Are You an "Absent Presence"?

Last Updated Oct 11, 2007 1:39 PM EDT

Are You an Sometimes an oxymoron can be instructive. When thrash metal band Megadeth penned the lyrics, "Military intelligence, two words combined that can't make sense" everyone got the message. And when Lee Rainie, the Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project, warned attendees at last weekend's MIMA summit that too many businesspeople are an "absent presence" at work, very few were scratching their heads.

How do you know if you're an "absent presence"? Rainie says you can be sure you've earned the title when you "pay continuous partial attention." Sound familiar? The summit blog asks if this is you:

Are you sitting in meetings, your BlackBerry partially hidden, texting, emailing, and Web browsing? Are you enjoying lunch with a colleague while managing your calendar? Are you on a conference call, but finessing a spreadsheet and muting the speaker to confer with colleagues?
OK, so you've admitted it, you're an "absent presence." What's the harm? Besides your colleagues' aggravation at your less than excellent listening skills, Jason Fried, another summit speaker and founder of 37signals, contends that all this distraction is bad for that most important ingredient for success in today's economy, innovation. According to the MarketProfs Daily Fix, which blogged the event, Fried,
likens work, which he clearly loves, to REM sleep. Uninterrupted, work and sleep offer us deep, restorative benefits. But interrupted work -- just like interrupted sleep -- results in degraded performance, irritability, and unhappiness.
In order to get in that dreamlike flow that allows for maximum productivity and the greatest likelihood of innovation, Fried suggests:
  1. Encourage alone time. Fried suggested periods of no talking -- say from 1 p.m. on.
  2. Severely limit meetings. Meetings are "toxic, costly time wasters that convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute." And they "procreate."
  3. Keep teams (really) small. Fried suggested two people. (There was an audible gasp from the audience.)
  4. Collaborate passively, rather than actively. Accomplish your part of the work, then using email, instant messaging, or BaseCampâ„¢ (no surprise there) as a way to receive comments from your team.
While some of these comments are self-promoting, and some are less than realistic, the gist of the talk is worth pondering. How can you minimize distractions to become truly present in your work and promote innovation?

(Image of man with BlackBerry by smith, CC 2.0)

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    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.