of things without making much progress on any of them. Living reactively became so tiring that it started to affect my work and my personal life. I knew I had to do something about it. I just couldn’t go on like that any more.

Then, I took the time to figure out what was really important to me. I scheduled those things in my calendar. Once I figured out what those things were for me, I divided my work day into three areas of focus: doing creative work, doing consulting work, and doing admin-related work; I set up calendars with those areas in my calendar application every day. I defined my work day start and end times. For instance, I made sure I started work at 10, and I refused to work after 6 on weekdays. I also included time for meals, and smaller breaks in between along with some walking time. So, my work day wasn’t all work. It included renewal as well. I wrote about this in getting work done.

I defined my boundaries for work and play. By dividing up my work day into areas of focus, I made sure I was giving time to each work area every day. Nothing important slipped through the cracks.

And because I knew I only had so much (limited) time each work day, I made sure to put more into each of my areas of focus to get the most out of it. That meant there was no time for distractions, but enough time for getting the essential work done.

By scheduling time for these things that were important to me, I became more proactive about my choices and less reactive. Very few things were “important and urgent”. I stopped checking social media networks randomly to get that dopamine hit. In other words, I learned to change my relationship with technology. I became more present and mindful. I became a lot less reactive with making choices. I no longer needed that “fix”.

Figuring out what was important to me eliminated most of the “poor” choices in advance. My choices were born out of intention, not reaction. In those rare times, when I was tempted to visit the websites or open applications on my phone for potential notifications to get that dopamine hit, I would take a pause. That pause gave me the space to make the right decision in the moment without giving in to the temptation. This is not to say that I don’t find myself impulsively doing things such as checking my phone without reason nowadays, but those instances are few and far between.

When you take the time to figure out what things matter to you, you’ll realize that only a few things matter, and you’ll end up having free time you don’t know what to do with. Even if you don’t have that free time, you’ll be satisfied with your day because you made progress on things that mattered to you. Only when you have your internal priorities sorted out can you engage appropriately with your environment.

Most people complain that social media networks and technology in general can be overwhelming. Though, it’s not the technology that is overwhelming in and of itself, it’s how we are using it that makes all the difference. Most of the time the problems are not “out there” — they’re within us. We just haven’t discovered or found them yet. I wrote about this in being proactive.

Once you get into the habit of being present, it’s hard to fathom how you worked without it before. You’ll be intentional in your choices. You’ll schedule the important work so you know you’re going to get to them every day without worrying about them.

Being present doesn’t just apply to work but also to your life outside of work. It helps you change your relationship with technology, your work, and your diet (among other things) for the better. Everything in your life is important; if it’s not important, it shouldn’t be in your life.

What are the things that matter to you that you would like to do every day? When you figure that out, it’s a lot easier to be present and make choices out of deliberate action rather than reaction.

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