Put your Phone Away, Let’s Talk About Engagement

Have you ever been at dinner with someone who constantly checks their phone? 

When we’re bored, stressed or overworked, we tend to disengage 

If something’s not keeping our attention we search for something that will. Often it’s an unconscious reaction, but in this hyper-connected world, the cure for being bored is as easy as turning on another piece of technology.

On the other hand, when we’re stressed and overworked, our brains go into overdrive; like a hamster running endlessly in a wheel. There is no finish line on that hamster wheel so if we don’t remind ourselves to stop for a break, our brain overexerts itself and disengages from exhaustion. 

We’re all guilty of disengaging 

I’ve been the person who’s been annoyed that someone else is more interested in their phone than what I have to say, but I’ve also been the annoying person who checks their phone while trying to hold down a conversation. As busy entrepreneurs, we expect ourselves to multitask. We foolishly believe that doing two things at once is like gaining an extra set of hands! 

Text someone on my cell while talking to someone else on the land line? Done it! Scan the business section of the newspaper while on a conference call? Of course! Write a blog post while listening to a friend on the phone? Uh… 

Sorry, what did you ask? 

Unfortunately we can’t multitask AND be fully engaged 

Paying half the attention leads to half the results, but double the time. Not to mention the possibility for mistakes and potential for accidents!

When we’re driving we need to be engaged with the road and the drivers around us, not with the person calling us on our cell. But when a client calls while we’re chatting with the neighbour about those pesky raccoons, it might be necessary to step away to be fully present on the business call. 

It’s all about setting priorities 

Being present in the moment and engaged with the task at hand requires knowing your priorities and having the ability to set and maintain boundaries to match those priorities. I know several working moms that turn their cell phones off between 5pm and 8pm to spend quality time with their family. 

When I need to be engaged but the phone is competing for my attention, I follow a few simple rules:

1. A live person or live activity always trumps technology. 

2. When I am “on the clock” business trumps personal.  

3. When I am “off the clock” personal trumps business.

4. Family emergencies trump all. 

It’s a simple system and there are certainly grey areas, but it helps me figure out my priorities when the phone rings. 

Of course, there’s an exception to every rule

I try to avoid using my phone during a live conversation with one exception. I will use it if it can answer a question or help plan a future engagement with that person. Smart phones come equipped with a million little apps to make life easier: a calendar, maps, the internet, heck, you can even pay for a movie with your phone. If I’m in the middle of a live conversation and we realize the smart phone can bring us together and help us engage, I’m the first one on it! 

What tips do you have for engaging in the moment when the phone tempts you to multitask? Are there exceptions to your rules?