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A Matter of Focus: Are you wasting time or living in the moment?

Thought Leader

By Mark DeSantis, CEO of RoadBotics

[caption id="attachment_2952" align="alignleft" width="102"] Mark DeSantis, RoadBotics[/caption]

Entrepreneurs see possibilities everywhere and in everything. Whether we’d like to admit it or not, we’re tempted or, more likely, compelled to pursue every lead, turn every knob and look around every corner for that investor, partner, customer, insight, connection or strategic tidbit that just might make the company.

A persistent Willy Loman homunculus inside our heads drives us to take that umpteenth call with yet another stranger because, well, you just never know. Then again, maybe not. Oh well, just yet another random encounter with no outcome. “I’ve got to stop wasting my time,” an entrepreneur says to herself, “with these useless conversations.” But was it useless?

Any experience is a waste of time if the participant can’t (or won’t) draw meaning from it. Life itself could be a waste of time if not lived full-tilt and all-in. In fact, living in the moment has practical value to the entrepreneur beyond being good existential advice. Every exchange brings with it learning embedded within. You just have to know how to look for it and that is the hard part. So, should the ambitious entrepreneur take every call, join every meeting, attend every networking session and follow up on every email? No, not necessarily, but it depends.

The concept of “time management” has been around for long, long time. Almost 4,000 years ago the Code of Hammurabi in ancient Mesopotamia mandated specific pay for specific types of work, a sort of proto-time-based labor scale. Ever since, learning how to be efficient, whatever that ultimately means, is a sacred duty of every administrator, general, business person or entrepreneur. No one can be too efficient, it would seem.

“It’s hard to stay focused. And yet, we know we’ll only do our best work if we stay focused. And so, you know, the hardest decisions we make are all the things not to work on, frankly.”

Tim Cook, CEO, Apple

Yet, we know people for whom process(self?)-serving is a way of life. They remind you at the beginning, middle and end of every meeting how much time they and you have left. It is as if there is a fear that a clock will run out before some precious morsel of wisdom or insight is revealed, so they can be released from their meeting with you and get on with their day. And yet even though no apparent wisdom was shared, both learned. The other person learned you did not have what they expected and you learned two things: (1) never sit through meetings like that again, and (2) never meet with that person again.

Learning how to learn by living in the moment can be hard for those of us who need to be doing something, anything, faster or better. We like spending our psychic energy on the things that have outcomes we can see, touch and feel – here and now. There is tragedy in this. Trying to cram ever-more things in a crowded space disconnects you  from the ultimate point of your purpose. The most obvious example of this is checking email in the middle of a meeting. Neither you, the email nor Bill are served by this attempt at efficiency.

The constant pressure an entrepreneur feels can also be a powerful force compelling him to “do something, anything” to keep the company moving forward. He becomes an efficiency junkie, which is a twin to being a busy junkie. However, the father of management, Peter Drucker knew the dirty little secret about the quest for efficiency when he said “…there is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.”

Having the psychic strength to focus on the here and now every moment of every day, so you can absorb the, sometimes profound, learning that is available to all of us in the dozens, hundreds and perhaps thousands of conversations and interaction we have with our colleagues, friends and strangers is the essence of effectiveness, which is far more compelling, powerful and rewarding than any level of efficiency you can possibly imagine. Now, I just need to figure out a way to convince Bill I’m listening to him while I’m doing my email…