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I Swapped Productivity For Presence This Year. Here’s What Happened…

At the end of last year, I met up with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while for dinner. As we planned our get-together, I looked forward to catching up and reminiscing with her. I envisioned a night that felt like old times, with warm connections, deep conversations, and many laughs.

However, once we arrived at the restaurant, it quickly became clear that we had differing views of this dinner. 

As soon as we sat down, she set her phone on the table before her—actually, BOTH her phones. Laughingly, I asked, “Why two phones?” 

One for work and the other for personal. (I didn’t ask why she set them on the table.)

Throughout the dinner, my friend, whom I hadn’t seen in quite some time, kept idly picking these phones up. She swiped them on, checked her notifications, refreshed her apps, and responded to messages. 

I felt left out. I had thought this was a night for catching up, but it felt as though she wasn’t listening to a word I said.

Instead of allowing my frustration with her to grow, though, I became reflective. I thought back to when I may have been guilty of a similar behavior. I was learning how it makes the people around you feel—and I was witnessing firsthand how much this distracted behavior can steal from you.

At that moment, I vowed never again to do that to anyone else. In the coming year, I decided to make it a point to provide my attention—intentionally.  

What Is “Word Of The Year”?

If you’re unfamiliar with Word of the Year, it’s the process of selecting a single word that encompasses your intentions for the coming year.

For many years, I’ve selected a word in January to use as my intention for the coming year. This word serves as a North Star, guiding my goal-setting and day-to-day behavior.  

Word of the Year isn’t my brainchild, and I’m certainly not the only one doing it. In recent years, many people have begun opting for Word of the Year over New Year’s resolutions for many reasons. 

Perhaps the most compelling reason for many is that a Word of the Year provides a more realistic approach to change in the new year (rather than the “ditch all your bad habits cold turkey and set yourself up for failure” approach we’ve become accustomed to).

Ideally, your Word of the Year syncs with your values and priorities so that you progress more toward the kind of life you hope to lead. And it’s the perfect annual tool to aid in HEART-based goal setting

Following my experience at dinner with my friend, I now knew what I wanted my 2023 word to be: presence. 

Why Presence Matters

“Stop measuring days by degree of productivity and start experiencing them by degree of presence.” —Alan Watts

Time is our most valuable resource, and unfortunately, it’s a nonrenewable one. If we waste it, we don’t get it back. 

Looking back, I know I wasted plenty of time in my early career days. I functioned on auto-pilot in those days, always running to the next best thing. 

No more. Now, I want to savor each moment with intention. 

The information coming at us from all directions can feel incredibly overwhelming. And I’ve learned that the overwhelm never eases—as long as I stay tethered to the information machine. 

But I’ve also learned that when I give my brain a break—and the space to think—I always begin to feel happier + healthier.   

I wanted to stop the cycle of endless hamster-wheel productivity and pay attention to one thing at a time. Making “presence” my focus of the year helped me do this and gave my brain a much-needed break.

Looking at the year ahead, I knew I wanted to do what Alan Watts said—to stop measuring my days in productivity and start experiencing them with presence. 

And I knew how to get here. I could become more present if I just let go of distractions. 

Easier said than done. 

The Path To Presence

After making “presence” my 2023 word of the year, I began recognizing just how many distractions there were in my life, keeping me from being present.

I learned that email is a BIG distraction for me. If I had time to fill, I would pick up my phone and check new emails, messages, and responses. I’d fill even more time by scrolling through my inbox and deleting old messages. I realized how my brain stayed caught up in work (a habit that is easy to form for any of us, but especially when you work for yourself!).

If I wanted to experience life fully present, I needed to tackle my email distraction in 2023. And it’s not that I don’t like email as a form of communication. I do really like it! But email, especially with it on my phone, clearly took up A LOT of my time and brain power. 

Now that I had committed to presence and begun recognizing my email distraction, it was time to take action. 

