When I was in high school, my mom started banning phones from the dinner table. To this day, whenever I pull out my cell to check my inbox when we’re eating, my mom shakes her head and tells me to put it away.
And as much as I resent it in the moment (“But this, I swear, is really important!”), I’m usually grateful that she called me out.
As a working adult who’s being pulled in multiple directions at any given time, I rarely get to enjoy my time with friends and family. I’m sure you can relate. My mom, in fact, lives thousands of miles away, so when she forces me to pay attention to her it’s because we only have so much time together. And I listen to her, because I know I’ll regret not making the most of this time.
(If this isn’t the case for you and your parents, feel free to substitute “mom” with someone you enjoy being around.)
It’s so silly, but being present during our time with loved ones is one of the best gifts of self-care we can grant ourselves—and one that we tend to neglect the most often.
But don’t take it from me, I’m just your average working gal. Take it from someone who’s higher up—who has 10 times more responsibilities than I, and yet follows the same philosophy.
I spoke with Raji Arasu. In addition to being Intuit’s SVP of CTO Dev, she’s also an advisory board member for Code.org and the CTO Forum and serves on the board of directors at NIC Inc.:
One of the most important lessons I learned in my career was to drop the guilt and be present in the moment, whether it’s at work or at home. For that reason, I prioritize quality time with my family and colleagues. Being present in those delightful moments is what keeps me from reaching for my phone, and helps me to remain truly present. As a leader at Intuit, I try to set the example of making eye contact, actively listening, and participating in every interaction. I try to carry that appreciation for moments of true connection, whether at work or at home.
What I love most about Arasu’s advice is that she doesn’t just apply it to your time away from work. Practicing being present outside the office ultimately makes you better at it when you’re in the office. And this makes you a better employee (actively listening helps you better understand direction and take note of important social cues), and a more enjoyable co-worker to be around (actively paying attention makes people respect you and trust you to care for and support them).
And, like I said above, it’s good for you. It encourages you to truly unwind, take in and appreciate your breaks, and connect with people you love, all of which are crucial for anyone’s happiness. It’s almost as if it’s a form of mindfulness—crazy how that works!
So, what does being present look like? It starts with putting your phone away when you’re out with people (Fun fact: Doing so can start a chain reaction). And not looking at your computer when a colleague’s talking to you (a.k.a., not bringing one to meetings).
And it’s about setting an intention to give someone your full attention. Our minds are full of distractions—to-dos, worries, conversations we’re overthinking. Make the effort, for just a few minutes, to push those thoughts away (or, write them down for later) and really focus on what’s happening in front of you.
You won’t regret it. And if a SVP of a major company can do it, it doesn’t hurt for you to try, too.