“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
How often have you had lunch at your desk and could not remember what you ate, or if you even did eat? It is easy to become very focused upon your task at hand. This focus is often referred to as “being in the zone” or “in the flow.” When there is an imminent deadline for a team project and you are the one finalizing it, you’ll sometimes find yourself in that state. Thus, these phrases have some positive value attached to them: productive, hard-working, energized.
Mindfulness and the CIO
However, when reality strikes, and the client calls, or emergencies arise, team members cannot be oblivious to the obvious: it is time to change tasks. As “being in the zone” might imply, hyperfocus can be good, but not always. The only place you have any impact is in the here and now. That cannot be achieved with your head down in the computer screen and your mind multi-tasking like crazy. Being present here and now in every interaction you have is a prerequisite for individual and Virtual Team success.
The buzzword often used is “mindfulness.” Rarely heard in management until recently, it is based upon Buddhist practices. Mindfulness is paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. “The outlook for CIOs, as they demonstrate mindful leadership, is excellent.” (J. Esser, Technology Forecast, 2013) Mindful leaders inspire mindful teams. Help your virtual team become more mindful right now.
Three Tips for Being More Mindful
Focus on teaching your virtual team members, and yourself, these three simple tips to help them be in the moment, not in the zone (or zoned out during an online meeting, not that you’ve ever done that…):
- In the zone? Take a moment to notice what you’re doing and when and why you are doing it. Is this a stretch for you? Set a reminder in Outlook if you have to, but stop what you’re doing for even just a moment and come back to reality every hour. If you lose all track of time, you are probably hyperfocused. Take some time to simply be. Lunch time, for example.
- Zoned out? This can happen, also. When you notice your mind wandering as the client (or your boss) drones on in that virtual meeting, do not become frustrated or judge yourself harshly, simply bring yourself back to the current task and move forward. Your thoughts are simply thoughts; you do not need to react to them, especially the negative ones.
- Become aware. Notice where you tend to “zone in” or “zone out” too much. What are the activities? Practice bringing more awareness into them to achieve a balance. Do not take things so seriously that you cannot act on them without judging them. While emotions, good or bad, can be motivators for bursts of productivity, long term they do not serve you well.
Remember that these are just simple starter exercises in awareness. They are not immediate deep life changes, but in time they can be.. The more awareness and mindfulness you bring into your daily life, the more you can authentically connect. You can tell when the person you’re Skyping with isn’t paying attention, as you hear their keyboard keys click. Don’t be that person. You do not need to drag out a yoga mat and sit in the lotus position to start your day, although many successful executives do. To be mindful means simply to be more aware, however you can, of the present moment.
Three Benefits of Being Mindful in the Moment
There are three things you, and any virtual team member, can think about: the past, reliving things you messed up; the future, worrying about things you need to do later; and the present, what is happening right now. Barring using a time machine, the only place you can have an impact is in the here and now. Richard Carlson, Ph.D. said in his classic book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, “Now is the only time we have, and the only time we have any control over.”
While there are many benefits to being in the moment, for individuals and for virtual teams, here are three notable ones:
- Increased enjoyment. Work, and any task, can be more pleasant when the mind is not elsewhere. It is easier to appreciate and enjoy things more when your conscious mind is an active participant, and not parked on the sidelines while your autonomous mind is in hyperdrive.
- Reduced stress. Worrying about the past and future gives you stress. But being present is almost like meditation. There are fewer worries. There is simply more experiencing. Virtual team members can experience a different kind of stress from traditional workers: isolation. The mind can sometimes wander, and worry, more, in this environment.
- Better relationships. When you really are mindful and commit yourself to being a better listener, team member, coworker, manager, you have better relationships. You have better conversations. You bond. Forming such bonds is one of the most successful things any team manager or CIO can accomplish “for superior performance in virtual teams.” (Harvard Business Review, 06/2013)
Mindfulness is awareness about moment to moment thoughts of the person and the team. It allows for better relationships, appropriate focus, and better presence among virtual teams Michele McDonald notes that “when we are actually connected with our current experience with single-pointed attention, we are free to form greater connections with others, to become more of a team.” (Dharma lecture, 04/2005) What CIO or team leader couldn’t use that?
Tell us how you create mindfulness within your team. We want to know.