Here are the actions I took, as well as their varying levels of success:

  1. The 40-Day “No Email On Phone” Experiment

I decided to remove email from my phone and keep it that way for 40 days. It wasn’t a “no email” rule (I could always check my email on my phone), but I wanted to become untethered from my inbox. 

Here’s what happened: I initially felt super anxious, often feeling like I was missing out on everything. But over time, all kinds of space opened up in my mind. After about 15 days, the anxiety subsided, and I felt like myself again. During the experiment, I missed reading some of my fave newsletters on the go, so after 40 days, I added the Slick Inbox app to my phone. Now, I can receive my fave emails and read them on the go, but I can’t respond to anything.

  1. The Walk-For-It Email Challenge

Another way I released myself from the bonds of email was by purposely keeping my laptop in my office. My office is on the third floor (in what I call “my treehouse!”). Going up all the stairs just to check the email meant exerting quite a bit of effort. 

More often than not, when I wanted to check my email after working hours, I would think about that climb and say, “The email will still be there tomorrow.” 

  1. Going Grayscale 

To make my phone less appealing, I also changed its setting to grayscale. I can confirm—it definitely makes your phone less fun! I couldn’t find things quickly, so I didn’t like being on it as much.

But one thing I learned during this experiment: I LOVE color! And emojis! I tried it, but the grayscale didn’t last very long, and I was happy to see it go. 

  1. Healthy Swaps

Throughout the year, I performed energy audits. There was a profound difference in how I felt after spending 45 minutes reading three chapters of a book versus spending 45 minutes doom-scrolling socials or responding to emails. It was similar to reflecting on how you feel after eating empty-calorie snack foods versus protein-rich ones. With poor snack choices, I’m still hungry; after protein, I’m not hungry and I feel a burst of energy. In a way, I felt the same after reading versus scrolling. I focused on making healthy energy swaps.

  1. Daily Reminders

Every 90 days, I selected a reminder or quote to focus on and remind me of my intentions. Then, I would use those quotes to open and close out each day of my 90-day journal. One of my favorites came from Emily Dickinson: “Forever is composed of nows.” Having this reminder at the beginning and end of each day helped me stay present in the hours in between. 

Following these experiments, my time on email is more efficient than before. While working, I get more ideas, and my brain feels more spacious. I’m sleeping better and often remembering dreams (something that had stopped happening for a long time). 

I’m not adding email back to my phone, that’s for sure!

How To Swap Productivity For Presence In Your Life

If you would like to swap productivity for presence in your life, these are the steps to take:

  1. Commit to presence.

Write your commitment down, tell your friends about it, or engrave the word “presence” on a bracelet. Whatever you decide to do, just ensure you’re fully committed to cultivating a life of presence and then keep returning to that intention throughout the year.

  1. Identify your distractions.

For me, it was email. For you, it may be scrolling social media. It might be anxiety about the future or thinking about the unchangeable past. The first step to living more present is identifying what’s in your way.

  1. Strategize and experiment.

Now, you’ll need to use creativity to eliminate those distractions. Fortunately, there’s tons of helpful advice on the internet for just about any distraction. Pick strategies you think might work for you and go for them. Some might not work (grayscale certainly didn’t work for me!), but consider everything you do “an experiment.” You’re a scientist, experimenting and eliminating the things that don’t work until you get the one that does. 

  1. Reflect on how it’s going.

One thing I did was continually reflect on how it was going. Let me tell you—those first few weeks of removing the email app were super HARD! Still, I celebrated my wins and worked on finding a new solution when some of my experiments fell through. If you reflect and readjust throughout the year, I firmly believe you’ll find, at the end of the year, that you’ve made some real progress toward living more present and, as a result, changed your life. 

Looking For Help?

With a little effort, you can carve your path to presence—in life and your career. If you want guidance on incorporating lessons like these into your career planning, Flourish Careers is here to help.

Together, we’ll create a career plan that cultivates your energy—not drains it—so you can truly flourish.

January 17, 2024

I Swapped Productivity For Presence This Year. Here’s What Happened…

I Swapped Productivity For Presence This Year. Here’s What Happened…

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