Cross-posted on TechSoup Blog
The first of its kind, the Wisdom 2.0 Conference brought together people from a variety of different disciplines to explore the concept of how we can live mindfully amidst fast-paced streams of information and technologies that are becoming the daily reality for many people. Speakers ranged from Google executives to Zen priests to Twitter VCs to small business owners to nonprofit consultants. The conference organizer and founder, Soren Gordhamer, framed the weekend’s speakers by exploring the challenge and possibilities of whether it is possible to be mindful while being highly connected and having constant multiple demands on our attention. Over the past few years, the growth social media and other connective technologies has exploded. Now that these tools have been around awhile, we seem to at the next stage of “post-modern mindfulness”, if you will, of figuring out how we can make the most of these technologies, yet still live meaningful, productive lives.
Many of the conference themes resonated for not just the technology world, but for any sector you happen to work with. My notebook (yes, an old-fashioned one with paper, not the electronic kind) was jammed packed with notes and insights I got from the terrific speakers there, but here were some of the key points that resonated for me:
- Be selective: It’s easy to get sucked into the small tasks of the day and lose track of the big picture. In the same way a nonprofit organization drafts a mission statement, you must decide what your purpose and values are. From there you can focus on what key tasks will make the most impact and move you further towards your goals. Intent.com asks users, “What is my intent today?” This is a terrific way to re-affirm your larger values and acts as an anchor for your day. When you find yourself veering off-track, you can re-connect to this intention to guide you back to your purpose. Remember your presence and focus is the greatest gift you can give. Gopi Kallayil tries to approach each conversation, even if it’s just a coworker coming by his desk to ask a question, as a moment of spirtiual connection and a way to practice being in service to others.
- Get out of email: Email is the great time suck. Time and again speakers focused on the importance of limiting email time and having scheduled time away to work without distraction as the cost of context-switching is huge. For some jobs like customer service where prompt email response is crucial, this can be more challenging. Tami Simon examines her motivations for wanting to impulsively check that email or pull up her mobile phone and acknowledging when and why she is using it as a distraction or procrastination. Instead, Simon reminds us of how we can make the most of the value of giving and receiving communication through email. Ever had that thoughtful email from a friend or colleague that really makes your day? You have the ability to do the same for another person. Even if it’s just a short or routine email, a thank you or personal touch goes a long way. Leah Pearlman of Facebook takes it a step further with sending “Friday haiku emails” that bring not only a sense of humor, but good reminders of the importance of brevity and purposefulness to email correspondence.
- Schedule uninterrupted time to focus on important projects: Besides getting out of email, it’s important to schedule in time on our calendar where we focus on the projects that will bring us the most value. Beth Kanter uses her son’s time-out timer to track her email and social media time to help her stay on track. Sometimes that means getting very clear to others about what you are and are not going to be paying attention to. Often times it means making hard decisions about what isn’t getting read or getting done. As counter-intuitive as it seems, doing one thing at a time really is more effective.
- Integrate mindfulness in the flow of your day: While it’s important to carve out “unplugged” time away, be it vacation or a walk in nature, we can find ways of bringing mindfulness into the flow of activities in our day. “Don’t lose yourself in the rest of your life,” said Zen Abbot, Roshi Joan Halifax. She gave the example in meditation of focusing on the flame of a candle but then shifting that focus to a larger flow. When we learn how to focus on one thing at a time, we can then learn to deal with many demands on our attention. Several speakers used the example of Twitter as a flow. It’s a constant stream of information that can be diverting but we pop in and find moments that create meaning that couldn’t exist before. Other times we let it flow by and there will be thinks we will miss, but if it’s important enough news, it will resurface again.
- Small things do make a difference: Kallayil keeps mindfulness manageable and doable by asking folks to do one yoga pose and one minute of breathing a day. Most people can find time to do that–and that often leads to further yoga poses and longer periods of conscious breathing. Maybe you don’t have time for that 90 minute yoga class, but you can take a short stroll outside around the office to rechargeLeah Pearlman advocates small ways of injecting mindfulness into the day. She and her coworkers send gratitude texts every day where they say one thing they’re grateful for that day. Get creative with finding little ways to infuse even the busiest times with doses of joy.
- “Don’t give up even when it all falls apart.”:This advice from Meng Tan (aka “Jolly Good Fellow”) of Google, for what to do when despite your best intentions, you find yourself sucked into the craziness of everyday life. In the nonprofit arena, the challenge is always trying do more with less time and resources and often the first thing to go off the list is self-care. Just as compassion is key in our work to make a difference in the world, that same compassion is crucial for our own effectiveness in making a difference. The Wisdom 2.0 Conference showed me that none of us are alone in the struggle. Whether you’re a high-level CEO, a Zen priest, or just your average joe, we’re all in this challenge together of using and living with technology to its fullest mindfulness, as well as productivity, potential.